Photo courtesy of The Old Cowboy Archives
An aging Baby Jim was involved in a conversation the other day about bulls. It started because of an article about an elderly man and his son both being killed by a bull at the same time….Presumably the bull attacked one and the other went to his assistance and the bull killed both. It is a sad event…the article made no mention of the breed or age of the bull…not that it is particularly relevant.
For a bull to kill a full grown man is little more difficult than that same man swatting a fly. Far too many people, including those who work with and around them, have no idea of the strength and power extant within a bull. Often today many advertisements and listings on Craigs List and Facebook can be seen, authored by modern day homesteaders looking to buy or sell gentle Jersey bulls. Gentle Jersey Bulls is a three word oxymoron. Baby Jims countenance is filled with dread when he sees such things. The sweet little Jersey cow is one of nature’s wonders. Small, gentle, efficient, prolific, attractive and productive. People then think the same thing about their male calves….. and if neutered it is true….The steers are similar to the cows and heifers and the steers make very good well marbled beef. Left intact, however, the bulls are subject to becoming death on the hoof.
Anyone who works around a bull stud with all sorts of bulls will tell you that in general the dairy bulls are the rankest: and most difficult and among the dairy bulls is the Jersey, while the smallest, is
generally acknowledged to be the most dangerous. And with dairy bulls going from one extreme to the other often happens like flipping a switch……a switch that often cannot be turned back off. When a bull decides to get mean, they seldom say I’m sorry lets be friends again….
Todays homesteaders scoff at Baby Jim’s admonitions and warnings and reply back that he is just a pet and we raised him on a bottle and he is the gentlest thing on the farm….The bovine translation is that he is absolutely not afraid of you. And if the switch flips you are most likely to be toast…because you will not see it coming and most likely will not have had any warning or missed the subtle signs.
First….no one realizes the power in one of these animals….Oxen which are simply aged steers are extremely powerful…pound for pound stronger than horses and able to pull great loads with a simple yoke laid across their shoulders….Oxen are stronger but horses are faster and we know which one people generally prefer….
Some illustrations of power.
Several years ago Baby Jim use to breed a small herd of cows for a neighbor….they started out with one cow who had a lot of heifers. The cows were bred to good quality Bulls via AI and the small herd was quite productive. But they were all like pets and any time it was time to sell anything more than a few tears were involved. Many cows were buried on the place because they did not have the heart to sell them at market. At one point they had a bull calf that was better than any previous bull calves and they decided to leave him as a bull. So they kept him and he became a big stout bull that replaced the need for AI service for a couple of years…Of course he was one of the babies as well, even though he weighed over a ton. By and by Baby Jim was called on to consult on some cow related matter. While there he observed the interaction between the owner and the bull and commented that the people needed to be more careful with the bull….It was met with he would not hurt a fly he is just a big baby….Baby Jim stated the he never thought the bull would be outright mean but any animal weighing a ton can hurt you by wanting you to scratch an itch.
About a month later the owner was going across the field on his tractor. It was a 35 or 40 HP Massey Ferguson tractor. He had a five gallon bucket on the tractor which the bull assumed to be feed. The bull circled the tractor a time or two in an attempt to stop the tractor for the feed. When the human did not stop the tractor the bull decided to handle things his way….He stopped…lowered his head and pushed the tractor from the front….It was all pretty laughable until the bull began pushing the tractor backward while the drive wheels were still going forward. When the owner depressed the clutch the bull rolled the tractor backwards forty or fifty feet and then stuck his head in the five gallon bucket for the feed….the bull was gone less than thirty days later….
That same operation naturally loved the arrival of all new babies and they were met with loving hugs and adoration…Baby Jim observed the mistress of the manor bestowing such adoration on a calf less than 12 hours old and getting between the mama and the calf…He advised caution……”My girls all know me and they would never hurt me.” was the response. About a year later one of her girls rolled her about thirty feet across the field. Fortunately nothing was injured except her pride.
a HORNED HEREFORD BULL IN THE SELECT SIRES CATALOG MCR BLUESTEM 977
Now into the way back machine, with Mr. Peabody. A couple of tales from the Youth of Baby Jim….
First was Sam….Baby Jims dad and his good friend had some cows….In the early sixties they got some charolais cows…They liked the calves so well that they decided to get a charolais bull. Don’t know where he came from but one Sunday afternoon Baby Jim’s daddy rolled up into the yard with a bumper pull stock trailer and after he stopped the trailer kept rocking….Baby Jim stepped up on the running board to see what all the noise was about and about 750 lbs of white fury slammed into the side of the trailer….A young Charolais bull. Baby Jim opined that he didn’t think he would unload him until he got back to wherever he came from or a stockyard which ever was closer. Baby Jims dad said he had been put through the chute and vaccinated and dehorned and was just a little rattled and that he would settle down. Another look confirmed that they had not dehorned but had only sawed off his horns… Baby Jim countered with the observation that if he did not settle down on a fifty mile ride he didn’t think settling down was in his future…but the older generation prevailed and the bull was turned out into the pasture and that was the last time anyone set foot in the pasture for over five years….well you could ride a horse or drive a tractor in the pasture….but no one was brave enough to walk….Over the next few years, the entire cow herd got so wild that doing anything became an expedition and when trying to trap any cows they tore down everything. They were led in these endeavors by Sam who grew to be huge and his blunted horns grew out to about 10 inches of battering ram on each temple.
One time while Baby Jims daddy was feeding silage with a crawler loader, the bull tried to fight the loader…Baby Jims daddy dropped the loader on the bulls head and knocked him down and made him back off. They decided that he had to go…
While baby Jim was in the army they decided to build a super pen nearly seven feet tall and stout….they would put feed in the pen to entice the herd in. Somehow they got the gate shut….the next problem is how do you load the bull? Now back in the day people did not have stock trailers. Stock trucks were the rule and normally two ton or greater trucks with oak bodies and a roof. So the bull had to go up the ramp and into the truck….how to get him to do that….after several hours of frustration and several brushes with near death, baby Jims cousin who was quite the athlete had an idea….when he saw a clear path, he jumped into the pen and sprinted across it and up the chute and practically leaped onto the top of the truck…With malice in his heart the bull gave chase across the pen and up the ramp and his impetus took him into the truck and the gate was dropped, locking him in. They managed to get him to a stock yard and no one knows how because afterward they had to rebuild the truck body.
In the meantime another charolais bull appeared at the farm where Baby Jim had always kept his horses…there had been a few cows there for years as well…This bull was unlike Sam in that he was quiet and calm and the farm owner had made a pet of him…A couple of years later Baby Jim was working at a big farm up north and came home for a visit. Little Charlie Brown had gotten to be a big boy and was still calm and easy but there was something foreboding about him. Baby Jim sat down with his Dad one night and asked him for a favor. He asked him to move Charlie Brown to one of the other herds. His daddy agreed that it was probably a good idea, but asked him why? Baby Jim replied that he was afraid the bull was going to hurt the landowner….Baby Jim was not so much worried about malice as he was about an unfortunate accident.
A few months later Baby Jims paternal ancestor called him one night…this was surprising as neither of them was ever noted for their conversational skills. Both were too brief and too direct for most people and most of their communication between them was non verbal.
Anyhow Baby Jim’s sire asked him how he knew….
Baby Jim said, “knew what ?”.
“How you knew that Charlie Brown was gonna get mean.”
“I didn’t but I was afraid he might step on the other landowner by accident. Did he get mean?”
“Almost as bad as Sam. Glad you asked me to move him because mean as he is now we would have never gotten him away from the other place. Bye.”
Then there was the stint where Baby Jim worked at the Richmond Stockyard between a couple of years of college and going into the Army.
On sale days Baby Jim worked intake in the morning and the sale ring during the sale. Mostly because he was young, quick, indestructible and expendable…
One day this fellow arrived with a big black bull….Story was that he had bought the bull at a sale the day before and in loading him someone had hit him in the eye with a stick and the bull got nasty….the guy had taken him home but the bull was so irate that he never took him out of the truck and brought him to Richmond the next day…At least he warned us before he turned the bull out into the processing area…on a side note it was amazing the number of people who felt no need to warn us of bad cattle…don’t know if they were just so happy to be rid of them that they forgot to warn: or whether they took a perverse pleasure in seeing other folks scramble for their life.
Nasty was putting it mildly….he could only see out of his right eye with the left one closed and weeping prolifically. He went through that stockyard like Sherman went through Georgia. For any who may not be familiar, stockyards normally have a couple of long alleys with lots of gates as cut off gates and other gates into pens…designed for rough stock, the fences and gates are normally pretty heavy and tall. One of the first steps is to get an animal onto the scale to get a weight and then get it penned in the appropriate pen. This bull having spent a mad night in a stock truck had no ambition to be confined again and seemed intent on murdering someone…anyone really…
A common trick was to open the intake scale door and stand behind it ready to slam it shut and open the outlet doors just enough to make it look like an escape route and then slam them as well. This bull was too savvy and too fast…he just blasted thru the scale and down the long alley…the procedure then was to shorten the alley and keep closing gates behind him until he had to go into the scale…there was a guy there on the penning side that day who had just started…Baby Jim did not even know his name…Normally his job was to just have the correct pen gate open after the scale called it to him on the loudspeaker. In this case the guys job was every time the bull went the other way he was supposed to advance and close the next gate shortening the alley….he was doing this faithfully but he took his eye off the job and was talking to someone up on the catwalk above. He was standing behind the gate just closed and talking while looking up. The bull hit that gate on the opposite side of where he was and busted the latch to matchsticks. He drove the gate over the mans body and Baby Jim could hear bones breaking. Baby Jim was running to try to drive the bull off the man but the bull stepped into the guys midsection and mauled him with his head and then ran on down to the far end of the available alley….Baby Jim got to the down man just as the bull got to the other end and turned….Baby Jim grabbed the guy by the belt and threw him over the fence and then jumped over after him just as the bull slammed into the fence…Thank goodness the fence held. Baby Jims rescue was brutal enough to have killed the guy…they said he was still alive when the rescue squad took him away but Baby Jim was still trying to pen the damned bull and never saw the guy again……The bull was weighed and penned.
The Big Bull Fight….
This one was in the mid 70’s. Our hero was working at the big farm up north. This farm had four hundred registered cows at this location. Near the farm managers house was a Pennsylvania style bank barn with cattle access underneath and hay storage above. On the east side of the barn were two permanent bull lots….these lots were the near permanent home of two bulls.
On the west side of the barn was a working facility and some associated catch pens and feed troughs. This adjoined a very large pasture and on the far end of the pasture was a large grove of white pines…this was the heifer raising pasture and 80 to 120 heifers were raised there every year….the white pines were where the heifers stayed when the weather was brisk…We won’t say it was like a trip to Florida but the white pines were a terrific wind break and shelter from the snow and the cattle would rather stay there than in the barns…but the heifers were called up and fed and counted and checked in the barns daily.
In the spring they had the vet out for several days running and did the herd test work…the primary reason was to conduct a TB test on every animal to maintain the herds TB free certification. But everything that needed to be done and could be done was done when the animals were in the chute…it took five or six days to process all the animals on the farm. And each test had to be read by the vet three days after the shot.
The day the heifers were processed the two bulls were normally the last two animals of the day. These two bulls were beside each other all day every day…one was a mature bull who weighed at least 2200 lbs. he was huge….especially for a Belted Galloway….The other bull was a younger bull and was a Red Angus who was about two to three years old and weighed about 1800 lbs…not quite mature and this bull had some value….maybe 10 or 12 K in the mid 70’s.
The two bulls had to be brought around through the pens to the working facility for the test and shots and they had to be brought around separately and then one had to pass the other on the return trip. This was done by shuffling one bull into a pen and then taking the other bull by him….On this particular day the smaller bull was feeling his oats and jumped the fence and tried to tackle the big bull….it really was no contest as the little bull had no chance but he was bound to try…..There were no less than six experienced hands there trying to intervene. But the fight was on…sticks whips shovels all manner of yelling and dissuasion were employed to no avail. The young bull gave a valiant effort but he had no chance from the outset….in addition to trying to separate the bulls there was a concerted effort to keep all the cowboys alive. As one bull gains purchase in the mud the tide of battle and the direction of travel could change in an instant and everyone was trying not to end up under two tons of battling bulls.
Finally the inevitable happened. The young bull had a front foot slip and he got pushed sideways. The big bull, knowing he had victory, pressed his advantage and pushed on and lowered his head further until he got his head under the younger bull…recall that the smaller bull weighed 1800 lbs and the older bull lifted and threw him at least eight feet into the air. It was a surreal moment that seemed to play in slow motion, looking up at an 1800 lb bull flying thru the air two or three feet above your head. Then he fell to the earth on his right side with a ground jarring thud. And the Big bull right back on the attack. But the big bull knew he had carried the day and allowed himself to easily be driven off by the cowboys….Baby Jim was in pursuit of the big bull and expected to come back to find the young bull either dead or badly injured…but when he got back the young bull was prowling around and grumbling the losers lament to prove to himself and all who would listen that he was still a bull. The whole thing was easily the most awesome sight ever. Thank goodness they were polled cattle. Had they been horned it would have been brutal and the young bull would most likely have been gored to death.
About twenty years ago right here at the poor farm…
Pipe Dream Farm has raised a few bulls over the years. Never a large number, but the intent was to have a bull or two for sale at all times…
This one time there were two bulls here that had been raised together. Both were farm raised side by side. Nice quiet bulls with good pedigrees and good conformation and good productive capability. They were about 18 to 20 months old and Baby Jim was taking both of them to the barn for a reason long forgotten. Here on the poor farm we have a lane that runs about two thirds of the perimeter of the farm and via that lane animals can easily be taken to the barn and the working area. The two bulls probably weighed about 1600 lbs each and were playfully moving along when a wrestling match broke out. Baby Jim yelled at them and applied his stick. But suddenly the far bull prevailed and the near bull was pushed right into our hero knocking him to the ground….the only thing to be done, was to assume the fetal position and hope for the best…. The two bulls continued to wrestle and both bulls with all their churning hooves passed over him….While he was beaten up a little and unnerved a lot, no real damage was done but there could have been some brief suffering, a quick death and a heartfelt funeral service with half a dozen people in attendance. As it was, all that had to be done was to go back to the starting point and get the two playful bulls headed back to the barn again…In full playful mode they both ran, butted, frolicked and bucked all the way to the barn.
Neither of those bulls had any intent to harm Baby Jim…they did not even intend to harm one another…they were just being baby bulls.
The point is that the power and agility of these animals is nearly unfathomable….unless you are really lucky and live a long time to see the things that have been described above. All of the above was real and true and unembellished. Names have been omitted to absolve the guilty. And we did not even report on the time Gertrude and Baby Jim chased and were chased by Sam the charolais and his herd of wild cows all day one day. But that story has been written of elsewhere.