We’ve asked our readers to send us their “Tales from the field” to share on this site. The reader submitting the story with the most page views will win $50. Today’s story comes from Jake Geis, DVM, with the Tyndall Veterinary Clinic in Tyndall, South Dakota.
A male adult bovine is not an animal to be trifled with. One doesn’t realize how fragile our species is until you come face-to-face with an agitated 2000 pound mass of muscle, testosterone, and attitude. And when that bull decides you are the enemy, it is imperative you stay light on your feet and find protected area. Preferably a tank; that might be strong enough.
This lesson was clearly illustrated on one sunny July day. I had just finished treating a bull for a mild lameness in his front left leg. The owner had warned me before we started he was not a “happy camper” and as such we had been very careful working with him. The owner, our clinic vet tech, and I gently coaxed him into the chute and trimmed his sore hoof. We then treated him for the infection in the hoof. Everything had gone just fine and we let him out of the chute towards the loading alley.
Now our loading alley at the clinic was nothing to be trifled with. It had six foot high fences of steel and 2”x8” lumber. The posts were twelve foot railroad ties buried six feet into the ground. Even the most unruly animals find this fence to be a major deterrent.
The bull went into this alley and stopped in front of the trailer. He was insistent that he would not go into that trailer, despite our polite but persistent urgings. After a few minutes he was tired of our cajoling. He turned around and took a run at the south fence. With a grunt, 2000 pounds of ticked off hamburger leaped into the air. The bull was able to get his front legs over the six foot tall fence and hung up there. I ran around to that side of the fence to try and get him to back off of it, but before I could get there he crushed the top rail. He fell backwards into the loading alley, taking the top board with him.
I grabbed the board and held it up in the gap where it once was nailed. I had no idea what to do next. It was obvious that me holding a board in place would not keep the bull in that alley, but if I ran to fix it, the gap would be open. So I held the board and hoped the owner and the vet tech could get the bull to decide he wanted to be trailered after all.
The bull went down the alley and jumped into the trailer, but immediately jumped back out. He took a run at the position where I was holding the board and went to jump. Realizing that my two hundred pounds of flesh and a broken board were not going to intimidate him, I leapt out of the way as he went over the fence again. The bull crushed two more boards on his way over and landed on the free open prairie of South Dakota. At this moment I wished I would’ve called in sick today.
The bull took off on a run towards the four lane highway north of our clinic. I dashed towards my vet pickup and our tech jumped in the passenger’s seat. We wanted to head him off before he got to the road. We took off like a couple of car-jackers in a cop movie across the lawn towards the runaway bull.
We caught up with the bull as he reached the highway. Unfortunately for us, the highway west of the clinic was under road construction. The pilot car had just released a couple dozen cars, trucks, and semis from the tedious 30 mph construction area, and all the drivers were winding up their vehicles like the Indy 500 to make up for the lost time. We slammed on our breaks to keep from getting T-boned by the constant stream of traffic. The bull saw no problems with his course and darted between a speeding car and a semi-truck. As we watched helplessly, caught behind the river of traffic, the bull trotted his way north across the highway, setting a course directly down Main Street of town.
At this point all hell broke loose. People in cars stopped next to the highway were staring out their windows at this behemoth bovine peering back in their windows at eye level. The owner and our secretary both called 911 to get the sheriff’s department for help. The bull owner took our secretary’s Pontiac sedan to come help with the chase. Our vet tech looked over at me from the passenger’s seat and said, “You’re just going to have to push through this traffic Jake.” Since the bull was about to visit the Dairy Queen I agreed we had no choice, so I held my hand out the window like a crossing guard to tell the traffic to stop and took off across the highway. No one hit us and we were able to catch up to the bull.
I pulled up next to the bull with the thought that an F-250 would intimidate him. I had absolutely no such luck. The bull wouldn’t charge the pickup (thank the Lord!), but he wouldn’t run from it either. I used the pickup like a moving wall to seal him off from going further into town. The bull turned west and ran between the hardware store and the gas station. I followed alongside of him until he ran ahead of me, as I was hung up weaving through the back lot of the hardware store.
The bull took off on a dead run across a hayfield towards the Chevy dealership. Not wanting to explain why a bull was destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars in new vehicles, I gunned the pickup across the hay meadow and cut him off again. I guided him up to the highway with the hope he would run back across and away from town. All I needed was traffic to stop for a few seconds so I could get him across the highway. It never happened. Cars kept buzzing by and this time instead of chancing traffic the bull cut back into the hayfield next to town.
At this point the county sheriff showed up. He and a deputy had an SUV. At the same time the owner pulled into the hayfield with our secretary’s little grey car. The two of them cut the bull off from town for the moment.
We tried to move the bull back towards the highway again. At this point the town police had the traffic stopped so it seemed more feasible. However, the bull was intent on visiting town and we kept weaving our three vehicles to block him, trying not to hit each other in the process. I’m sure if someone was flying over us it would look like a sketch from the Three Stooges. The bull took advantage of the fact we wouldn’t hit our vehicles to block him and cut between my pickup and the sheriff’s SUV. He crashed through some bushes into a backyard and headed east through town.
Our vet tech jumped out of the pickup to follow the bull, along with the sheriff’s deputy. I took my pickup back to the clinic to get an archaic relic that had been gathering dust for decades in the closet—an old tranquilizer gun. I had never used it before, so I called my boss who was out in the country working some cattle to get the skinny on operating this machine. He informed me that he had never used it before either—it had been purchased by a vet who had long since retired. Seeing I was on my own for this one, I fiddled with the darts and the charges until I thought I knew how it worked.
In the meantime, the bull had taken off east through town. He went back across Main Street through my boss’s back yard, where his wife was mowing the lawn. She saw the bull, then our vet tech, and then the deputy, and figured she should probably help with this project. So she went after the bull as well, being the caboose in a train that was sure entertaining for passers-by to view.
The bull, now enraged but exhausted, decided to stop in a backyard on the east side of town. A block north were two daycare centers, so the town cop called up the providers to make sure the kids were inside. They brought the children in, but the kids stayed glued to the porch door and windows looking to see when the bull would plow through their playground.
By the time I got to the bull again with the loaded dart gun, a standoff had ensued. The bull was situated in a large yard next to a line of pine trees, puffing and frothing. On a deck fifty yards to the west was our vet tech and my boss’s wife. To the east were the sheriff and the deputy, perched on a tractor forty feet from the bull. To the south where I pulled in with the pickup was the bull’s owner and the town cop standing next to the vehicles.
I pulled out the dart gun and told everyone how we were going to try this, but I wasn’t sure if it would work. Seeing how we had few options, everyone agreed to give it a go. I leveled the barrel and took aim at the bull. With a crack the dart flew from the gun, smacked the bull and ricocheted off his hide. He didn’t even flinch and not a drop of the tranquilizer went into him.
As I loaded another dart the deputy offered to use his Taser on the bull. Seeing the potential that this mechanism designed for humans being used on an already irate one ton animal could simply make him angrier, I asked if he had done it before. He replied that he hadn’t, but had seen a Youtube video on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if deputy had also said stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night. He said all he would have to do is hit the bull with the Taser, then I could run up with a syringe and jab it into the bull before he got up. I’d have five seconds to do that. I declined his offer and loaded the gun to try darting again.
At this point I was very nervous. If this didn’t work I didn’t know what we would have for recourse. With my shaking hands I pushed another dart in the barrel, then cursed as I realized I forgot to load tranquilizer in the dart. I couldn’t remove it from the barrel, so I just loaded a charge and shot it out into the ground. The dart bounced off the ground, breaking its needle. With only one useful dart left, I filled it with tranquilizer to try shooting the bull again.
I put the dart in the gun and went back towards the bull. I tried to move a different distance from the bull this time, so hopefully the dart would stick into him. Taking careful aim at the bull’s neck, I slowly squeezed the trigger. The dart flew from the barrel and once again bounced off the bull’s hide. The bull then took off north back through town at a lope.
The posse and I hopped back into our vehicles and caught up with the bull in another backyard. I called my boss to get some advice and he suggested we try to coax him into a pasture on the east side of town. I relayed this plan to the rest of the group. With a circle of incredulous looks staring at me, the owner broke the silence and told the police if they needed to shoot the bull they absolutely should—he didn’t want any person getting hurt.
At this suggestion, the deputy immediately retrieved a shotgun from his SUV and started jamming slugs into it. “Where do I hit him at, Doc?” he asked me. I told him where to aim, but said we’ll try to move to the east pasture first. I was quite worried about the slug passing through in this residential area and I didn’t want to have it end up that way if we could avoid it.
Leaving behind the posse, I slow approached the bull to try and coax him towards the pasture. My mind was racing with all the low-stress cattle handling knowledge I had gained in my college years. Don’t look him in the eye, enter his flight zone and then release pressure, use his shoulder as a point of balance, etc. I did my best to channel Temple Grandin.
I crept towards the bull at a snail’s pace. The bull kept throwing his head, making a show that he was not to be trifled with. He would paw the ground, throwing sod clods above his back. It looked like there was going to be some grass replanted in this yard after this debacle.
When I got within 25 feet of the bull, he turned and ran twenty yards closer to the pasture I wanted him in. I felt I was on to something. Carefully I inched towards him, saying nothing and keeping my hands down at my sides. If we could just coax him like this across town for two blocks, we would have him in.
The bull stopped and turned to look at me. Again I moved closer. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. The way the bull held his head high and cocked sideways told me something wasn’t right. When I got twenty feet from him, I found my fears were not unfounded. The bull lowered his head, squared up his body at me and charged with full fury.
Running was not an option—there was no time. To my left was a tree that I ducked behind. The tree was only ten inches around and my body stuck out on either side of it. The bull came right for the tree, seemingly wanting to plow through it right into me. Instead of becoming a bulldozer he went around the left side of the tree after me. I ducked to the right and ran towards a porch fifteen feet away. It is amazing how far fifteen feet is when you have a ton of bad bovine badgering your every step. I turned quick to see if the bull was going to get to me, but luckily he had instead found a new target and went to seek his revenge on his owner. The owner ducked behind a different tree and the bull, deciding that there were too many trees here to inflict punishment on the human species, took off south back towards the highway.
We all dashed back to our vehicles to catch up to him. The vet tech and my boss’s wife grabbed my pickup first and followed after him. They went through backyards and along the edge of a cornfield going as fast as that F-250 would take them. With the cop cars following behind in hot pursuit, the vet tech later told me she was a bit startled at first, like she was doing something illegal. But then she realized since the cops were trying to help her in this task, this would probably be the only chance in her life to get away with something this rash. So she floored it.
I got in the car with the owner and we took the roads around the neighborhood to catch up with them. I saw the bull cross the highway, which by this point was much safer thanks to the police having an officer on traffic control there. Behind him came my pickup and the other cops. Over the four lane divided highway they went, up one ditch, down into the next, then back up and down to the south side of the road. From my vantage point, it looked like our vet tech hit the ditch hard enough for my pickup to catch air. With the cops and airborne pickups you would have thought this was Hazzard County.
We trailed behind the posse in the car. The bull went down the gravel road past the clinic. This gave the deputy in his SUV enough room to turn the bull off into a farmstead south of the clinic. The bull bolted through the farmstead and buried himself in the tree grove behind the house. As we skidded to a stop in the driveway, I could hear the bull crashing through the cedar trees out of sight.
We cautiously follow behind him, knowing that there would be no time to jump out of the way if he caught us off guard in the thick cover. Much to my relief, the bull found an open gate to a cattle yard on this farmstead and went through it. I raced over to the gate and shut it behind him. Naturally, if he wanted to he could jump over it, but it felt relieving to have him in some form of confinement at last.
I thanked the county and town officers for their help. They laughed and said it was probably the best time they had all year on an emergency call. Knowing I’d have the pleasure of reading about it in the police report of the local newspaper next week, I was glad they took the chaos with such good spirits.
After the officers left, we needed to get the bull on the trailer. He was in a pen about forty yards by forty yards that contained two saddle horses. In order to load the bull, he would have to run into a catch pen on the east side of the big pen, then through a barn and then onto the trailer. As we approached the side of the pen to view how we were going to get him to do this, the bull came towards the fence to challenge me. Not anyone else, just me. His eyes fixated on me, watching my every move. When I went east, he would follow me, swinging his head and bellowing a challenging call. I figured it was probably a good time to just back away from the fence and give him a chance to calm down.
Everyone else agreed. We left him in the pen with the two horses. The owner went to get a cow from his herd to unload with him in the hopes that having a buddy would calm him down. The gentleman that owned the horses gave the bull a bucket of water, then went to get his tack to saddle up one of the ponies. I went back to the clinic and saw a couple of appointments that had been waiting all this time we were following the bull.
In forty minutes we reconvened. The bull had not quieted at all. Even when we let the cow out with him he was still challenging us from afar, and me in particular. Seeing he had almost nailed me twice today, I was adamant on not giving him another opportunity and kept my distance. After all, third time’s a charm!
The horse owner saddled one of his ponies and rode out to bring the bull in. I was pretty nervous about this—a bull can very easily destroy a horse and rider, but this bull seemed to be wary of the other animal. He moved away from the horse, into the catch pen, then into the barn. He went towards the trailer and stepped halfway on and stopped. The cow with him, deciding that she wanted nothing to do with this horse, slammed into the bull’s rear end and pushed with all her might. He begrudgingly stepped on to the trailer and the cow followed right behind him. As her last foot hit the trailer floor, the bull owner slammed the door shut and just like that it was all over.
To say I was relieved was an understatement. So many bad things could have happened, but praise the Lord none of them did. The owner thanked us for our help, and after taking the bull back home, bought us a case of beer. It was a needed drink. As we sipped our ice cold beverages, he asked, “What do you think you’ll do different next time this happens, Doc?” I took a swig of my beer, set it on the post and said, “There better not be a next time, but in case there is, I’m ordering a new dart gun.”