Why I Left the Farm

You know, this is why I left the farm.

When I was about 13 we had a cow go down with a calf gone breach. The calf had died by the time we found her in the morning but the cow had been trying to squeeze the calf out sideways all night and couldn’t push anymore. Somebody had to stick their arm way up in the cow and rotate the calf so it was head and feet first.

Now, you might think that there is all kinds of room up in a cow’s vagina (and there is) but it tightens a lot at the cervix. The cervix is pushed open from the inside by the pressure of the calf in the womb being squeezed outward by the muscles of the womb. If the cow stops pushing, you’ve got maybe a two-inch gap to squeeze into and try to open it. It takes small hands and arms.

Between my 6’2″ grandfather, our burly family friend Mr. Tiesdale and the 13-year-old me, who do you think had the slimmest, girliest hands?


Cows don’t experience anything like the pain of human birth. No animal does. It’s our big brains that cause the problem in the birth canal. Most animals just squirt their young right out. At this point the cow was down on her side from exhaustion but otherwise in no major pain. She seemed more annoyed than anything.

With the cow on the ground, I myself had to lay down on my right side in the manure rich, fecund soil of the corral and snake my right arm into the cow.

Oh, did I mention we didn’t have any of those fancy shoulder high plastic gloves? I just took off my shirt, lubed the arm with some veterinary lubricant (KY for cows) and slid myself up to my shoulder into warm, moist cow’s vagina.

So far, so good, but then, perhaps stimulated by the insertion of my arm, the cow decided to get back in the game and push. Pushing in the reproductive tract is really horrendous squeezing of everything in the tract. A cow’s large reproductive muscles can easily break a human arm. Only the very skilled and daring try a manual manipulation at the start of the birthing process, and even then they have to time it right. This cow was exhausted so she didn’t hurt me but the squeezing along the entire length of my arm felt like…

… well, to be honest, I don’t have a simile because nothing in my experience before or since has even remotely compared to having my arm squeezed by a foot of massive vagina and a thirty gallon womb. Nope, nothing.

Although not painful, the squeezing bovine lady parts locked me in place like a pipe in a welder’s vice. I couldn’t budge an inch until she relaxed. I just had to lay there on my side in corral soil, starring warily at the back end of the cow and waiting patiently to see if I would ever get my arm back in one piece.

At that point, the cow farted.

Cow farts aren’t nearly as noxious as human or dog farts because cows don’t eat a lot of protein and don’t have a varied diet. It mostly just wet grass and methane. Mostly.

Nevertheless, a point blank fart of such magnitude that makes your hair stream back gracefully like a model’s hair on a beachside photo shoot is not a pleasant experience.

Right then, I gave up any ideas of being a rancher/farmer and dedicated myself to finding an air conditioned job somewhere far, far away from livestock.

Ever since then, whenever I had a bad day, I console myself that no matter what other crap I have had to deal with, I didn’t have my arm all the way up to the shoulder inside a cow. That thought makes meetings with the marketing dweebs just fly by.

(I know someone will ask, so I will tell you that the cow was fine. I eventually got the dead calf rotated, got its forelegs through the cervix and the head lined up. We tied a rope around the forelegs, added more lube and pulled the dead calf out with gentle tugs from a tractor. The cow recovered quickly and went on to have stunning reproductive success with many more calves.)

14 thoughts on “Why I Left the Farm”

  1. I don’t want to be gross but I have had somewhat similar experiences in the delivery room. It is one reason why I didn’t go into OB. And farts were not the half of it.

    Sort of like the long haired intern of mine who was given the task of doing a sigmoidoscope exam on a patient with a sigmoid volvulus. In that case, the sigmoid colon twists and is obstructed. When it untwists, well, it’s best not to be in the path of the result. When I saw his hair on the scope as it was going in, I figured he probably hadn’t learned what to do when you see the colon start to untwist through the scope. We call it the nozzle effect.

    At least I didn’t have to lie in the manure.

  2. I’m not going to get into a gross out contest with you guys, (couldn’t beat that cow deal anyway), but suffice it to say I have had my share of bizarre moments.

    When I think back on some of those at the top of the “eeewww” list, it’s pretty easy to shrug off some current minor irritant. As my kids will tell you, they’ve often heard me say, “Well, that should be the worst thing that happens this week.”

    Compared to a car full of hysterical mallard ducks, a spilled soda doesn’t even register on the “dad-richter” scale.

  3. Veryretired,

    Compared to a car full of hysterical mallard ducks,…

    Where I come from, it is considered bad form to drop a teaser like that into a conversation and then just walk off. Spill.

  4. When I told my air-conditioned office dwelling co-worker some years ago that I thought I might just chuck it and go back to the farm he said, “Why would you want to go shovel manure (sh..) in the woods?”

    Well, I’m back on the farm. At least for the time being…

    The reason starts, but does not end, with dealing with a whole lot less, er, manure on a day to day basis.

    Then there’s the fact that I really don’t worry about starving.

  5. Shannon—sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

    Several years ago some friends of ours acquired a family of baby ducks at their lake place when the mother was killed. They called my wife, better known as the “baby animal sap of the western world” and asked her to help them raise the chicks.

    We took four and they kept four. We live in the city, so my wife set up a chicken wire enclosure around a kiddie pool in our fenced back yard. The babies started out about half the size of pigeons, but soon grew towards normal size. At night she brought them into the basement laundry room and put them in a big box that once held a chair.

    Our friends’ four were killed one night in their yard, probably by weasels that got into their enclosure. Ours, although getting more and more rambunctious, were growing rapidly to full size.

    Finally, it was decided we would bring them back to our friends’ lake place and turn them loose. Naively, we put the big box containing the now 75% grown ducks into the back of my stationwagon and started out.

    We soon realized that ducks don’t like riding in cars. They went nuts, quacking, leaping, semi-flying, pooping continuously, and reducing all of us to hysterical laughter every bit as maniacal as the duck lunacy.

    I can only imagine what other drivers thought as they followed us down the highway and saw this insane duck/child/man/woman circus going on in front of them.

    Every once in a while, we get into a long trip of one kind or another, and someone will invariably complain about the tedium or the rushing around or some other tiresome aspect of travel, regardless of the mode of transport.

    With a twinkle in her eye, my wife will look at me and say, “Well, it’s no car full of mallards, that’s for sure.” By the time we’re done laughing, whatever the problem was just doesn’t seem so big a deal any more.

    I married a soft hearted lunatic, thank god.

  6. Some crimes are self-punishing. Rustling turkeys is one of them.

    Some aspiring turkey thieves stole a van and tried to steal some turkeys from a turkey ranch whose owner I knew.

    Turkeys are dumb birds. Seriously dumb birds. They are easily panicked. The thieves managed to stuff about twenty of the birds into the back of the van before they all panicked.

    Panicky turkeys s**t. These ones s**t all over inside the van, including on the thieves, who got out of there, tore off their stinking shirts and pants and ran away.

  7. Animals stink too.

    If I were to “head back to the farm,” I’d be an orchardist. Growing almonds or cherries seems like an easier way of life.

    Of course, this year’s backyard cherry crop was ruined by cool, wet spring weather here in the Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley) so there’s still downsides.

  8. Tom—my grandparents had a turkey ranch in Montana in the early 1920’s. My mother was born there and spent several years there until they moved because of the depression. She frequently commented on the utter stupidity of turkeys, including such things as climbing on top of each other during thunderstorms until the ones on the bottom suffocated, and looking up into the rain with their mouths open until they drowned.

    On Thanksgiving, when my grandmother made a turkey for the family, she also made a ham or roast beef for my grandfather because he adamantly refused to ever eat another bite of turkey. He claimed it tasted like feathers, and his response when one of us would ask him why he didn’t want any turkey was simply, “I don’t eat feathers.”

    It always puzzled the kids at the table when he and my mother would then laugh uproariously for several minutes until they were in tears. My grandmother joined in too, but usually stopped it by finally saying, “Hank, that’s enough, now.”

    Those were her code words for: You are disrupting the dinner I just spend 6 hours making, and if you don’t stop, no pie. Nothing more needed to be said in her house—her pies were a family legend.

    I’ll know I’ve made it to heaven when I can taste her apple pie again.

  9. It’s good to hear that the cow survived, and later prospered.

    And as someone who grew up on a fruit farm (we called them ranches), I don’t recall anything quite that exciting. But I can tell you that the economics of raising fruit trees is, shall we say, challenging.

    Briefly, when you plant a fruit tree, you have to guess what fickle consumers will want five to ten years from now — and then hope that your competitors guess wrong on that question.

    (Cherries, apples, and pears, for those who are wondering.)

  10. This and what michael kennedy mentioned is why I want to get out of medical school. The ideas are interesting, and principled appealing, but the practice is icky. I don’t want any of that icky stuff.

    Other students take pride in tolerating the icky stuff.

  11. There might not be any human process as nasty and messy and disgusting as giving birth.

    But, oh, if you could just see my grandson’s smile…

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