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Lesson learned: Never, ever trust a bull

August 24, 2018

A striped gopher stuck his head out of a hole just as a bald eagle rode across the sky on the northern wind. It was an unusually cool August morning that hinted at a rapidly approaching fall. The soybean fields that looked rough earlier in the summer had recovered enough to have bumper-crop potential.

A few fields suffer from waterhemp as the weed has achieved some resistance to Roundup. Bean growers have adjusted their chemical applications to defy the weed, but weeds continue to adjust.

A canning company has harvested peas in a nearby field and the smell of rotting vines was carried by the wind. A long time ago, vines were stacked in centralized locations and sold as forage.

The vines were adequate nutrition for growing dairy heifers and beef cows. Pea silage — measured in the stack and marked — were purchased by individual farmers. Sweet corn silage was an option if or when pea silage wasn’t available.

Dad tried to avoid feeding either forage if possible because it seemed to him that the silage contained metal fragments that when digested by cattle caused severe and difficult-to-treat health problems. The most a veterinarian could do was to push a magnet down an ill animal’s throat and hope it would pick up the metal. The treatment was seldom successful, which meant the animal slowly deteriorated to skin and bones before being put down.

The rendering truck’s arrival was most unwelcome. It occurred to me when it arrived that operating a rendering truck was perhaps the most gosh-awful job imaginable. However, it also seemed that drivers never complained.

I often objected when it came time to dehorn cattle. The pincher that crunched down on yearling cattle horns seemed cruel. Squirting blood and buzzing flies made it worse for both animals and humans. Some producers used cream to burn button-size horns with mixed success.

It was a good day when Dad purchased a polled Holstein bull, which the seller promised would yield hornless calves. A couple generations in and horns were mercifully rare. Although it has never been proven scientifically, Dad thought polled bulls were naturally born meaner than their horned counterparts.

Holstein bulls — no matter how docile they may appear — couldn’t be trusted. For us, the point was driven home in the late 1960s when three farmers in nearby counties lost their lives when bulls attacked. Dad recommended carrying a club in the cow yard, although it was perhaps obvious to the bull and painfully obvious to me that a club would do little to persuade a charging bull to back off.

I learned first-hand that no bull could be trusted shortly after the cow yard had been scraped clean and the manure spread on small grain stubble. The Holstein bull hit me shoulder high from behind and pushed me underneath a feed bunk that stood on iron legs. His low bellow seemed to indicate the devil had possessed him.

He tried hard to lift the bunk, but it was heavy with feed so all he could was slide it a bit on the cleaned cement. I waited for 10 minutes or more before the bull lost interest in me. My shoulder was torn up pretty good, but the pain was manageable.

The bull became meek as a mouse when a couple months later it was loaded for a one-way trip to South St. Paul. Dad estimated the animal might weigh close to 2,000 pounds, which at 14 cents per pound would yield a good-size check.

The mailbox contents and our patience took on greater importance until the check for the bull and a cull cow arrived. Dad was either pleased with the amount or angry at the “crooks’’ who paid so little. At the very least, the check helped the farm’s balance sheet into fall, when revenue increased as the dairy cows freshened and produced more milk on new corn silage and grain corn.

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