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Vice Blog

My Dad Gets Shoulder-Deep In Cows

My dad is a veterinarian in a small dairy town in Northern California, which means I grew up hauling hay and shovelling horseshit on farms. I often went on calls with him where we yanked slimy newborn calves out of their uncomfortable, mooing mothers, or performed autopsies on the corpses of bulls, horses, dogs, and once, just for the hell of it, a small whale that washed up on the beach. Yet throughout the investigative butchery and stinking wrenches of animal births, the one procedure that always made me uneasy was bovine palpation.


For those of you who are fortunate enough to have never heard of bovine palpation, that’s the official name for shoving your arm shoulder-deep in a cow’s ass. Cows react to this penetration much like a person might, they scream (moo), waddle, and their eyes bulge out of their heads. After feeling around for a bit, the doctor’s arm comes out covered in green shit.

Most of us enjoy our daily milk with a clear conscience, oblivious to the annual – and sometimes biannual – butt assault the animals that delivered our delicious beverage are subjected to. Dairy farms are launching a PR blitz in California right now, telling consumers that their milk comes from “happy cows.” That is bullshit. How can an animal be happy after having its ovaries roughly jangled through its rectal wall by some guy with long arms and a plastic sleeve? My dad gave me the straight talk on animal arming.

VICE: Why do you have to reach into a cow’s ass?
Dad: We do it for several reasons. One is to find out the pregnancy status of the cow. Through the rectal wall, which is really pretty thin in a cow, you can reach down and feel the cow’s uterus. That helps dairymen manage their dairy herds. If the cow isn’t bred, they want to know so they can make sure it gets bred. That’s the main reason.

So pretty much every non-heifer cow in California has been “armed” at one time or another?
There’s a very good chance. It’s a common practice because it’s the cheapest way to determine pregnancy.


>Would you contend that cows in California are generally happy?
Most dairies try to make them happy. Universities have spent a lot of money trying to find out what makes cows happy; because happy – or less stressed – cows produce more milk.

Would you say getting a limb in their keister is probably the worst part of most dairy cows’ lives?
I don’t know. That’s over pretty fast. A guy can arm a cow in ten seconds or less. And it happens once, or maybe twice a year at the most. I think giving birth to calves would be more stressful.

Having your good arm in a giant asshole is probably not very pleasant for the veterinarian either?
Yeah, once in a while you get kicked. The guys down in the Central Valley – there’s some big veterinary practices down there with ten, twenty vets – will go out and start at four or six in the morning when it’s cooler. They’ll arm 600 to 1000 cows by noon. That’s their day. They wear shin guards and knee protection.

Dear Lord. That's 125 cows an hour. You can really injure your shoulder if the cow moves too, right? And you can also get shit on at point blank range?
Yeah, I’ll never forget an old practitioner who I was interning with. We were checking these sick cows that had diarrhoea and stuff. He thought one was aborting, so he put his hand in her vagina to feel her cervix and see how it was coming along. The cow coughed while the guy was turning to say something. He had his mouth open and this cow just shot diarrhoea right into his mouth. That was pretty rank.


I think there’s a high incidence of rotator cuff injury on the guys who palpate cows year after year. You can also get carpal tunnel type stuff. Your arm gets squeezed, so it can wear your muscles out quickly if you’re not used to it.

Are there any special exercises to prepare for ass fisting a cow?
I don’t think there is an exercise for that. I don’t know. I suppose squeezing a tennis ball would help, but I think you just have to do it and keep doing it.

It’s a unique motion?

Do cows like getting milked?
They definitely seem to want to get milked. They’ll go into the parlour on their own when they understand what’s happening. They get sort of trained.

The more calves the cows have, the more they get milked, right?
When they calve, the amount of milk they produce goes up for the first two months. They produce more and more and more until they peak at about two months in, and then it gradually goes down and down and down. That’s because in the calving cycle, the calves wouldn’t be drinking milk after four or five months.

And palpating a cow is about getting it bred as soon and as much as possible?

So, in essence, if the cows like getting milked, and they can only get milked after they’re bred, and to get bred they have to get ass fisted, they should like it, right?
I don’t think they make that connection. Sorry.