Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How to buy a bull

Anyone who has attempted to raise livestock for any length of time is all too aware that even though we do all we can as far as animal husbandry goes, some times the beastie just insists on dying.

Sometimes this is caused by some mistake, but that is a different matter. We can and do expend great amounts of effort to create an environment where our stock can be healthy and productive. Past that, their survival is just not up to us as farmers.

A friend’s bad time with kidding got me thinking about this. This person keeps goats primarly for livestock shows.

I was at a place last weekend where folks were discussing livestock for show, like the 4H kids do. I know nothing about show stock. I’ve never done it, never been around it.

The notion of looking at a group of animals and by that contact alone passing judgment on which is best always struck me as odd.

Show stock seems to have the same relationship to production stock that theology has to religion; that is, none that's obvious. *

Judging stock by its looks seems odd to me because my dad used to tell a story about how to buy a bull. To be honest I though this was a long dull story when I was growing up. He told the story many times.

It went like this; there was this farmer who had a reputation all over the area for being able to find and buy the best bulls. He had done this for many years and as far as anyone could remember he never got a bad one.

He was present at a sale where several bulls were on offer and was asked by a group of prospective buyers how they could tell which was best. They asked about size, top line, muscling, color, and stance, any and all the physical attributes of a bull.

They asked the old farmer all sorts of questions about bulls but they couldn’t seem to keep him on topic. He had all sorts of unrelated questions he wanted answered.

Who is the seller? Have you been to his place? Is it extravagant and showy or simple and functional? Have you met his family? Have you gone to the town where he does business and asked about him?

What do the production records tell you about the animal? Does he through good calves? Has he been bred to heifers and if so how did they do?

My dad would go on and on about the things that needed answering before even looking at the bull, no doubt that’s why I though the story was so dull.

At every point, with each new fact learned, if the result was negative, the old farmer’s advice was to give up on the bull and look for a different one. No need to even look at the beast unless all the background checked out well.

The punch line of the story was that when the prospective buyer finally did look at the bull, the advice was "If you like it you buy it".

The fact that I listened to this story many times growing up does not make me an expert on show stock of course.

I can’t help but suspect that what was selected for in breeding these animals has not been the sorts of pro-survival traits that are used for production stock.

* I came up with this line, something shamelessly stolen from R. Heinlein on a different subject, when I was composing this post in the shower the other day. When I wrote it down I forgot the line. I do shower regularly, so I remembered it this morning.

1 comment:

The Food Lady said...

You are absolutely right. Especially if you are talking about Boers. The breed is so new in the US, that they are concerned with ridiculous things like how much pigment is showing in the skin under the tail, and concern about having too many teats. There are folks (like myself) who would relish a doe with four teats, when you consider that producers are having four and five kids at at time out of a doe. Why breed for 2 teats when you have 4 babies?? Same with mothering-- that's not necessarily a quality that they are breeding for, as the breed standard goes. We need a lot of work...