Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Animals actually move?!

In the last few days, we have gotten to see actual live animals. Dissecting dead things, while cool, does get rather old and depressing after awhile. So it was very exciting to go and work with real, living, breathing animals on the farms this week.
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Living sheep!
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On Tuesday, after a day full of 2 lectures (Animal Breeding & Genetics, and Anatomy) followed by a dissection, my group was bussed out to Easter Bush farm, for a sheep practical. Here we learned how to flip sheep, which I had learned once before, but as with all things, it is one thing to know how to do it and another thing entirely to actually do it. So the practice was nice. We also learned how to trim hooves, which I remember as being extremely difficult when I did it at the Good Shepherd Farm last summer, but for some reason was quite easy this time. Maybe the breed I was working on last summer has different hooves. I dunno. Anyway. We also learned how to sex them, estimate weights, actually weigh them, estimate body score, and determine an age estimate based on teeth.
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I'm not quite sure how Anik ended up riding the sheep
but there you have it. :-P
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For whatever reason, once you get a sheep into this position, they
totally chill out, making it very easy to do whatever you need to do.
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video
This is a video of the proper method for flipping and sexing a sheep, as
demonstrated by our instructor, Archie.
(This video was taken from my classmate, Anik.)
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Trimming back the hooves.
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The sheep practical was really fun. I think out of all the farm animals, the sheep is the one that I could actually see myself enjoying. They're small, can't really do much damage, and are really too afraid to try anything much worse than running away or jumping obscenely high (which is really the only danger, because if your nose gets in the way of their jump you may end up with a broken nose).

Today we had another 2 lectures, same ones as yesterday, then a dissection, then we had our cow practical out at Langhill Farm (right by Easter Bush, also owned and run by the Dick Vet). The cow practical, while somewhat fun, didn't really inspire me to want to work with cows. They still scare me, because they're just these massive things that can do some serious damage to you, despite the fact that (at least in the case of the dairy cow) they aren't intentionally trying to hurt you. They were in crushes (which is a restraining device), but still they're a bit scary. Perhaps once I get more comfortable I'll be able to, but for now I'm not really a cow person. Also, cows are slightly gross. They are quite covered in feces, and they drool this foul smelling cud from their mouth.

Now you may or may not know this about me, but I have a thing about saliva. I cannot stand it. I can deal with any other bodily fluid--urine, anal glands, diarrhea, vomit, pus--you name it. But I just cannot deal with saliva of the animal nature. Sure I can fake it, like I can remember times working in front of clients in Dorchester, holding the bull mastiff's mouth open while ropes of saliva are dripping on my arms and all over me. But once I am out of that room, I have to rush to the sink to get it all off me before I gag. I don't know, it's something about the texture, and the fact that it's sticky and doesn't easily come off your hands or clothes. Ugh, even thinking about it gives me the heeby-jeebies..

Despite this, I still had to learn how to do all these things that involve sticking my fingers/hands in the cows mouth, so I sucked it up, and doubled up on rubber gloves, and replaced the top one after every time I had my hand in the cow's mouth. Also we're wearing all waterproof clothes, so at least I didn't have to worry about it on my clothes. Ick. Once I sort of got used to the idea that I was going to get it on me and there was no avoiding it, I just tried not to think about it and it got better, but still, another point against the cows.

What we learned how to do today was harnessing the cows, using a premade harness, and also learning to make one out of a piece of rope...
Anik demonstrates how to make the harness, while Bethany
learns to tie a slip knot.
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And now to harnes the actual cow!
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Then we learned how to restrain the head properly, and also to get a look/feel of the teeth and tongue. The cow only has front teeth on the bottom, so you can stick your hand around the front and sides to grip the cow and to get it to open it's mouth.
Me with a tongue. Those things are massive, and slightly gross, hence my face.
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Next, we learned how to insert a gag into the cow's mouth. When you need to examine the back of the cow's mouth, you can't go sticking your hand that far inside. While the front of the cow's mouth is relatively harmless, the molars and premolars at the back could crush your fingers if you get them in the way, so the gag keeps the mouth open while you have a look in.
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Paul, one of our teachers of the day, demonstrates
how to put in the gag.
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I should also mention a funny story about how we made Paul, the man featured in the above picture, extremely uncomfortable, because when he popped over to see how we were getting on, Anik happened to exclaim, "I've been violated!" when the cow accidentally chewed on her breast. I don't think I have ever seen anyone turn as red as Paul turned. He took it well, and, after a few minutes of not being able to talk for laughing, was able to show us a trick for putting in the gag that helped a lot. Go Anik for making the instructors uncomfortable. :)
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Me fitting the gag in, all the while extremely frightened
of those chomping premolars. I survived though, and succeeded!
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The last thing we did was learn how to pick up a cow's feet, both the back and the front, in case we ever need to examine it for any reason. For the back feet we rigged up this pulley system over the crush with a bit of rope to pull the foot up. It's a bit daunting doing this because you have to basically lean on the cow's butt while you're setting this up, praying that the thing doesn't (a) kick you, or (b) urinate/defecate on you.

For the front leg, you have to stand with your shoulder at the cow's shoulder, and push the cow over so that it shifts its weight, and then you pull the cow's knee towards you and scoop the hoof up. This may sound relatively easy, but it's not. Also, the cow can quite easily kick you with your back feet, and given how far you have to bend over to do this, your head is in prime target location. Fortunately, dairy cows are pretty docile, but still.
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Me lifting up a cow's foot! Keep in mind this animal
is 530 kilos. Very heavy!
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After all this, we talked about things like body condition and estimating weight and stuff before cleaning up and heading home. So the day of the moo-cows was a success, and I am confident that, while I don't particularly have any desire to do any of those things again, I am capable of doing them all.

While seeing living animals was a nice change, I am quite looking forward to a break from practicals tomorrow. Instead we have a lecture on ultrasound in the afternoon tomorrow, which I am very excited about! I can already tell that I'm going to be really sore tomorrow morning, so the respite will be nice. :)

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