Some of the most exciting times of our lives as farmers have centered around the bovines that Certain Man raises for meat. As noted in the last post, there was considerable excitement when one such animal jumped the fence and gave all of us a run for our money. In another post, I may tell the story of the night we had that supper when we invited everyone who helped that day to a mystery supper — but there has been another story brewing over very recent happenings at the very same farm involving the same sort of animal.
Certain Man has gotten little Jersey bulls over the last couple of years because they were not as hard on his pocketbook as the ones of the Holstein lineage. These beautiful little critters are smaller than their big boned counterparts, and CM was loathe to deprive them of their manhood, contending that they would “convert better” if they were given some time before becoming steers. This has always been a point of concern to his wife, especially since there were times in the past when the intent was to wait until the last possible minute — and then, somehow, it got “too late” and then the last couple months of the lives of our two year meat projects were spent “being careful” whenever Certain Man was in the same pen or even pasture as the bulls.
And this happened again this year. Our yearling Jersey bulls had escaped the precautionary operation and had matured at an alarming rate. One of the three was docile. He was actually the smallest of the three, and he spent his time quietly going about his business, eating grass, not paying much attention to anything. The second of the three was suspiciously bossy, occasionally acting like he wanted to start something, and he wasn’t to be trusted too far. The third one, the biggest and oldest, was a basket of fury and hormones and aggression.
From the time he was a small calf, he wouldn’t take much from anyone. Spunky, feisty and strong, he grew worse as the months passed. By the time he was nine months old, he was the boss of everything, even the older steers that were about to go to market. But this spring and summer, he became incorrigible. He would bellow and snort at anything that took his attention that was out of the ordinary that he didn’t approve of. He would bang his horns against the fence and against the side of the barn, tearing holes in the tin on the side of the entrance to his pen. He would dig big holes in the pasture and loudly make known his displeasure with anything and anyone.
“You need to do something about that bull,” I would tell Certain Man. “He’s going to hurt someone!”
“I know,” Certain Man would say. “I really need to do something, but I am pretty sure it’s too late to band them. I think I’m going to see if Billy or someone will bring his chute down here and give me a hand. I think I’m going to need to get the vet.”
And then more time would go by, and someone would mention something about that “bull sounds really cross!” or “What in the world is wrong with that one of your cows? He makes a terrible fuss!” or (the thing that really bothered me) “Our kids won’t go out there to talk to your cows any more. They’re scared of them!”
“Daniel,” I would say on occasion, “I’m really afraid that someone is going to get hurt. Most of the kids who come know not to get into the pasture, but what if one of them does? Or what if he gets out?”
“I know,” he would say, impatient at my nagging, but also not sure of what he should/could do. “I really need to do something.”
And then, one day while he was in the pen, the bull started at him, pawing and snorting. Certain Man had the handle of a pitchfork at the ready, and he walloped him a good one and caught him just below his horns. It was a hefty blow, and the bull backed up, shook his head and came at him again. This time Certain Man got a solid whack across his nose and brought him to his knees. He got up and turned away. As he rounded the corner leaving the barn, CM saw that his nose was bleeding. This particular incident had two effects upon Certain Man. He began to make sure that his pitchfork handle was always handy and he began to actively plan a time in the very near future when he could take care of this militant aggressor’s basic motivation. As for the subject at hand, he appeared to be watching for his chances, but was always very respectful when he caught sight of the pitchfork handle.
The bellowing and snorting and pawing and clanging of the horns against anything close at hand was not lost upon our observant granddaughter. Ever one to be at her Grandpa’s side whenever possible, she was very concerned about the state of affairs in Grandpa’s barn. On more than one occasion, she complained to me about that fussy bull. “I don’t like how that cow sounds, Grammy,” she would say. “He sounds so mad!”
Then came the day when Certain Man’s vet, Dr. Christina Dayton-Wall stopped by to check on the newest member of Certain Man’s herd, a lively, beautiful little jersey bull calf. She checked him over thoroughly, gave him a vaccination and a shot and pronounced him healthy and strong. All the while, the belligerent fellow bellowed his protests at the intrusion into his domain. Certain Man seized the opportunity to tell her about his troubles with the mad bull and asked her opinion about the feasibility of “banding” or whether she thought the present state of affairs would demand a knife.
“No question,” was her cheerful reply. “They will need an operation. And I wouldn’t wait much longer if I were you. There’s no way I’d get into the same pen with those fellows without some kind of protection. They mean business!”
“Would you do it?” Asked Certain Man. “I have a friend who can bring his chute that he uses for hoof trimming and we could contain them. I’d like to do all three.”
“I’d be delighted to do it!” said his pleasant young female vet. (He later told me that he just can’t figure out why the females think this is such a fun thing. “They’re all tickled to death to help out with this,” he said woefully. “They just don’t have a clue!”)
And so they set the date for a Monday at three in the afternoon. But that Monday was still almost two weeks away. I worried about whether we would make it that long without someone getting hurt. It seemed like things were getting worse and worse. Our neighbor, Mr. Fox, who cuts our pasture for hay, parked his tractor in the adjourning shed one afternoon and created an episode of pawing holes in the side pasture, great bellowings and clattering of horns that went on until dark.
“You’ve got yourself a crazy animal there,” Mr. Fox told Certain Man. “All I did was park my tractor in the shed and he stood at the gate and acted like he was gonna’ come through it. He acted like he was crazy. And they have big holes dug in that back pasture that I cut for hay. One was two feet deep. Something’s wrong with him!”
That was the night that Charis and I were walking out by the garden, checking on the produce and watching Grandpa doing his never ending work in the shed and barn and chicken houses. We had also been drawn by the racket in the pasture that just wouldn’t stop.
“Grammy, that cow is really grumpy!” Said Charis, a little apprehensively. “I don’t like how he sounds.”
“I know, Charis,” I said to her, “He really is grumpy! Grammy doesn’t like it either! But do you want to know a secret?”
She looked expectantly up into my face. “Yes!”
“In just a few days,” I told her conspiratorily, “Grandpa’s vet is going to come and Billy Bender is coming to help and they are going to cut that cow’s ‘grumpy’ out! And then he won’t be so grumpy!”
She laughed. “Really, Grammy???”
“For real, Charis!” I promised. “That’s exactly what they are going to do!”
She did a little happy dance and then she went home with her Mama and I told Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter all about my wonderful explanation. I was rather proud of myself for being able to explain such a delicate situation to a six year old. I was surprised when Middle Daughter looked at me aghast.
“Mom!” she exclaimed with consternation. “That was a terrible thing to tell her!’
I was surprised. “Why is that so terrible?”
“Because that is what her Mama always threatens her with when she is being grumpy! She teases her and says, ‘You better get happy, or I’m gonna’ cut your grumpy out’ and Charis is probably really confused about this whole thing.”
I decided not to worry about it. Some things can just be handled by parents who made the situation in the first place. Except that a few nights later, walking with Charis, I noticed that she was thoughtful. And then, there came the question.
“Grammy, what is the ‘grumpy’ that they are going to cut out?”
(Gulp! I don’t consider this my territory of responsibility!)
(Oh, Lord, what do I say???) “Well, Charis,” I began slowly, but was suddenly struck by a stroke of Providential brilliance. “The boy cows have a gland that makes them act grumpy as they get older. The vet is going to come and take that gland out and then they won’t be so feisty and mean.” And that satisfied our curious six year old granddaughter. Let her Mama answer any further questions.
The day finally came without any damage to the humans that traverse the lands at Shady Acres, and the good vet came to find that Certain Man had done his work (as usual) with careful attention to safety and without fault. The three bulls were shut in their pens with only one way out — and that was into Billy Bender’s sturdy chute. Once they were securely restrained, Dr. Dayton-Wall gave a little shot of Lidocaine that they hardly felt and before they knew what had happened, they were out the other end of the chute, steers!
They were strangely subdued that first hour or so. They grazed a bit, but there was no pawing or bellowing. As the evening wore on, they were more and more languid. Eventually they stopped trying to motor at all. The biggest fellow — the most maniacal, lay out in the field like he was dead, just giving an occasional melancholy flip to his tail — lifting it up about six inches and sadly dropping it down again. There was no noise. At all. The pasture around Shady Acres’ barn was almost spooky with the change in atmosphere. But eventually, they realized that they weren’t going to die after all, and began to graze and gingerly walk about.
“Any bellowing or carrying on?” I asked Certain Man two mornings later. Dr. Dayton-Walls had warned us to be careful for ten days to two weeks.
“It will take them that long to get rid of the ‘boy stuff,'” she said cheerfully. “Don’t trust them until you know how they are going to be. Those guys, particularly the big one, could really hurt someone!”
Certain Man grinned. “Nope!” he said. “Not a bit. No pawing, no clanging against the fences and buildings, no digging, no nothing! These guys are different animals!”
“Do they seem to be okay?” I asked, suddenly wondering if such an alteration could kill them.
“Fine as can be,” he told me. “They just don’t act like they care about anything. They are eating and grazing and just as calm as they can be.”
Several days later, I was outside when I heard a noise. It was a gentle mooing sound that our steers would make when they thought it was time for Certain Man to feed them. I had never heard this particular sound from these animals. I stood in the side yard and thought about what a nice sound that occasional, controlled mooing was. I thought about how nice it was to not worry that someone was going to get hurt on our farm by an angry animal. I thought about the meat that we should have to share with our family and others when these steers would be full grown. I thought about how “cutting a grumpy out” can be so pivotal in the atmosphere of a family farm. And I thought — well, I could draw all sorts of analogies, here, but I think I won’t.
And that is the news from Shady Acres where Certain Man continues to protect and provide for us in so many ways. Where whatever it was that happened on that Monday afternoon was final — there was no more aggression on the part of any of the newly altered bovine males.
And where Certain Man’s Wife gives very grateful praise for a job well done.