The author is a partner in the Maria Stein Animal Clinic, Maria Stein, Ohio.

It was time.

Mark Hardesty, D.V.M.
My old truck, Logwagon, was approaching 300,000 miles. John, our mechanic, had hauled it back from a farm call more than an hour away twice, and once on a 95-degree day, I had to run it with the heater on and the windows open to keep it from overheating.

I bought a fuel-injected turbocharged truck, mounted a “new to us” vet box in back, and was pretty proud of my new rig. This new one really moved down the road, reminding me of the Mustangs I drove in high school. This truck was named “Zippy.” That was six years ago.

Marvin had a new heifer freshen that developed the habit of greeting everyone who came into the pen with a head shake that could be interpreted as, “Welcome to our farm.” She became known as “Walmart.” Marvin had high expectations for her as she had great genetics, had always eaten well, and bred on the first service.

That was also six years ago. Walmart was living in the right place to do great things as evidenced by another cow, “Granny,” that cleared 300,000 pounds of milk last year.

Reaching full potential

John, my mechanic, called to say, “You’d better come look at your truck. I’ll leave it on the rack.”

I stopped in, and he showed me where Zippy’s turbo was leaking. The four-wheel drive (4WD) would not engage and could ruin the axle. Then, there was the transmission issue that I’d ignored for the last two years with the warning that it could “wad up,” but I could probably get home in third gear.

Now his warning was, if this turbocharger blows, I can probably keep putting antifreeze in and drive home with the radiator cap loose. It will probably cost $6,000 to get the next 30,000 miles out of this truck the way I drive. It would be okay around here, but it is no longer reliable.

I had been expecting to drive this truck two more years to get to 300,000 miles like the Logwagon. It was only at 230,000 miles, which is enough in six years, but my expectations were higher. I asked John if I should heed his warning to look for a replacement or ignore it like the transmission issue that started 80,000 miles ago. He replied that he liked me, but he didn’t want me calling at 4 a.m. from an hour away with no way to get where I was headed.

This reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a herdsman. I told him that of my retired vet trucks, I had one that was a state truck because it really shouldn’t leave the state, and I also had one that was a county truck because it shouldn’t leave the county. He slapped the old beater he was driving and said, “This is a farm truck.”

It’s time to go

Marvin called for me to look at Walmart, and I completed a physical. She just hadn’t been right since having twins. Walmart had five lactations and had cleared 230,000 pounds of milk, but Marvin was hoping to get her to 300,000 just like Granny.

Marvin was full enough for his facility and workload. When I announced that her abomasum was displaced, he regarded Walmart’s stifle injury from two years ago that was okay but a risk and said she may be the next to go.

John suggested I take back the new truck, Dependable, I’d bought for our newest associate. She drove an old truck for a year and a half before getting the new one and was quite happy with it. She was often far away in the early morning with several hundred cows sorted, and she needed a reliable truck. I wasn’t taking Dependable back!

I stopped at the dealership with Zippy, got a trade-in value, and ordered another new one — hopefully, Dependable II.

The next day, Rooney, one of our backup vet trucks, had a blinking check engine light and low oil pressure. My partner had driven Rooney 1,200 miles last week, but John called to say I needed to look at something. He had the oil filter cut open and laid out on the bench. It had a lot of metal in it!

I called the dealer and told them I had a different truck to trade in. It was older but had less miles. Rooney had spent a lot of time as an extra truck. Zippy would become the new backup.

Marvin had another cow for me to look at. “Red” was older than Walmart, but had less production. She had some long lactations, including long dry periods. As I went through Red’s physical, I found that she had a heart murmur. A murmur could be hardware or vegetative endocarditis.

If she didn’t respond to a magnet, Red would be the next cull. Walmart would get a surgery and another chance to make it to 300,000 pounds.

Avoid a trade-in

We can take the truck-cow analogy pretty far. While trucks aren’t living beings, you can go to a car show and find people love them like they are. “Dependable” is like a recently fresh heifer with a long life expected from it. “Dependable II” will be a springer until it freshens with John installing the vet box to make it productive.

All of our other trucks that are paid for but still productive are like the healthy, mature cows that pound out the milk. You really want these more than you want new heifers. Agriculture makes all of its profit on fully depreciated assets. How do we reduce the events that change cows and trucks from fully productive to trade-in or scrap value?

The things we do to make trucks and cows last longer have similarities. First, we pick the right cow or truck for the job. High-quality cattle produce more and last longer. For many, that means raising their own replacements.

We use a different truck where we rarely leave paved roads compared to another practice with back roads and driving in fields. We do regular maintenance like oil changes, tires, batteries, alignments, vaccination, and hoof trims.

We use good-quality fuel, but not premium, and feed a balanced diet, but don’t waste money on additives we don’t need. We store our trucks inside and have comfortable sand beds for the cows. We drive on paved roads and provide good footing for the cows.

It may be fun to have a barn full of new heifers or a new truck in the garage, but we all make more money with mature high-producing cows and trucks that are paid for and in good shape.