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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Only in a small town...

It's like the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy redneck joke, but the truth is there are some things that only happen in small towns.  One of those would be a lunch time discussion about the successful artificial insemination of our cow.  At the time we had two cows.  The cow to be bred was Aster.  She's a cross of a Dutch Belted and a Holstein.  You may recognize a Dutch Belted when you see one. It looks like an Oreo Cookie with a white middle and black ends.  They're dairy cows.  But don't confuse them with the Belted Galloway because they're beef cows.  I'll pretend that I know the difference when we drive by them on the highway but, truth be told, it's hard for me to tell sometimes when they're too far away. 

The particular discussion I'm referring to above on artificial insemination, or AI as it's known, took place in a local restaurant in our small town of Earlham, IA.  It's called the Master Griller and was owned by John Horton at the time. John also has a successful catering business but that' got absolutely nothing to do with my story other than to give John a free plug to my nine readers who will probably never eat in Earlham.

The restaurant is divided into two parts with one less formal that the other, if that's possible.  One part serves off of a menu and the other serves lunch cafeteria style.  In addition to the two or three entrees on the steam table, you can also order burgers, and my personal favorite, breaded tenderloins. 

Lorraine and I had gotten into the habit of eating lunch there on Saturdays.  We'd go out to eat and make the kids stay home and eat leftovers.  Don't let child protective services know please.

One day Lorraine and I were sitting there eating not paying attention to who or what was around us when I hear the guy at the table next to us say, "so how did it work out for your cow."  After first getting the dumb look off of my face trying to figure out who this guy was, the light bulb went on and I realized it was Steve Ory, the guy who AI'd my cow and is a local farmer.  For you literalists, he didn't do it himself, mind you, he used the appropriate equipment and some sperm donated by an ecstatic bull.

I'd only met Steve a couple of times before, but he struck me as a very friendly, genuine kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back if you asked and he'd throw in his coat and pickup too if he really thought you'd need it.  The first time I met him I thought he was his brother, Mike, who lives down the street.  In his typical, amiable manner, he let me know the mistake was OK and that it happens all the time. 

I don't think we crossed paths again for several months but it was the need for somebody knowledgeable about AI that got me in touch with him.  I'd asked some other local farmers and our vet about AI and none of them did AI work, but they told me to call Steve, which I did.  He explained how the process works.  First, you need to catch your heifer acting like she's fertile.


You can get a pretty good indication that a cow is fertile when other cows try to mount her.  If you see this activity in the morning, you need to perform AI in the afternoon. If the activity is in the afternoon you need to perform AI the next morning.  I've now pretty much exhausted my working knowledge of identifying cows in heat.

I also forgot to mention, you need some bull semen and that's a sub story in itself so bear with me.

There's a thriving industry of brokering bull semen.  Donors are identified by the desirable genetic traits.  Semen is extracted from the bull by means that would be more graphic than this forum would allow.  The semen is placed in straws which are narrow glass tubes that are about 2 1/2 inches long.  These tubes are frozen in liquid nitrogen and can be stored for many years I suppose.  The aforementioned brokers have huge tanks that can store hundreds of straws each.  Locating and storing our semen was an education in itself.

Lorraine checked around and found a lady that owned some bull semen she was willing to sell us.  The good news is that the straws only cost about $8 each.   We wanted three in case the process didn't work the first time or two.  The bad news was, it would cost about $80 to ship because it needed to be shipped overnight in a special container that would keep the semen frozen.  It would cost about the same as buying the straws and having them shipped, but this way we'd have the tank for future use.  I headed to Hawkeye and bought the tank, liquid nitrogen (really cool stuff, figuratively and literally and the straws and we were on our way home. 

This is when we became voyeurs and started watching our cows showing signs of being "frisky."  It didn't take but a few days and I called Steve.  I told him that we'd spied a couple of our heifers trying to do the dirty deed that afternoon.  He said to bring her over the next morning and he'd be glad to AI her.  Suffice it to say, when I told my work place that I was going to be late I didn't try to explain that it involved sex and a farm animal.

Evan and I got the cow loaded and I drove the two miles to the Ory Farm.   We got her unloaded and into a stanchion and then Steve got his equipment ready to go.  This was the first time I'd ever witnessed the procedure so I was certainly curious.

Before opening the AI case with "the tool" was pulled out, he place a long plastic glove over his hand and arm and inserted his arm into the vagina of the heifer.  Aster wasn't exactly enamored with this procedure but didn't complain too much.  Steve extracted his arm and a plethora of mucous followed the gloved arm and hand out.  Steve said that Aster's cervix was open and that, combined with the plentiful mucous suggested we probably had the timing right on this.

He then extracted what looked like a long, large bore needle with a rounded, hollow tip that had a plunger attached at the other end.  The straw would be inserted into the hollow end and the plunger would force out the semen.  He set the tool aside before inserting the straw.  I'd brought our semen tank along in the trailer.  Steve opened to the top of the tank and selected one of the three straws, closed the tank back up and then inserted the straw into "the tool" (for the life of me I have no idea what "the tool" is actually called.  I just know I don't want it to ever be used on me for any reason).

Steve reinserted his arm into the cow and guided "the tool" in with the other along side his arm and down to his palm.  He used the inserted hand to guide "the tool" into the cervix.  He then pressed the plunger with the other hand, leaving the semen inside the cervix to do its job.  He quickly extracted "the tool" and his arm and we were done.  Some quick clean up of the equipment and it was time to reload the cow.  I'd arrived there at 8:00 a.m. and I don't think it was even 8:20 yet.  It had taken longer to unload and reload her than the procedure itself.

I asked Steve what he charged and, using the typical Steve response said, "don't worry about it.  Glad to help."  And I was on my way home to unload a cow and head to work.

It would be several months before I saw Steve again.  We'd since had a calf so it was at least nine months later.  And there we were in the Master Griller with Steve asking if the AI worked.  Now, asking if AI worked is a pretty inane, harmless question in a restaurant,  but the discussed that ensued was far more graphic than probably the average city folk could endure while eating their lunch. 

When he heard that the AI was successful he was genuinely happy, exclaiming, "yeah, the conditions were ideal. There was all that mucous and her cervix was wide open.  It was probably one of the easiest AI's of done."  I joked that it wasn't too often that you went to a restaurant and openly discussed vaginal mucous and open cervixes and you weren't asked to leave the restaurant.   But hey, only in a small town. 

P.S.  The calf was named "Supper" and about 16 months later provided us with over 600# of delicious, healthy, grass fed beef that was free of antibiotics, growth hormones and chemicals.  


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