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Herd bull: Dealing with one wife a chore? Try 40

Rebecca Bearden rebecca-bearden-bull-Ray-a.jpg
Herd bull Ray takes the break on the Bearden Ranch in Alabama.
The infamous herd bull that has completed yet another breeding season is a unique site.

There must be a feeling of relief when it’s all said and done. Like finishing a four-month marathon. And the benefits must outweigh the risks when you choose to swish flies solo and take your chances with the occasional coyote.

The infamous herd bull that has completed yet another breeding season is a unique site. Though he might appear lonesome (and usually dirty), make no mistake, this guy is far from forlorn. He’s relishing every minute of his seasonal solitude. Sure, there are his superior offspring from the previous year that might need teaching a few things, but let’s be real, the mama cows have it covered.

This paterfamilias has spent the last 120 days detecting cows in heat, servicing cows who are ready, and tirelessly herding all of them back from any and all pasture entry and exit points (including the yearly penning for calf vaccinations…thanks a lot, herd bull).

“I wish I had your job,” people always tell him. “Must be nice,” others joke while riding the pasture.

“If they only knew,” he mutters to himself. “You think dealing with one wife is a chore, try keeping 40 of them happy.”

While he acknowledges that nursing is the most energy demanding biological function, he would like to petition for “breeding an entire herd of nomadic females” as a close second.

The only time his ladies are typically standing and in one place for any length of time is when the grain and hay are delivered—the one time he needs to be refueling. But he can’t afford to eat. He’s too stressed trying to breed old 421 because she’s finally stationary and mildly distracted. He’s lucky if they leave him some pre-chewed pellets soaked in saliva or possibly a tuft of hay that hasn’t been urinated or defecated upon. He gets little respect.

He understands their point of view. He’s the reason they are forced to celebrate Mother’s Day every year with different unruly progeny. He knows he’s less than tidy, expects the female to make any accommodation for differences in height, and is prone to more flatulence than necessary. He is keenly aware that his midnight rider verbal turf wars with neighboring bulls causes a prolonged lack of sleep for the entire herd creating a cranky, irritable female force that no one can approach.

But it’s his job. And if he’s good, he gets to stay another year. After all, if he plays his cards right, he occasionally wins the favor of a few cows and receives an entire afternoon of free grooming. Plus they might divulge where the best scratching posts are and are usually willing to share their shade (likely because he attracts most of the flies because he’s so smelly, but it’s a win-win). He also secretly enjoys the herd gossip and uses any insider information to help him with courtship strategies.

Really all that he’s asking for is to be left alone when his job is done. He’ll comply when the time comes for him to re-enter his summer bachelor pad quarters joining all of the other herd bulls. They’ll hoot and holler and dig a hole or two but mostly just nap all day, saving up their energy for next year’s marathon.

Bearden is a biologist with the Geological Survey of Alabama. She writes about that but mostly about the exploits on her family's ranch.

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