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Why Did an Expectant Cow Make Me Sh-udder at Vet School?

Anything I do, I do it to the very best of my ability.

But back in vet school, it was necessary to acquire skills that sometimes seemed as if they were always going to be just out of reach.

One of these talents was the ability to detect very early pregnancy in a cow.

In those days, this was performed by rectal examination.

In other words, students were expected to insert their arm right up to the shoulder (without any kind of plastic glove) into as many cows as possible.

We then had to locate and palpate the womb, without damaging anything we passed, including the potential calf, and make an intelligent assessment of the lady’s reproductive status.

Could we expect a new-born and many more pints of the white stuff, or did she need another date with the bull?

The vet school kept a dairy herd specifically for us to hone our skills on.

I would don an unflattering heavy green plastic neck-to-knee apron, with a short elasticated cuffed sleeve, in a draughty, smelly byre, and be faced with 10 or more faeces laden bovine tails.

Before long, and after thorough lubrication, my right arm would be nice and warm, and the rest of me would be liberally splattered – especially my boots.


I would press my cheek against the warm hide of my obliging patient, who had considerately decided not to kick me for my efforts, for as long as I dared.

But do you want the truth?

However much I reached and stroked and probed and felt, I never once felt confident that I could answer the primary question: is she pregnant?

Finally, the time came to prove my skills in a live examination.

The tails were lined up. The gown was on. My breath was steaming with each nervous exhalation. I had practised and practised, but I knew this was one area I would never master.

I decided the best approach was to do it with confidence. I had a 50 per cent chance of getting it correct. She was either pregnant or not. I performed the examinations, pronounced my guesses, and walked away.

I never found out how I fared, but I did qualify that year, so presumably my bluff was successful.

However, I have never subjected another cow to my services since that day!

Published in the Mid-Sussex Times on 9th February 2017.

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