by Ron Tobey
The Missouri auctioneer
a tall thin middle-aged man
wearing a wide hat
an outdoor farmer’s tan
and a pleasant veneer of chatter
in the crowded small amphitheater
the Cadillac Brangus auction house
stands on a platform
behind the show ring on the sale floor
a hundred cattle to sell today
bites out his auctioning patter
a hard-enunciated cripple talk
fast as a machine gun
pushes up bids in the Spring cattle sale.
WHO’LL BID THREE FIVE
GIVE THREE NINE
His hands swirl in unceasing motion
pointing to buyers seated on the hard wood benches
and Web bidders watching the auction on real-time video.
Farmers and pedigree breeders
their diesel dually 3500 trucks
gooseneck hitched to aluminum livestock trailers
optimistically parked in a large field
heavy in blue denim coveralls
stained ball caps visor pulled down
scraped scratched hard-toe boots
many puffing out a cheek
with a wad of tobacco or herbal dip
only two minutes to bid
hurriedly scribble notes
type numbers on their laptops
calculate in Excel
statistics prepped from the glossy sale catalog
costs and profits
sit silently on the wood benches
or nod or raise a hand
or hold up a small sign with their buyer number.
The auction manager
owner of this Missouri Brangus breeding farm
In a business suit with no tie
sits at a high bench overlooking the room
interrupts to address buyers participating through the Web.
“Elisabeth, do you want to get in on this?”
NOW FOUR SIX
GIVE FOUR EIGHT
We confer around your desktop pc in your home office
your handwritten notes comparing bull EPDs
and our maximum bids
cover the desk.
We have lost the bidding on three bulls already.
Doing the cost benefit
a bull prospect
might go for less than a proven bull
you respond, yes, and bid
Auctioneer points into the vid-cam
FOR FIVE THOUSAND TO THE LADY IN CALIFORNIA.
We have a bull.
1 year 9 months old
black as a moonless night
with the distinctive Brangus ears
open like a small sail and slightly flopped down
hybrid cross of Angus and American Brahman
Real Deal pedigree:
out of two founding Brangus lines
Brinks and Mighty Mouse
EPDs BW WW YM Milk TM SC REA IMF FT
3.1 34 64 11 28 0.80 0.46 -0.18 0.013
bigger bull calves, more fertile heifer calves, than other Brangus bulls.
The largest of Real Deal’s sired calves
three years later
weighed 120 pounds.
Brangus new-borns average 80-90 pounds.
Herd temporarily fostered at Swift Level Farm
Tootie requires assistance of two men
neighbor cattle farmers
stainless steel chains and hooks
to pull the bull calf out of laboring cow #50.
Our vet helps install an endotrachial tube for the cow
she could hardly breathe
and a stomach tube into the calf
he can’t stand or nurse for days
The dam’s vagina prolapsed
from the violence of forced delivery
the vet stuffs it back in
injects the cow with antibiotics.
We would not breed her again
she is boss cow
for weaned heifers and untethered steers.
My wife trained RD with apples.
After he was delivered to our West Virginia farm
In a livestock trailer
we drive into field Scarlett in our Tacoma
Curiosity brings him near the truck.
We purchased the Tacoma below list price
a damaged bumper
a small pickup with sparkling green paint
color, West Virginia farmers teased.
The cattle scratched their itches
flies ticks chaff of straw shed hair
by rubbing against the tail lights,
smashing the plastic covers three times.
The truck does not intimidate Read Deal.
She tosses apples slices out the window
to the grass near him.
He sniffs the fruit, walks away.
His dry beef feed supplement is sweet
with crushed corn and molasses.
He learns the moist apple is sweet also.
Alone out in the grassy pasture with him
she stands still sideways and doesn’t stare at him
with an apple slice in her outstretched hand
Waiting for his approach.
She leaves the truck door open if she needs to run to safety.
She holds her hand out palm up
with the treat lying unclasped on the palm,
positioning the hand
slightly to the bull’s side
as he cannot see directly ahead.
He stretches his neck
his tongue rough and muscular
reaches out and curls around the apple
draws it to his lips.
When he learns the truck and we mean apples
he trots across the field
150 feet for his reward
1500 pounds thundering toward her at 15 mph.
He skids to a stop about 10 feet away
gouging ruts in the soft rain-soaked soil
walks slowly to her outstretched hand.
She swallows her nervousness.
In 6 years he never threatens or harms us.
I maintain the fields and fences with RD present.
Before buying the tractor
I prep soil by towing a chain harrow with the truck.
I use the Tacoma to deliver rolls of hay
each 800 - 1000 pounds,
roll them up a ramp onto a single-axle tag-along utility trailer
push them off when in the field.
I leave them upright
left on their side RD unrolls them
pushing the bale around
shedding sheets of hay Like a roll of toilet paper.
One morning a 1000-pound round bale
lands off the trailer on its side.
I struggled 15 minutes to set it upright.
I lift a few inches, can’t hold it.
He watches my exertions from 30 feet.
While I stand by this extra heavy roll
hands on it
digging my trail boots with cleated soles into the dirt
gaining leverage for another push and lift,
he walks over and stands at the roll beside me.
As I begin to push groaning
he thrusts his head under it
then flips the roll three feet into the air
landing it on its end
as I want
six feet away.
His help was unexpected
as if in the movie Jurassic Park
T-Rex skips jump rope with owner John Hammond’s grandchildren.
He enjoys his accomplishment
it’s play for him
he repeatedly flips the roll in the air around the field.
In breeding season, quartered with the brood herd,
he nurtures his calves protectively
who cluster around him.
I watch him lick cow’s milk from a calf’s mouth
where the white foam has collected on a rim of fur
from the forceful jerk and sucking of its dam’s swollen teats.
He calms an agitated two-year old bull, his progeny, by licking its ear.
After breeding seasons, we remove him to his own field.
For company, we borrow a 5-month old steer calf from Stacy and Carrie.
In a Winter snow storm
I tote hay with our blue New Holland 55 tractor
the string-bound roll impaled on the front bale spear.
I find them bedded together in the snow
the small calf curled up on the leeward side against him
sheltered by his bulk from the frigid wind.
In his maturity, he weighs 2200 pounds
nearly equaling the 2600 lbs. weight
Of my first wife’s 1966 Volvo sedan
was 5 feet 5 inches at the shoulder
over 6 feet tall when his head was raised.
Many bulls turn bullish at two years.
Real Deal did not.
I witnessed aggressive behavior only twice.
A bull led his herd of Maine-Anjou cows and calves
out of their hill field on nearby Bennett Mountain.
The owner hadn’t fenced the mountain side of his field,
only along the gravel road where cows might wander into traffic.
Our field is surrounded by 6 solar charged 12-gauge tensile wires.
The Angus bull followed the breeding season aromas
of our Brangus cows in heat
to the field where RD was breeding.
RD took it as a challenge
when the Angus bull promenaded his herd along our fence.
Real Deal bugled annoyance
a high-pitched open mouth cry.
The two bulls called and snorted at each other across the fence.
After a few minutes the Anjou bull retreated
leading his herd away to our unfenced field along Snake Run Creek.
On another occasion, when we moved Real Deal
from the Grassy Meadows field,
we left him in our sorting and loading pens.
They are built to contain agitated nervous cattle
with woven cattle wire
heavy locust posts
pounded deeper into the ground by a pneumatic driver than ordinary field posts.
About 500 feet away in Stacy’s field
a Texas long horn rodeo bull, named Wrong Way, tended his breeding herd.
I thought the two animals should get used to each other
while RD was in a secure pen.
They challenge each other out of sight
bugling for hours that night.
RD paced the pens’ fences testing the woven wire
wearing a path around the perimeter
and battering the 8-pipe steel bull gate.
Sufficiently provoked to get out
he could climb the gate
crush it with his weight
or batter it off its hinges
or push the latching post out of the ground.
I stay with him all evening
fearful he might escape the pens
and start a battle causing injuries.
About midnight, both bulls quiet down.
The next day, I release RD to Marilyn pasture.
He and Wrong Way stood across from each other at the fence line,
bluffing with noises for several minutes,
then wandered off to graze the late summer grass.
About the Author
Ron farms with his wife in West Virginia. They've raised children, cattle, goats, and horses along with a dog and a barn cat. They live in a log house on a hillside in a hollow. Reports that Real Deal's fame has gone to his head seem to be overblown as he was kind enough to recently pose for the paparazzi. These photos (and the snow picture) courtesy of Ron Tobey.