Our philosophy is "if the animals can do it, let 'em", and "the animals will always do a better job than we will". That pretty much sums up a bull. He has one really really important job: To make sure the cows are bred. Great work if you can find it.
Shim is a now 6 year old purebred Jersey bull. We bought him and brought him to the farm on October 9, 2007 to breed our heifers & couple cows. October 9 I know because it's Julie's (my wife) birthday. Some birthday present, eh? I am one suave husband.
We bought Shim from Art Johnson, who has a 32 acre grazing farm by Milton. I will surely write a blog entry about Art at some point, he is quite a character and a super person. Art's wife died 6 years ago now, so he's there alone, and he's in his 70's. He mostly raises bulls at this time, and Shim is a fine specimen of a bull; a son of Sambo, a quite famous bull that has had many daughters who have won many awards.
If you know anything about cattle, and bulls, and Jersey's, Jersey bulls -- the first words out of your mouth (to me) will be, Jersey bulls are the most dangerous bulls there are. Unpredictable. Vicious. Etc. And I believe they are indeed like that, and we treat Shim with great care. So no need to drop me a line about being careful. Being careful means always knowing where you are, the bull is, and making sure you have an exit plan. And having a stick of some sort in your hand is a must as well. Respect the Bull.
That all being said, Shim is a peach of a guy. He's past his macho years (2-4 years old), and into his middle age. Part of why he's such a swell is Art's handling of him since birth. Art talks to his cattle constantly, and works with them often. Shim is used to and has respect for people.He will do the whole macho thing of pawing the ground, but yell at him good and he'll stop and go on his way. A reasonable fellow
Did I mention that Shim still has his horns? And he knows how to use them like you and I use our hands. Why the heck does he have his horns? All the better to gore you with? Not according to Art; who believes in event of an attack, that he's going to get you one way or the other, that the horns are a useful grabbing point to keep him away from you. Now I'm not necessarily all in on that idea. But at 6 years old, not a lot I'm able to do about it. I would like Shim a wee bit more if not for the horns. But I have appreciated, too, that Art can throw a lasso over his horns quite nicely. I do rather enjoy standing on the other side of the fence in the parlor, and I'll go to scratch Shim and he'll nod his horns at me, which says, thanks but no. Touching the horns? He doesn't like that.
I get a chuckle out of macho Shim when he'll give a bale of hay what for. Uses his horns to scrape some out, invariably leaving him a rasta hat of hay.
My weird little deal is somewhere along the way I've decided that an Australian accent is my Shim & me voice. "Oooh yeah, you're a rough one aint you mate, yeah, that's right." Steve the Crocodile Hunter style.
So he goes in with the heifers on October 9. And starting July 14th (2 weeks early, but twins), 281 days later, the calves start a comin', with 92% within a 20 day window. 20 days is how often cows come into heat, plus or minus a couple days, so that's when Shim can "get them". So, it says good things for us that our girls were in good health and were able to be bred quickly, and for Shim as a bull that takes care of business.
We all know that the bull is the one that determines the calf sex. And we had 75% bulls, which, for a dairy farm, is going the wrong way. You'd be a lucky fellow indeed to have 75% heifers! (girls that is). So King Henry the 8th would have stayed at one wife if like Shim. We shall see how 2009 goes. He was in with the bulls later in October, and we've seen no heats in the cows, only one young heifer appears to have not caught on.
So what do most farmers do? Bulls are too dangerous and hard to handle, and limit their choices for genetic diversity. So they hire or AI (Artificially Inseminate) the cows themselves. Now that was going to be right difficult for the 2007 group of heifers, anyway, having been out in the field, and well, wild. The gals aren't exactly willing for a human to AI them like they are for a bull. The next big problem, even if they're in the stanchions in the barn, is detecting their heats. Humans: flawed. Bulls: flawless. They know, and since their right there, take care of business. Hence, the bull. Problem solved.
Unfortunately for Shim this will be his last year here; the following year he would be in a position to start breeding some of his own offspring, and that is of course not what you want. And we do desire genetic diversity, and towards some goals other than more Jersey. Our aim is to maintain about 1/2 Jersey in our crossbred cows.
So we will be looking -- and doubtful of finding -- a fellow as level headed and generally agreeable and capable as Ol' Shim. But I will insist that Shim go to a good farm where he will be appreciated as the fine fellow he is. He deserves no less.
Answers to a couple questions that come up about the whole...breeding thing...
Do bulls just "do it" to do it? They do not. It's because a cow is in heat or they don't. It's just a job to them. Okay, I'm sure there are some exceptions, and perhaps even the odd gay bull (okay now I've really lost a few of you haven't I), but as a rule, business use only. Harumph.
So how do they/us know when a cow is in heat? Cows in heat give off an odor that can be detected. If there is not a bull in with the cows, another cow will mount or the cow in heat will mount another cow to demonstrate being in heat.
Are you enjoying these little postings of mine? Drop me a line and let me know. Better yet, if you are in the area, come by the farm store and purchase some of our fine quality meats. You'll love them and my writing will be upbeat and fun rather than desperate and bitter. Not so entertaining my pretties.
All the best for now,
The Shim-inator, December 2007.
PS: If you have seen and enjoyed the PBS Specials on Barns, you will definately have remembered Art; he's the one with the beautiful yellow barn, but he's the guy who's talking to his cows and bulls
Wisconsin Barns: Touchstones to the Past and
American Barn Stories and Other Tales from the Heartland
..by Tom Laughlin. You can buy these films at his website