• David Jefferson

My first job out of vet school was with Dr Fred Erb of Landaff, New Hampshire. Fred had an old fashioned set of values and the respect of all his clients. He was proud of his German heritage. He was not a particularly tall man, but he had a barrel chest, a deep voice, and was very strong. He also had a loud “har de har har” laugh you could hear the next farm over. The episode that characterizes Fred for me happened during my first year of working for him. I had called for help. He gave me that, but also gave me a good standing with a client when he could have thrown me under the bus.

I was on a dystocia case in a cow named Blossom. The word dystocia means difficult birth, and that is what she was going through. Blossom was a black and white Holstein, which is one of the bigger breeds. Fortunately, the farm was just a 10 minute drive from the office. Harry, her owner, told me that Blossom had been straining for a few hours with no results. He stood next to her hind end and held her tail around to the side so it wouldn’t be in my way. I first put on a plastic glove and sleeve and lubricated it to do a rectal exam for a quick evaluation. In cows the rectal exam gives lots of information. As you feel through the rectal wall, you are able to explore the uterus, ovaries, and the fetus. I didn’t have to go in much past my forearm to feel the fetus’s head and forelegs. He or she was in the right position, head and forelegs heading toward the birth canal. I started bouncing the calf by pushing down over its shoulders. The calf reacted by pulling away. That was good news. We had a live calf!

I backed out of the rectum and pulled off the sleeve that was coated with Blossom’s manure. Then I washed her hind end with soap and water until everything was squeaky clean. After that I rolled up the sleeve of my shirt and scrubbed my right arm and hand. I pulled on a sterile glove and sleeve and applied lubricant liberally up and down my arm. Then I coned my hand and gently slid it into Blossom’s birth canal.

I was able to grab one of the calf’s feet, but that’s all. I kept wondering, she seems to want to calve, and all of her pelvic ligaments are relaxed, but why is there no room in here. Everything felt very cramped. What was I missing! After a couple of minutes I realized I was over my head. I pulled the sleeve off and said to Harry,

“I really don’t know what’s going on here. I’m going to see if Dr Erb is at home.”

I called Fred on the vehicle Motorola radio (this was long before cell phones) and was relieved to get him right away.

“Fred, I’m over my head on a calving case at Harry’s. Can you come bail me out?”

As we waited for Fred’s arrival I made small talk with Harry. As we talked I felt restless, wondering what I was missing with this birth. Fred arrived, joking with everyone as he always did. After scrubbing up, he lubed up his arms, and dove in. No sterile sleeves for Fred. He always said, “I can feel more this way.” He fussed around for about 5 minutes, did some grunting, used a lot of body mechanics, got up a mild sweat, and then said:

“There, I think I got things going. I’m pooped. You take back over. ” I did, and now everything inside that cow made sense. There was the calf’s head, cradled as it should be on its front legs. What did Fred do in there? I delivered a rambunctious bull calf. Back at the office he sat me down.

“That was a uterine torsion. It was about as complete a twist as I’ve ever seen. When the uterus is twisted like that, it rotates the whole birth canal. It’s no wonder you couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”

“We learned about it in school, but I’ve never seen one, and I’m not sure I have the strength to correct it like you did.”

“That didn’t take strength. All that grunting was a show put on for Bill so he wouldn’t think you were a dumb-dumb.”

“Well, it looked like you were working hard.”

“Nope. I had the correction done right away. What you do is slide your hand into the birth canal, and follow the folds to find out how complete the torsion is and in what direction it is going: clockwise or counterclockwise. Then you grab one of the calf’s legs and push straight ahead. For just a second the calf is floating in the uterine fluid. Use the leg you have as a lever to flip the calf’s body over. The uterus will unwind at the same time. It just takes some coordination. It was one more thing I wasn’t taught in vet school. I said that Dr Erb was very strong. I tried flipping these cases after that, but just didn’t have the upper body strength to flip things around.

Some vets will roll a cow with a uterine twist onto her back and lay a plank across her abdomen. Believe it or not, one or two men stand on the plank, and two more roll the cow in the correct direction. The pressure of the plank makes the uterus stay in one spot, and the cow untwists around it. If this sounds complicated, it is, and truth be told, I was never able to make it work myself.

In any event, Harry never knew how Fred saved face for me that day, and I was always grateful for that kindness.

  • David Jefferson

Grandma Topsy- My mom’s mom. She lived with us. I remember her smell, and how her lap was just right for sitting in as she read me stories. She taught me the alphabet and how to see early words in all those mysterious scribbles. Incredible! I’ve loved reading ever since. She was hard of hearing. I inherited that. Now I wear hearing aids. Mine have a tiny battery tucked into the curved unit that hooks over the ear and are almost unnoticeable. Hers were in a battery case the size of a cigarette pack hidden somewhere in that mysterious area down her front. I think it’s called a bodice. Two pink twisted wires ran up from there to her ears. Without her hearing aids she was pretty deaf, unless one of us was whispering something they didn’t want her to hear.

Bess Solloway: My 4th grade teacher. The writing assignment was, “what I am good at.” I was never great at sports which were what the rest of the class seemed to be writing about. I couldn’t think of anything, so I wrote about how I helped Mom around the house. I wrote that I would carry the clunky Hoover vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs for her. Miss Solloway read my paper aloud. I was unbelievably embarrassed. I wanted the floor to open up so I could sneak out through a basement window. I think she sensed that. Later in the day she pulled me aside and told me she was proud of me. Never forgot it. I love her to this day. Maybe she kindled my love of writing.

Sheldon Merritt- My goal as a teenager was to own my own dairy farm. As mentioned in Chapter 1, the college I attended after high school was Delhi Tech, a 2 year community college in upstate New York. Professor Merritt taught animal husbandry. I was just 17, and I’m guessing he was in his late 60’s. One day he said, “People talk about the success of others and they call it luck . I think you make a good deal of your own luck.” I never forgot that.

After my retirement I taught vet tech students at a community college. I was what they call an adjunct professor. That means they trusted me to teach the courses, but they weren’t sure I could handle the money, so they didn’t pay well. That’s OK. I think I took the job as payback. Community college was a perfect start for me. I am able to say to my freshman classes today, “if you want, you can go on from here.” I tell them I did. I hope some remember it and don’t get satisfied too early in life.

John McHale- Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, my drill instructor at recruit training, Parris Island, SC July, 1960, Platoon 364. A man about as tough as they come. Saw action in the Pacific in WW 2. He was part of the invasion force on the island of Tarawa. 12,000 Marines landed. In 3 days 1000 Marines died, and over 2000 were wounded on that 1/2 square mile island. 800 were buried right on the beach. Three days of hell, but it opened the way to the rest of the Japanese held islands. McHale was a Marine’s Marine. When I don’t feel brave enough to tackle something, I think of McHale. He probably didn’t want to leave the landing craft when its ramp dropped on the beach. He did it anyway.

Math Teacher, Cornell - Can’t remember her name, but she saved my college career. I was right out of the Marine Corps, and hadn’t cracked a text book in 3 years. I had been accepted at Cornell as an undergrad and needed to finish my studies to apply to the vet school. I had never done well in math, and my scores on the SATs for math from high school were dismal. The Cornell administration wisely sent me to what was like a junior high resource room. It was really “math for dummies.” This wonderful lady knew how embarrassed and frustrated I was at my lack of math skills. She worked patiently with me that whole first semester. Under her guidance I began to understand and appreciate math for the first time in my life.

Dr Francis Fox- Vet School professor, Large Animal Medicine- In our junior year he gave an entire course on the science and art of physical diagnosis. It’s been more than 50 years, and I can still hear him saying: “Use all your senses look, look again, listen, feel, get your nose right down there and smell! If you have to, taste it!” I was in his office one day in my senior year, and he asked me to go out to the cow barn and examine the calf in the first stall. “Come back and tell me what you find.” 20 minutes later I reported back: “She’s got a pronounced systolic heart murmur audible on both sides. It sounds like a valvular insufficiency.” Oh yeah, I was pretty proud of myself. “What else?”

“That’s all I found.”

“Go back and look again.”

I used my stethoscope, my ophthalmoscope my ears, my eyes, and yes, my nose. I finally found something else and reported back.

“Her tail has a kink in it, half way up. I think she must have fractured it.”

“Nope, she was born with it. It’s called wry tail, spelt w.r.y. It’s often seen in calves with congenital heart issues. So if you run into another calf with wry tail, check the heart. If it’s got that murmur, onto the veal truck with her as she won’t live long. It’s rare to find one congenital problem without another. They go in pairs, sometimes in triplets. Next time don’t stop your exam until you have looked at everything. Got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t forget it.” Never did. And, from that day on, right through the day I left vet school, he called me wry tail.

Writers Group at Gulfport, Florida Senior Center- You have listened to my stories, encouraged me, challenged me, and have kept me writing. I look on each and every one of you as a good friend. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

My clients - What a great bunch of people. I loved the fact that they consistently put the needs of their animals first, often sacrificing for them. They were forgiving of my mistakes, and almost all became good friends.

My wife, Bonnie- We’ve been married 56 years. She put me through vet school and then I was so busy running the practice that she mostly raised our two kids. All the credit that they turned out well is due to her. In my close to 50 years running my own business I never once heard a complaint about my long hours or me showing up late for supper again, smelling like a horse. Now, she is making retirement a new fun adventure.

  • David Jefferson

Time to order predator flies!

I am fully retired, so I am writing to you, not as a practicing veterinarian, but on behalf of the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals (MSSPA). You are on a list of horse owners that has probably received my past emails about predator flies. I am again recommending their use on your farm. These tiny bugs, a product of the Spalding Company, are prevention against annoying and disease carrying flies. Sign up and every few weeks during the warm months you will receive a shipment of these natural enemies of flies that don’t bother people or animals.

I have a partner number with the Spalding Company. If you use it when you contact them I receive a rebate check at the end of the season. I turn it over to MSSPA. As an active board member of the Society I can assure you that all that money goes to the rehabilitation of the seized or surrendered horses on the property on South Windham.

Whether you use the partner number or not, the amount that you pay Spalding is the same. If you do use the number, the horses at the Society benefit.

Although it doesn’t seem like spring right now, this is actually the best time to order. Spalding will ask you for information about your farm (horse numbers, property size, etc) and will schedule the shipments of the correct amount of predators for your situation at the right time. The number to call for more information and ordering is:

1 888 562 5696

Or, the website is

The partner # to use in ordering is 10-521

Thanks for cutting down on the fly population for all of us and for your support of MSSPA.

David A Jefferson, DVM