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Getting carded at the Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar

Ever studied hard for a test in hopes of passing it? Some of them you just can't study for, so you take them as they come.

Even though I use a lot of A.I. in my cowherd, there are still some bulls involved in natural service. They get a BSE, or Breeding Soundness Exam, each year prior to the breeding season to make sure they're fit and ready to work. It's relatively cheap — about $40 or so — and can easily pay for itself if a student fails. Without the test, you would find out about the student's performance much later in the year when the vet who diagnoses pregnancy finds a lot of non-pregnant females. Those are expensive lessons to learn.

Not only does a BSE involve a test for the students, but it almost always involves a field trip for them, too. I have decent working facilities here at the farm, but there are a couple features the vet clinics have that I don't. So the bulls get to hop in the livestock trailer and take a trip to one of the vet clinics I work with regularly. A couple of the clinics have built working facilities inside where everyone can take care of business without worrying about weather. Since the clinic in nearby Harmony, MN, is closer than the one in Postville, I head north for the yearly BSE. That means a trip down the same blacktop from my driver's ed story (see “The Educational Route with Rip Van Winkle”). Nothing like a few curves to get your cargo dizzy and excited at the same time.

I pulled up to the clinic recently at 1:28 for a 1:30 appointment and was greeted by a livestock trailer that belonged to my friend Fred. I parked my truck and trailer and went into the clinic to see how things were going.

Once inside, I discovered that Fred wasn't really there for a BSE for his bull. The bull had been limping and not putting much pressure on one leg. The vet clinic has one of the coolest tools to make leg work much easier. I call it The Bovine Tilt-A-Whirl. The patient walks into the squeeze chute and headgate. Then a side panel or two are removed and two large belts similar to round bale belts are slipped under the bull's abdomen, just in front of his rear legs and behind his front legs. The straps have metal loops on the ends of them. Those loops are then attached to two cables with hooks on the end of them. A lever is hit and the shaft where the cables are attached begins to rotate. That cinches up the belt under the bull until his legs come off the ground slightly. At that point, another lever is hit and the whole squeeze chute is rotated 90 degrees. The patient then goes from high noon to 2:45 without really knowing what just happened. The best part is that the whole process is slow enough that the patient doesn't toss his cookies like he might if it were a carnival Tilt-A-Whirl.

Ever tried to talk a bull into eating an entire bucket of Dramamine an hour before going to the vet clinic? Just because you COULD cinch up those cables much faster doesn't mean you SHOULD! Maximum and optimum are two entirely different words. Trust me.

Fred's bull was rotated into the exam position and the inspection of his lame foot began. The Gentle Doctor took a tool and began to scrape around on the bull's foot, looking for open wounds or lacerations that may make him tender on his foot. Nothing was found, so the vet went to get another tool while his assistant, Ronny, began a more thorough cleaning of the bull's foot with a garden hose and another metal pick for further inspection. That's when we heard the CLINK of steel against steel.

Ronny, Fred and I never spent any time in vet school ourselves, but we all reached the same graduate-level diagnosis in short order. There was a lovely nail sticking out of the patient's foot! Ronny grabbed it with his tool but didn't make much progress. Fred reached for his pliers and got a better grip on it right as The Gentle Doctor came over for a look-see. It didn't take much force for Fred to turn the nail slightly and pop it out of the bottom of the hoof. Not to get all Aesop's Fables on you here, but the patient was more than grateful, it appeared to me. Maybe it was his normally mellow nature, but when he was ultimately released from the chute and headed toward the trailer, he didn't attack Fred or anything. Obviously, he felt he owed Fred one for the whole thorn-in-the-paw thing.

After Fred's bull was finished with his appointment, I backed up my trailer and unloaded my two patients. Once one was in the chute, the BSE began. I won't go into graphic detail of everything involved in a BSE. Let's just say that measurements were taken, and had the patient flunked the test, the Rocky Mountain Oysters harvested later would fall into the category that, were you to finish them all in one sitting, you'd probably leave the restaurant with a T-shirt, a hat, a beer stein and your photo on their Oyster Eater Wall of Fame.

The next part of the bull's test was, um, the part where it was determined whether he had the right stuff, and whether that stuff was good enough to serve its purpose in generating progeny. It involved a test tube for collecting a sample for examination under a microscope and yet another highly specific tool you won't find in the Craftsman section at Sears.

A genetic product sample was collected. Some of it was placed on a slide and viewed under a microscope to see if all the swimmers were of a Michael Phelps nature as it relates to time in a pool.

The test results came back. Flying colors. Dean's list. Scholarship material. No problemo.

Then we hooked up the belts underneath the patient and cranked the winch to tighten them up. The other lever was hit and the bull went into slow-mo Tilt-A-Whirl mode. No construction materials were found on his feet, but a little mani-pedi work was in order. Gotta keep those feet looking good, so you have to have the nails done from time to time. Toenails, not roofing nails.

So you grab an emery board and put on some soft music from the Orient, right? Nope, this is totally a guy event, so we go back to the Craftsman section at Sears and grab a DeWalt grinding tool with a very funky blade. That puppy gets plugged in, fired up, and the next thing you know, there are toenail trimmings flying through the air like a tanker truck of Red Bull smashed into a Starbucks in the hotel lobby of a whittlers convention. There was a blizzard of hoof hunks flying through the air in all directions, it seemed. And yet, a minute or two with that grinder and my bull looked like he was sporting feet that would make Carrie Bradshaw want to parade them around in some Manolo Blahniks.

A BSE was performed on both of my bulls. It was all good. The Rocky Mountain Oyster supply will have to come from other reluctant volunteers this year. Although, since they did so well, and since there needs to be motivation for future testing, I'm thinking of making it more of a "scholarship pageant" format for next year so they don't become jaded and start slacking. We will start by having each bull walk back and forth across the pen with a large textbook balanced on his head. It builds poise and dignity, you know, and who wouldn't want livestock with THAT?

Think I'm kidding? I'm not. See My bulls will make that mutt look like a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather when they're done.

Pass me the jumbo roll of double-stick tape and don't ask any questions. I have a degree . . . in science.

Guy No. 2

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