Borrowing a bull to make babies

  • Scottish Highlander cow, Brittany, with her 2019 calf. At Miles Smith Farm, we like our calves born in March and April when the weather is warm. To make this happen, we pasture our bull with the cows nine months earlier. Calf gestation is nine months. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 2/8/2020 3:15:34 PM

If a farmer wants to breed her cows, then at least one bull is required for “natural breeding.” We like our calves to be born in April and May when it’s warmish, and grass is growing, so breeding takes place nine months before then – in July and August.

Our bull plays his role for six weeks (July 1 to Aug. 15), and then his job is finished. Unfortunately, he still has to eat. In summer there is plenty of grass, but in winter he’ll eat a lot of expensive hay. So we get other farmers to share the cost of his upkeep by renting out his services.

We are particular about who rents him. It has to be someone we trust, someone who’ll treat him as we would, feed him quality hay; and providing veterinary care if necessary.

The perfect bull-sharing prospect reached out to me at the beginning of January. Keith wanted to lease my recently purchased white Scottish Highlander bull, Blain. Keith has a small herd – three Highlander cows – and had leased Blain from his previous owner. The match was perfect, but there was one problem: Keith lives in Maine.

Unless they are on their way to a slaughterhouse, a veterinarian’s health certificate is required for all bovines that cross state lines. Keith wanted his calves born in October, so he needed Blain right away. This meant we had to scramble to get a certificate. To provide visible identification, we decided to give him an ear-tag with his name and registration number. That might have been a mistake.

At 1,500 pounds, Blain is a gentle giant, or so I thought. Easy to halter, he’d never swung his head, and when led, would follow calmly behind.

We secured him to attach his tag, and after two tries, Blain had a shiny new ear-tag. What we didn’t know was that he also had an attitude; he was protective of his right ear, the one with the tag. Not aware of this, I loaded him into the stock trailer for his trip to the vet.

At Riverside Veterinary Clinic, the vet was able to take his temperature, but then the trouble started. Blain, tied in the trailer, was still protective of his right ear. Twice I reached by his right side to untie his rope, and each time he shook his 2-foot horns at me. Thinking I was out of range, I reached out to touch his right side to reassure him. With a lightning-quick move, he smashed me in the mouth with his right horn. Bleeding and defeated, I retreated and let the vet finish her inspection.

Back home, husband Bruce, with the help of farm-friend Melissa, was able to untie Blain from the trailer, and the next day we delivered a happy bull to woo his girls in Maine. I had to drink through a straw and keep conversation to a minimum for a few days, but fortunately, I still have all my teeth and only a small scar.

I blame the ear-tag for Blain’s change in behavior, but maybe I’m wrong. Around the farm, we use “going to Maine” as a euphemism for going to the slaughterhouse. Is he smarter than we thought? Anyhow, by now he probably realizes our good intentions and will be ready to forgive and forget.

 

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, milessmithfarm.com, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at cas@milessmithfarm.com.)




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