I don’t get it.  Why does everything involving animals have to take place before sunrise?  What do cows and horses have that is so pressing it requires I drag myself out of bed at 5am and head out in the cold morning darkness?  And that’s considered diva late.

We’ve just begun our two week Easter/Winter Break (It’s New Zealand Spring Break but with the cold and the wind and the rain).  Instead of packing the car full of over eager co-eds and heading to the Redneck Riviera (Destin, FL, don’t pretend you’re not) we pack the car full of vet student and head out to Dairy Unit #4.

Three days into vacation and I am deep into cabin fever – the house has been deep cleaned, movies have been watched, hair color has been changed – but I’m itching to do somethingAnything.  Preferably that something and anything includes animals.   Turns out, all the vetties are just as eager to get back to work as I am.

The gods  heard our quiet pleas and we were called into service.  A lonely PhD student needed extra hands, albeit free hands, to help collect samples from her herd of 20 cows.  We mobilized, we showed up, and JeZUS, we got dirty.  Now, no one told me part of the trial involved working at the tail end of cows that all had diarrhea, excuse me, diarrhoea.

We speak the Queen’s English over here and just because we’re talking about stinky stanky poo doesn’t mean we leave our proper spelling at the door.

I was given a sample cup and told to start getting urine samples.  Huh?  Oh yes, you can get a cow to pee on demand and it is remarkably easy.  Who knew?!  The sample cup, however, is entirely insufficient to deal with the volume you get in response.  The overflow winds up all over your gumboots.  Normally, you grab the properly labelled cup, start rubbing the cow just under her vulva and are already in position to catch the sample.  But if a cow begins urinating before you’re ready, you just grab whatever cup is within reach and start running after that sample like you’re heading for a touchdown.  You can’t be proud if you’re going to be in this business.

Once all the urine has been collected, we move on to the more advanced stage of blood collection.  Again, we were stationed behind the lethally gassy cows.  You steel yourself, grab that mucky yucky tail and casually drape it over your shoulder as you would a chic scarf.  You palpate the underside of the tail looking for the vein and give it a stick with the needle.  If you’re lucky, the cow won’t try to turn around and slap you like you stole something.  If you’re not, you’re wrestling the mucky tail WITH YOUR FACE while trying to keep the needle steady.  At the same time you’re very aware that the research students as well as the veterinarian are all watching and having a laugh.

Hang on, it gets worse.

It’s difficult to collect blood in the early morning light, in cramped conditions and on a part of the body that is hard to see so you’re back there a long time.  And those cows have upset tummies so I harbor no resentment.  With every cow I collected blood on, there first came a heralding trumpet of gas.  What followed was a torrent of pure payback.  With all eyes on you and the pressure to come off as the best of the most incompetent, you hold your ground.

But in your mind, the screaming is loud.