Posted 1/18/22

WOODWORKING Naïve about bulls “In the old days, bulls were lent and borrowed between small farms and crofts. The animals were readily shared and only wealthy farmers had their own. Nowadays there …

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Naïve about bulls

“In the old days, bulls were lent and borrowed between small farms and crofts. The animals were readily shared and only wealthy farmers had their own. Nowadays there are disease concerns and health schemes which make it hard to balance the bother of moving cattle between herds. Lending is all but dead. There are modern ways to share, including artificial insemination……” Patrick Laurie, “Galloway: Life in a Vanishing Landscape” The above quote comes out of that charming book given me by my Beautiful Wife, who, to her chagrin knows I like to do it the old way or at least think about the good old days of farming in Great Britain. Laurie is a farmer who recalls doing it the old way.

My life in cattle breeding has been limited to watching, usually from the outside. When I was six years old, my father, anxious to leave his factory job, rented a 40-acre farm from the local banker, an expert in foreclosure. Dad bought eight skinny Guernseys, but couldn't afford a bull (see above quote). One day he came into the kitchen and told my mother “Alice [a Guernsey named after my maternal grandmother] is in heat, so I have to take her over to Oscar Anderson's to have her bred.”

“I wonder why,” said I. “It's pretty cold out. Can I go along to Mr. Anderson's?”

“ABSOLUTELY NOT!” Shouted my mother from across the ironing board.

I was pretty puzzled as I watched him lead Allie down the shale road to Anderson's. What was the big deal? Why couldn't I go along? How could a cow be hot in this weather? What was Oscar Anderson going to do to Allie? Apparently nothing, for she was back in the barn, looking the same as when she left.

Such was my naivete in days of yore. When I was 14, I got a job as hired man on a big farm near Whitehall, famous for its purebred Holsteins, which squarely placed old Allie in Jonathan Swift's “Gulliver's Travels, part II.” My boss, John Lamberson, proudly came home with a new bull, purchased in faraway British Columbia. I helped John herd a bawling young heifer (ironically also named Allie) into the big breeding stall at the end of the barn. Enter the bull, just named Romeo Pabst Roamer out of Curtiss Farms. He was magnificent.

Romeo approached Allie, bawling her head off. He manfully mounted the lady Holstein and promptly slipped on one of Allie's cowpies and fell onto the concrete. A veterinarian was called who promptly diagnosed Romeo's hind leg was broken beyond repair. John Lamberson sadly called the local slaughter house and Romeo became what's known as Maloney's Baloney, Mfg. Arcadia, Wis.

My next encounter with Affaire di Toro came when college classmate Arlen McKinney invited us to his farm near Amery, Wis. For Thanksgiving. Also in attendance was Rev. Thomas Byers, who hadn't been on a farm since he left Hawkins as a child. After turkey dinner Tom asked to see Arlen's herd, so off we went leaving the dishes with the ladies. Once in the barn the Rev. inspected Arlen's herd. “Where?” he intoned, “is your bull, Arlen?”

“In the milkhouse,” said Arlen, and returned from its cooling tank, with a big glossy book called “Tri State Breeders.” Inside this magic book, explained Arlen, are pictures of purebred bulls, with ancestry and everything you need to breed a cow. “When one of my cows comes into heat, I fetch the book and show them pictures of these magnificent animals, with family trees that can't be matched. When a heifer nods at one of them I call a guy we call the artificial inseminator and he comes out and works his magic.”

The reverend's naivete reminds me of an artist I taught with at Ball State: Michael Eisenman. Mike was from New York City and his work now hangs in prominent galleries there. But then he was just a naïve and credulous art prof accompanying me home to Wisconsin. As we drove past American Breeders Service bull farm outside of Madison on I-94, Mike observed: “That farm has a water tower shaped like a male sexual organ. What goes?” I explained that the ABS farm only contained male cows and that the semen they produced was stored in the water tower. Whenever a subscriber to ABS called in an order, the semen was piped underground to the farmer's milkhouse.

“I had no idea,” replied Michael Eisenman, B.A., University of Pennsylvania, MFA, Barnes Institute.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.