If you’re a cow-calf veterinarian, you spend quite a bit of time becoming closely acquainted with a number of bulls every spring – probably more than you’d care to be.
This typically comes from doing breeding soundness exams all spring and into summer. Breeding soundness exams on bulls are essential, as a bad bull spells disaster come fall preg-check time. But for the most part, the job is quite tedious. Run them into the chute, collect them, look at the sample and then repeat all day.
Of course, the animal that is the adult male bovine can suddenly interrupt the monotony. I’m not sure why bulls that spent all winter together in one location suddenly decide when moved a few miles to a vet clinic to be tested that now is the time to settle all their scores. Put two bulls in the same pen and you’re bound to have a few fight it out, complete with crashing gates and angry bellows.
The most exhilarating of these bouts is when someone forgets to shut the gate behind the previous bull when you bring a new one in to test. About the time you let the second one out, the first one comes back into the building. There, in the middle of all your equipment, vaccines and, most importantly, yourself, the two bulls start their prize fight. In these circumstances, I’ve discovered that men who appear portly have the capacity to scamper and leap like an Olympian.
Speaking of men and working with bulls, it’s incredible how tongue-tied a cattleman can get when referring to a bull’s genitalia. These fellows seldom have a problem talking about it with me, being a fellow man. But when a female vet is doing the job, men that normally speak fluidly begin to stutter like that Englishman in The King’s Speech. In the presence of a lady, they can’t use the simple, scientific designation for the male reproductive organ that we all know is the correct name.
When my wife was in practice with me, she kept a list of the metaphors that stumbled out the mouths of embarrassed cowboys. Though I don’t have the complete inventory, I remember it included words such as tool, parts, unit, down there, thing and, my favorite one, driveshaft. Now, my wife enjoyed tweaking these poor fellows, so she would stare blankly at them as the went through more unique synonyms until she finally would exclaim, “Oh, you mean his penis!” As the rancher turned beet-faced red, she then proceeded into her medical diagnosis of the situation.
While unglamorous and dull, breeding soundness exam season is a relieving one for a veterinarian because it is the last hurrah before the summer lull. Once the bulls are out to pasture, the marathon that started with fall run the previous August is over for a month or two. And as long as you don’t get trampled by a couple of opposing bulls, it can be kind of fun adding a new word or two to the list of metaphors for a bull’s “business end.”
Jake Geis is a veterinarian and blogger in Freeman, South Dakota.
PHOTO: Bulls can sure be interesting to work with. When testing them in the spring, that level of interesting seems to step up a notch. Photo by Jake Geis.