Bulls, the birds, and the bees

Bulls, the birds, and the bees

By Curtis Crawford, DVM | CVMA Past President 

Times have changed since I was a teenager. The innocence of my upbringing was brought to light this past spring when I went out to one of my favorite ranches to fertility test their bull battery.

As I pulled into the corral, I was greeted by the regular group of hands as they ambled over to check out the fresh pastries I often bring whenever I come out for herd work. These guys were 60 miles from the nearest donut shop and appreciated a little taste of heaven early of a morning. They had been up before daylight getting the herd penned up and ready for me, so breakfast was a long-forgotten memory. These are the guys and gals that kept the cattle moving quickly and efficiently through the alleys so that the squeeze chute was never empty for very long. These unsung heroes have my back when I am in the chute preg checking. I trust them with my life. By working the stock quietly and easily, the cattle are relaxed when they reach me. I am not getting the snot kicked out of me or my shoulder torqued out of joint and I don’t have to worry about a frenzied beast coming up behind me trying to climb my tree. A dozen do­nuts is a small price to pay for that peace of mind.

But a dozen donuts was going to be a little short this trip (especially since I had already cherry picked a couple of the premium chocolate covered French crullers on the drive up). Sitting on the back of the owner’s flatbed truck were four high school girls from Denver participating in a program that exposes urban youngsters to agriculture. Stu­dents are brought out to the country to spend a few weeks on the farms and ranches that supply our food and fiber. It’s an eye-opening experience to find out what orifice eggs come out of a chicken or that brown cows don’t give choco­late milk. They get a chance to appreciate the hard work and pride that goes into raising and caring for livestock. These young ladies were wearing denim jeans, but that was about the extent of their western ways.

Ed, the ranch owner, smiled at me as he introduced us. Then he abandoned me to explain what they would be see­ing that day. I didn’t know how much to expect of their knowledge of the anatomy or sexual response of males in general, much less of bulls. I flashed back to a Bible class that I led at church in front of some 80-year-old ladies where we somehow got onto the grand topic of circumcision. I have no idea why it never occurred to me that these grandmoth­ers and great-grandmothers had probably changed more than a few boys’ diapers and had no need for me to explain what circumcision entailed. My visual aid of making a turtle­neck sweater pulled up over my face into a V-neck shirt ex­posing my bald head wasn’t particularly appreciated.

I desperately glanced around for Ed’s wife, Annie. Annie ignored me from the other side of the chute as she drew up some vaccine. The rest of the crew had their mouths full of donuts, but their eyes laughed as they listened to my feeble explanations of electro-ejaculators, scrotal circumferences, bull penis erections and extensions, ejaculations, and se­men evaluations. I veered away from comparisons to “pink spitting cobras with tetanus” and “swimming tadpoles” and stuck to anatomically correct terminology. I recall talking to my daughter about the birds and the bees. I distinctly remember her reaction and was pretty sure that she would become a nun after that little discussion. I searched these girls’ faces for signs of comprehension or at least embar­rassment at the subject at hand.

But it was no big deal to these students. They acted like they had heard it all. So we ran the first bull in the chute and began. They carefully watched the insertion of the rec­tal probe and measurement of the scrotum. They respect­fully didn’t snicker as the bull responded to the stimulation and provided a nice semen sample for them to evaluate un­der the microscope. They did wince a bit when I introduced the pipette into the prepuce to collect a scraping for Trich testing, but so did all the other cowboys standing around. Feeling kind of smug with myself, I started on the next bull.

This one was one of those who would not respond to the electro-ejaculator. He just stood there. No erection. No extension. No ejaculation. You could have diverted all the electricity from the Hoover Dam into his prostate and he would have just twitched. Back at the clinic, I had a couple of gag props for these impotent moments. One was a pic­ture of a beautiful dairy cow with a full udder taped to the wall in front of the chute. Kinda like a “PlayCow” centerfold type thing (so I’m told…). The second was a wall clock with a little blue pill at the end of the second hand and the logo “Is it time to talk to your doctor about Viagra?” I won that little jewel at a CVMA Auxiliary auction several years back. (If I remember correctly, Ralph Johnson donated that clock and then bid me up to well over $100 on it.) When the boss’s wife first saw those two things, she took me by the ear and led me to the break area where the sexual harass­ment poster hung then made me read it out loud. The dairy cow picture has disappeared (as has the sexual harassment poster) but the clock remains. I can actually see that clock’s second hand with my bifocals while taking heart and respi­ratory rates as that little blue pill orbits the face.

I grabbed a palpation sleeve and reached into the reti­cent bovine’s rectum to massage his seminal vesicles and prostate to see if this bull would respond the old fashioned way. As I began gently rubbing his innards, I heard the most innocent looking of the high school girls ask one of the cowboys, Ted, what I was doing. Ted did an admirable job of tastefully explaining how I was manually stimulating the bull’s sexual response by gently caressing the internal sexual organs. There was a blank look on youngster’s face. Then one of the other girls turned to her and told her in far-less clinical terms exactly what I was doing. Ted choked on his donut and blew crumbs all over the fence. If you are embarrassed reading this, think about how I felt with my arm deep within this bull as a smile was forming on his lips and a wide-eyed look of complete comprehension flashed in the girl’s eyes. It was then that I realized that just like those grandmothers at church, I had totally underestimated these teenagers. They were way beyond me when I was their age.

Today’s clients are some of the most informed I have worked with in my 30 years of practice. I started in this profession before laptops, iPads, and smart phones when my knowledge and expertise was unquestioned (at least until the case started heading south). But now days, in the time that it takes me to leave an exam room and get an injection, owners can Google my diagnosis and come to the conclusion that I am a genius or a complete idiot depend­ing on what website they go to. Being informed does not necessarily mean being correctly educated. There is a lot of whacky information out there that we sometimes have to help them weed through.

Yet an engaged owner is a joy. I have had them actually educate me as to different strategies and new research. It keeps me honest…and humble. Most clients appreciate the fact that as a mixed-animal practitioner, I do not know ev­erything but am willing to learn and consider alternative op­tions. One of the most liberating sentences that I have ever spoken is “Boy, that’s a new one on me, let’s look into it.”

The CVMA seeks to encourage mutual exploration and exchange of correct information. Within our educational programs, we seek out world-class leaders in their fields. In the realm of advocacy and outreach, we work hard to deliver scientifically based material to the public so they can reach logical decisions. We have training programs to help our members effectively communicate the truth to the media. We strive to be flexible in our approaches and meet each person where they are in their life experience, just like you do in practice. It is a challenge, but a correctly educated client and public is a mighty advocate in a world of misinformation and distrust. From wise great-grandmas to the informed youth of today, timely knowledge given in an understandable and respectful manner can make all the difference.

CVMA, welcome to the herd.