The Book Stories From the Round Barn
Told in the inimitable, animated voice of Jacqueline Dougan Jackson, Stories From The Round Barn is an affecting addition to the canon of the American memoir of rural life. Using stories, anecdotes, history and even veterinary science, Jackson braids together a series of dramatic fragments and episodes to vividly recreate life on the Dougan dairy farm.
-- Northwestern University Press

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"Barefoot" - "S. O. B." - "Dehorning" - Press Reviews - Podcasts!
All stories ©1997, Jacqueline Dougan Jackson


It's 1938. Russel Ullius is herdsman. They are dehorning calves in the side barn.

If left to nature, a calf will develop horns from the two little hornbuds on her forehead. But Grampa sees to it that the calves get a caustic salve when these buds are just little buttons, about half an inch high. The salve usually stunts the horns' growth. Some horns continue to grow, and these have to be removed when the calf is about a year old, to prevent harm to other cattle and to people.

Dehorning is not a happy procedure. The animal is held still with a halter, her head immobilized in a dehorning frame and with a nose leader. The horns are snubbed with a special miter saw, and then a cauterizing, healing powder is put on the cut surfaces. It's painful to the calf, as painful as having a tooth pulled without anesthetic, for there are nerves in the horn, and an artery which is sometimes large and squirts. If the artery continues to bleed, a calf can bleed to death. The vet has to be called.

Today, all the calves go through the agony, bawling with fright and pain, and are finally freed. But one is a bleeder. The herdsman can't stop it; Grampa can't stop it. They call the vet. Dr. Knilans reaches into the horn with tweezers, pulls out the artery, and ties it.

The animal is weak from loss of blood. "Give her a shot of gin," Dr. Knilans tells Grampa. "It will do her good. You can give her some more later on tonight."

Grampa drives to town and buys a bottle of gin. It's probably the first and last time he buys gin in his life. He returns to the barn, and he and Russel administer a good dose. It seems to do the calf good. They give her another dose that night. By morning the calf seems normal and is released from sick bay. Grampa takes the bottle and puts it on a shelf in the men's washroom behind the kitchen, back by the shower with the Petro-Carbo salve and other medicines. It sits there, gathering dust.

A year later Russel has a terrible cold. He can't shake it. Every night he goes to put the cows to bed, just dragging his feet. One night he returns from the barn, looks up, and sees the bottle. He thinks, "What's good for that cow is good for me!" He takes a hefty swig and goes to bed. He sleeps like a baby.

The next morning he feels more energy on the job. That night when he returns from putting the cows to bed, he thinks again, "What's good for that cow is good for me!" He takes another shot, and enjoys another peaceful sleep. The third night he takes a final dose and considers himself cured. "It's good for calves, and it's done me good," he says to himself.

Only a day later Russel is in the back room washing up for supper when W. J. comes hurrying through. He glances up at the gin bottle and stops dead.

"Well!" he exclaims. "That thing's gone down!"

Russel doesn't confess, nor does Daddy Dougan probe. The bottle continues to sit on the shelf at its current level, gathering dust.