Bully Pulpit: Bipedal Service Animals

Tim GilmerI used to think a service animal was a bull.

Years ago, after moving to a farm with a pasture, my wife and I bought some heifers to raise as breeding stock. Heifers, in case you’re unclear on bovine nomenclature, are the equivalent of female teenagers in the world of beef cows: They are a little giddy, prone to impulsive behavior and flirtatious ways. When their hindquarters begin to fill out, they are sure to attract the eye of the nearest bull. The job of a beef heifer is to mature, stay healthy, get pregnant and pump out calf after calf, one per year, until she dies. This is how America maintains its status as fast food capital of the world.

After assembling our herd of heifers, we bought a few mature cows to act as chaperones and then added what every herd of beef cows needs: a service bull.

His name was Bud. He was a purebred Simmental (a Swiss breed known for its size, growth potential, milking ability and gentle disposition). Bud was cute, if a 2,000-pound bull with testicles the size of deflated footballs can be called cute.

Bud did what bulls do — he serviced the heifers as they matured, courted the older cows one by one, and then got bored. So he leapt a creek, bull-dozed down a barbed wire fence and ravaged the nearest neighboring herd of cows in heat.

About nine months later, the heifers, now mature cows, although smallish, began having calves. And that isn’t all they had.

Problems were the norm. Birthing problems. The calves were born very large — some weighing as much as 100 pounds. Complications galore. Number 80 had twins, one of them brain-damaged. We named them Cheech and Chong. Blondie’s calf was born with a damaged leg from being too cramped in the uterus. Double Earring’s calf was born premature with a torpedo-like head and very little fur. It looked like a pit bull.  Another calf was born dead.

My wife and I set up a calf nursery to deal with all the problems. I played the role of the Old West vet, riding up on my ATC/horse with my cowboy hat on and leaning down and giving injections. My wife gradually taught Cheech how to suck on his mother’s teats using a spray bottle and her considerable wits. During that time we tube-fed Cheech three times a day for at least a week. Two of the mama cows died giving birth, so we had to bottle-feed their calves and adopt them into our family for a few months.

BeeBee was paralyzed giving birth. I did my best to restore her ability to walk by operating a hand-controlled tractor outfitted with a sling that helped her stand, but she was a complete para-cow and never recovered. She could no longer do her job, so she went the way of the Big Mac Express.

And boy did we learn a lesson. We learned that like most humans — who create more than their share of problems — we also make the best service animals.

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