There is a saying in Belize that there are more caves than paved roads in the country and having driven on several of them myself in a van with thirteen other girls, I can vouch for that. We sat hip-to-hip up hills and back down them while trying to reach a small corral in the middle of a valley for class where about sixty head of beef cattle sat waiting for us. After a short anatomy lesson in the field on where the pelvic bone and spine sat, we were instructed to climb onto a raised platform to give dewormer/vitamin injections and to be honest it took some effort trying to place the needle. The beef cattle breed used in Belize has thick skin that allows them to withstand the intensity of the heat and prevalence of parasites in the region but they also are skittish making them far more unpredictable to work with. Some of the smaller cows and calves literally pushed themselves underneath one another in the stockades, which meant some of us, had to climb over them using the fence to get over to the other side. It was a bit of struggle climbing over, as there was always the possibility of falling into the stockade with the cattle below but I succeeded in getting to the other side 🙂 Normally in the States, the process is far more streamlined as there is a head-catch that prevents the cow from moving when it needs to be examined or handled so trying to inject without one was a lot harder. However, there were times when it was actually quite funny to watch as most of us not having worked with cattle before were all a little nervous when the needle would not go in initially and almost every time you could hear in the background the vet and vet tech yelling “stab him!” trying to encourage us to push the needle in a bit harder. Having been my first time to give injections let alone work with cattle made it all the more fun and I don’t think the experience would have been nearly as memorable without the sweat, heat and bumpy roads leading up to it all.
After lunch, we were given a change of scenery and chance to cool off inside of one of the BAHA (Belize Agricultural Health Authority) labs, where we had the opportunity to do a blood smear and learn more about the parasite testing done for fecal samples. Each of us was handed a white lab coat to wear which if you already read my last few blog posts, you would know by now that it did not stop myself from pretending that I was a vet for the day especially after having just given injections earlier in the morning. One of the veterinary technicians explained to us more about the McMaster test used to quantify parasite ova in feces and the other went into more detail about blood cell measurements including packed cell volume (PCV) and complete blood count (CBC). It was actually really awesome to do a blood smear as it came from the same sample that one of my peers had just learned how to draw from a cow in the field during our first session. On our way out, there was also some free fruit sitting out that the vet Dr. T handed to me to try (They are called Malay apples. Cute how small they are, right?) and it was a refreshing way to end a hot long day.
The following day we headed out to a sheep farm to help give dewormer/vitamin injections and assist in the castration of a few lambs. While working in pairs to restrain the sheep, I was surprised to find how critical teamwork was for ensuring that the injections were not only received but also given quickly to reduce any possible stress in the animals. It is important to take into account herd behavior when working with livestock such as sheep as it can enhance your ability to restrain them. Sheep in particular are prey species that typically run in large groups to avoid danger so by herding them together it makes it a lot easier to pick one out to examine. Performing castrations for the first time proved to be challenging, as I knew little about the reproductive anatomy to differentiate between the ligament and spermatic cords holding the testicles close to the body. It was interesting however to see how the limitations in the field such as having a sterile area to work in might change how the surgery progresses and post-operative care is maintained. In the field, our operating table was a cleared off set of wooden planks and at one point the bucket of iodine solution used for disinfecting the surgical field was knocked over by one of the lambs. Without a way to restock the iodine solution, we had to use it more sparingly and placed if not more of the antibiotic spray following each operation. Being that the antibiotic spray was purple, it almost all the time went everywhere but it was fun regardless to come back at the end of the day with my own little temporary splattered purple tattoo—a reminder of day’s hard work and my first assisted castrations.
So I have to be honest and say that pigs were my least favorite animals to work with so far out of all the large animals. The smell was a bit nauseating although the noise did not bother me too much once they started squealing in synchrony with each other (You just cannot really hear anything at that point to know the difference lol ;). We performed castrations on a few piglets early in the morning on a blue bin (instead of on wooden planks like with the lambs) and later gave intramuscular injections to some of the older ones developing to market weight. Pigs were possibly one of the hardest animals to restrain and before assisting to hold one in surgery, I was unaware of the fact that they disliked being handled and touched so got kicked a couple times in the process. While we did have a pig catcher, it was actually easier to restrain the animals manually when giving the injections but still difficult nonetheless as I fell back in one of the pens while trying to wrangle one. I also found it surprising that here in Belize there are few swine farms, which surprised me as I had been eating bacon almost daily with my morning breakfast at the Midas Resort. Who would have thought that working in the field would have given me perspective about eating my breakfast?