I was reminiscing tonight, after another day of cold weather and cattle. This winter has been tough on livestock, and many have lost their lives during the storms. I was thinking about north Kansas and how different life might have turned out if it had ended up there instead of here……
It was a night of celebration: after a long and tedious seven year journey, I would be a veterinarian in three days. I had no idea what the future held but I knew we were finally ending the milestone of vet school.
Sure, there are still nights I wake up panicked that I missed a final, but in just three days it would be official, I would be an auburn grad.
The hatchers took me to a little Italian place in cool springs to celebrate my last day as a vet student, but as usual, the party wouldn’t last long. The phone rang at eight pm as we were preparing to leave the restaurant, it was a veterinarian in Kansas, asking if I could be there for an interview the next night. When I asked how long it would take to get there, she said the estimated trip was 13 to 14 hours. It was eight now, so if I hoped to make Kansas, I better get a move on.
I called my cousin Dustin, in kentucky, and he agreed to make the trip. By ten thirty that evening , we were on the way to Kansas! We had blankets and pillows in the back of the SUV, our car and our hotel were both made by Chevrolet. Three days until graduation, so I knew we had to hurry. We drove all night as fast as possible. We took turns behind the wheel while the other slept in the back.
We leap frogged across the Midwest , only stopping for fuel, until we saw the plains and prairies. As the sun rose that morning, you could look for miles and see only prairie and road. A few cows adorned the pastures nearest the highway, and giant windmills pointed our way west.
As the sun hit noon, we neared abiliene, and as it set, we arrived in Oakley.
When we arrived, the vets were finishing their day . Dr. Dave and Dr. Christie met us at the clinic and invited us to dinner. I was expecting anything from mcdonalds to outback, but there were no such places in Oakley. The town, itself, had three options: a dodge store, Pizza Hut, and a stockyard- side bar…. We chose the bar.
Now this wasn’t your typical bar by bar standards around here; the bar was a quiet and private meeting place. A few old cowboys ate their meals inside but otherwise the place was slow. Mostly, folks came here for the food, and after a night on the road, boy were we hungry. They had two meats on the menu, steak and calf fries. (Calf fries are seasoned, coated, and deep fried calf testicles.) We all ordered steaks and sat down for dinner. We talked about the differences between the south and the west, the people from each, basketball, and cattle.
Dr. Dave was a tall man, broad shouldered and as tough as the land he inhabited. Dr Christie was tough and intelligent, representative of the people in the Midwest. After dinner, we hurried to our hotel; it was our first chance at a shower and bed.
I left Dusty at the hotel the next morning, and met Dr Christie at the clinic. We drove several hours to a feedlot, where we would be working with horses for the day. The land was beautiful; vast expanses of range, darted with cattle, corn, and pronghorns. Our goal for today was equine dentistry; we would be taking the sharp points off horses teeth, also known as floating. We unhooked the chute from the truck and went to work. Dr Christie sedated each cowboy’s horse, as they came in from the morning herd checks. The cowboys were quiet and tough. They paid meticulous detail to their horse, the cattle, and their tack. They came by the feed yard barn slowly after a long morning out in the pens; each morning at dawn they begin riding pens, looking for sick cattle. At lunch, the whole bunch rides in to change horses, eats a quick meal, and then heads back for the afternoon checks. It was during this break that we sedated each horse and floated their teeth.
One cowboy fired up the grill, while the others checked their gear and horses . It was going to be hamburgers on the feedlot menu today for the ranch hands, and they were the chefs. Each cowboy led their horse to our chute and stayed during the process. The only time they talked was to ask dr Christie questions about the horse’s health and to request special dentistry to help with their horse’s training.
Waiting for the morning feed in Oakley.
The lead cowboy was a small man, about five and a half feet tall and a thoughtful fellow. I never heard him say a word, he just watched everything in quiet, observing every detail. He carried a pearl handled, custom blade along his right side, for cutting hay bales, ropes, and probably anyone that messed with his horse. His boots were worn, and weathered spurs seemed to be attached as an extension of each boot. These were not the spurs you see on television, long,sharp, and dangerous to a horse. These were blunted and small, to let a horse know when the cowboy wants him to move to the left or right, gently. I’ve never seen greater love or animal welfare displayed than that day, between each horse and cowboy. It reminded me that love between animals and people are shown in many ways, but none is more evident than between cowboy and horse.
Lunch was eaten on horseback, each man had re saddled and prepared for the afternoon checks. They rode off into the dusty prairie, with new horses to check the herds. As the morning horses recovered from their sedation, we packed to leave. This was a small feedlot by size and area, but for a kentucky boy, this was more cattle that I had ever seen. You could scan the horizon in all directions, and not view all the cattle there .
We headed back to the clinic to work on cattle. That afternoon, we left Oakley with the offer of a job, and a different outlook on the Midwest. I loved it there. As we headed home , I didn’t know what the future would hold, but I had another interview right after graduation in South Carolina….