Ranch Diaries: Remote ranching and vet care in the 21st century

When crisis hits, help comes in unconventional ways.

 

Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

A week ago, I went out to feed the horses and was one short. This is a horse owner’s nightmare: These herd animals like their breakfast, and when one doesn’t show up it can’t mean anything good. When I whistled, Hoot came in, limping so dramatically I feared the worst: broken bones. I discovered a mud-packed gash on his left hind pastern instead, both a relief and a problem. It looked deep enough to warrant stiches, but I wasn’t sure. It was a Sunday morning, before 8 a.m., and my cell phone wasn’t getting a reliable signal. I was able to leave a message on Dr. Becky Washburn’s answering machine before it disappeared altogether, leaving me fretting and feeling helpless.

  • Wild horses in the Number 5 pasture.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Checking cows on a foggy day.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Homemade fish soup for a chilly day.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Fall rain is welcomed but a challenge too.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Our beloved Sally, who's been with us for five years.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The author works on a painting for class.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The pullets I raised from chicks have started laying.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Celebrating a year managing Triangle P Cattle Company.

    Laura Jean Schneider

Washburn is a rural vet in the tiny town of Capitan, a three hour round trip from Cow Camp Two — where Hoot and I were that morning. She’s spayed our cat, amputated our dog’s leg, and flushed a mare that was having trouble conceiving. We have called her for advice multiple times, and she’s always exceptionally helpful. And she knows ranchers’ schedules and phone service constraints. After she heard my voicemail that day, she used iMessage to text me back. After I hosed the gash off and sent Washburn a photo, she was able to confirm that stitches in that joint area would just tear out; applying antibiotic ointment, keeping it clean, and wrapping it was the best option. She also advised that I start Hoot on a round of antibiotics immediately.

Now, he’s healing well and although the wound is still wrapped, I turned him out to pasture. Thinking the worst was over for a while, I relaxed.

But yesterday morning, our milk cow Sally was down. This time, there was no cell signal. Once more, I was able to message the vet, explaining that the cow’s hindquarters were extremely weak and she couldn’t stand. I hurried back and forth from the house to the pasture, taking Sally’s temperature and messaging photos and descriptions of everything from her manure to her gum color. Washburn figured she’d consumed a toxic plant. She recommended a hefty dose of Thiamine, which counters toxic plant sulfites, some Dexamethasone to help her feel better, and oral electrolytes and probiotics to boost her compromised condition.

When Sam and I got home from checking gates late yesterday afternoon, Sally was on her feet. Neither of us has ever seen such dramatic improvement. I led Sally into the corral, where I’m continuing to monitor and treat her, per Washburn’s directions. I wouldn’t have been able to treat Sally successfully without help. We had no way to get the cow up and to a vet, and I believe Washburn’s texted information was literally a lifesaver. All this without a single spoken word, relying on satellite Internet. Welcome to remote ranching and vet care in the twenty-first century!

Last night, before Sam left for Lower Elk to gather yearlings for the final trucks coming on Tuesday, we opened a bottle of sparkling New Mexico-made Rosé on the tiny camper porch. Not just to celebrate that Sally was back on her feet, but to acknowledge that it’s been a year since we moved to the Mescalero Apache Reservation. As we sipped from thrift store glasses, we were silent, mulling on how much we’ve experienced, the challenges, the joys, and the damn good feeling we share when something close to miraculous happens.