Our Year on the Farm


The Other Side of the Fence

I discovered a lot about agriculture in the next few months. I learned, for instance, that chickens don’t need roosters to lay eggs, but cows need bulls to give milk. And since milk is the whole point of dairy farming, having a good bull around is important.

I learned that bulls “service” cows, and the farmer on whose farm we lived had a little bull that was the Chairman and C.E.O. of his own flourishing service company. Half Hereford and half Holstein, his virility, ferocity and persistence were legendary, but his short legs were often his downfall. Many times we observed him providing his essential service, which he did with impressive energy and commitment to customer satisfaction, oblivious to the curious glances of voyeuristic suburbanites.  Often his client would take a step backward and flip him as neatly as a black belt. He would land heavily on his back, bellowing in protest and embarrassment, while the cow ambled back into the herd nonchalantly swishing her crusted tail and chewing her crud. Cud.

I learned that bulls ‘service’ cows, and the farmer on whose farm we lived had a little bull that was the Chairman and C.E.O. of his own flourishing service company.

On other occasions, the bull would attempt to service a cow that was standing on the opposite side of an electric fence. When the jolt hit him he would leap away from her, his eyes bulging with rage, and often get buzzed again as he tried to backpedal awkwardly to safety. The cow would bolt, starting a minor stampede on the other side of the wire and further infuriating the little bull.

Despite these frequent setbacks, the bull’s performance record was impressive. “It’s a girl!” are the dairyman’s favorite words. Bull calves don’t give milk; heifers do, or will one day. This bull sired an astounding number of heifers–so many, in fact, that our landlord had to rent the adjoining property to accommodate them. His dozen white plywood calf hutches were nearly always occupied by slobbering, knobby-kneed tenants that would suck our fingers and butt us happily when we stopped to admire them.

The image above is from The Telegraph.

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