THE STORY OF DAN, AN AMAZING AUSSIE
by Ann B. DeChant
I have been meaning to write this one for a long time. We lost Dan three years ago, to being hit by a car. I always intended to tell this story while he was still alive, but it is still just as good as a tribute to him. This is the story of a working Aussie who created his own daily work as my assistant. Don’t worry. You already read the sad part.
In 1980 I was offered the job as a manager of a confinement veal calf operation, which housed 500 veal calves until they were 16 weeks old. The story of the guy who hired me, why, and how I was treated, is a whole other article (maybe for MS Magazine or something), but Dan never knew anything about any of that.
I do have to explain a bit about veal calf barns in order to make Dan’s story clear. There is one large pole building with a barn for 250 calves at each end, separated by a feed room and office. In each barn, there are 4 continuous rows of 64 stanchions, with aisles for walking and gutters for waste removal. This resembles a dairy freestall barn. Each lives in his own stanchion from the time they arrive, at one week of age, until they are shipped, at 16 weeks.
They are fastened in with a neck chain and they eat a milk replacer type diet from buckets on the front of the stall. The floors of the stanchions are slatted. A group of 250 is started at once on one side, and 8 weeks later the next group of 250 is brought in. When the first group is 16 weeks old, they are sent to slaughter and a new group of 250 babies come in to their side. This is high-tech meat production which is highly controversial with the animal rights people. The product is a very pale, tender meat aimed at an exclusive market, at a high price. Holstein bull calves, a byproduct of the dairy industry, are used. A death loss of 50% is bad, but fairly common for these calves on dairy farms.
I was hired to keep these babies alive! My record was well below a 2% death loss while I was there. Armed with medication and training developed by the industry, part of my job was to go through both sides of the barn to observe and diagnose each of the 500 calved This was done two times a day, before the calves are fed. While the feeding was going on, I went back through and gave each calf the medication that went with their diagnosis.
I treated bloat, scours, pneumonia, pink eye, ring worm, ear infections, minor infections, anemia, etc . . . etc. . .etc. . . After checking my barn chart and loading up a cart and tote tray with bottles, jars, syringes, balling guns, etc . . . etc. . . etc. . . I had hours of medicating to do. Some of these treatments were done from the back of the calf, some were done inside the stanchion, next to them, and some were IV’s, which had to be given in a neck vein. I figured that I walked about 12 miles each day, with all the trips around the barn. Sometimes 100 or more of the calves had to be treated, occasionally only a few. Mostly they needed major treatment at’the beginning and at the end of their stay.
The most strenuous part of my job was treating the really sick ones. I had to go around behind them to get them to stand up. Then I needed another person to put a calf halter on and tie their head to the front of the stanchion while I kept them pushed up to the front. Then I had to go around to the front to give the IV in the neck vein. Sometimes, to save time, I climbed up and over the stanchions. If an injection was required, I had to go in with each calf and give the shot in the neck muscle, with the calf bucking and stomping and flailing around. When they are babies, they can flip themselves over during this process. When they were older, I could hardly fit in next to them. Oh, the bruises, pain and smooshed body parts that I endured for nine months! Twice a day!
Now . . . to Dan’s part of the story. There is a rule in this industry that says “NO DOGS IN THE BARN.” This is because once, someone’s house dog followed them into the barn from the feed room. The calves, seeing a dog for the first time, all took a step backward at the same time. The stanchions tipped over backwards, killing 76 calves and injuring more. So, the general feeling was that the calves’ reaction was negative.
My boss and I figured, however, that if the dog started to come in with the calves when they were new to the barn that it would work. We didn’t have any real idea of the dog doing work; we just liked having one of my Aussies around. So, on day one of the new herd, I brought Dan in with me. The calves loved watching him and he loved to lick their noses right away! Dan was in seventh heaven and the calves seemed to be better off!
I called him to come with me on my diagnostic walk. He stayed with me, walking along at the back of the stalls. The calves started to get right up when he came along. Great! Then I came to a droopy one and bent down to goose him along the spine to get him up. Dan watched. The next one we came to like that, Dan jumped right on his back as I bent down to goose him. The calf got right up but I told Dan to back off because I thought jumping on the calf was a bit too rough. When we came to another one, Dan gently put his mouth on the little guy’s back, right where I goosed them. What do you know? The calf got up, enabling me to look him over to see what medication he would need. Wow! Could this really be happening?
Dan found the next sick one himself and waited for me to get there. He looked up at me as if asking, “Should I?” All I did was look back at him and he went in and got that calf up too!! After going along two whole rows to make sure that he was really doing this, I went and got the boss to show him. He walked along the next row with us and we agreed that Dan was really working with me. We decided that Dan was hired to come with me for every feeding as my assistant.
As those early days went along, Dan also helped us to put calves that had slipped out of their neck chains back into their stalls. First, I would stand by their stanchion and he would fetch them to me and into their homes. Later, he did it without a person because he actually knew each of the 250 calves on each side and he knew where they belonged! I could open the door and let Dan in the barn as I began diagnosing and he’d cruise through and put all escapees back in their stalls. If they tried to back out again, he would wait there until one of us got there to hook the chain.
One day he ran out and stood behind a calf. barking. I ran to see what the noise was for and I found a “flipper” upside down and near suffocation. I got him back on his feet and gave Dan a big pat. He helped, in this way, to save the lives of many “flippers” after that.
As you can see, Dan was getting to be more and more of a helper. I could soon do an IV by myself by asking Dan to stay at the back of the calf while I did the treatment at the front. I found that I could do more and more of the treatments from the front with Dan’s help. Even the injections could be given from the top of the stanchion if Dan was behind, keeping the calf up at the front. He got to be so aware of my job and how he could help that, if he was in the front aisle with me and I needed a calf to be gotten up, I could just say “Get him up, Dan” and around the stanchions he ran, right to the calf that I was in front of. He saved me so much walking, climbing and bruising that he became invaluable!
When we got a new shipment of babies, or sent the full grown herd out, Dan helped us to load and unload the truck. The drivers of these huge double-deck livestock trucks were more than happy to let Dan go in and start the stragglers on their way out.
The consultants from the feed company, who visited once a month, couldn’t believe what they saw, at first. It took a few trips to our barn for them to admit that we really were using a dog to help us. Soon they began to ask me about the chances of getting a pup for their own operation.
Dan slept by my bed every night and he soon got to know when it was 4:00 a.m., and time to get up and go to the barn. I set my alarm every morning but I wouldn’t have needed to. Dan woke me before it rang anyway. It was also nice to have a buddy to go back and forth with on the forty minute (one way) drive – four times a day.
I quit this job after nine months even though my assistant made the job a joy and I really enjoyed working with the calves. The boss was too much of a jerk and I was sure he was going to go down the tubes. I had a different job offer in my field . . . teaching! My biggest regret about leaving was that Dan would be out of his job. He still got plenty of chances to help us with our sheep flock and he was a trial dog, too.
A few months after this we went to a trial with young Holstein calves for the cattle classes. Dan looked at me like he remembered about them and his old job. So I entered him in Started Cattle. He really had a great time! I stood near the take pen. after he got them out and watched while he ran right behind them around the course three times before I could get him to bring them back to the pen! Everyone laughed as the five calves and Dan went around and around the course as if I wasn’t even there. But, I knew, that if dogs could laugh, Dan would have been laughing the loudest of all!
In loving memory of Sundew Eagle Dancer STDds, a true amazing Aussie–like so many of them!
this article was first published in this article was originally published in the Aussie Times Nov/Dec 1987