Love is in the Air Tonight


I’ve learned the hard way teenagers are like rabbits. Perfectly calm one minute and flailing around scratching you with their claws the next. Both are nervous, insecure creatures. Rabbits because they taste good and know this fact. Why teens are that way is anybody’s guess. Not even they know why.

One thing in particular you can’t do with either is leave them with members of the opposite sex because nature will take a fairly predictable course which winds up with a fairly predictable result.

It’s actually quite the hilarious show. The prancing and posing to prove suitability by the males, along with the feigned disinterest by the females, is a riot to watch.

The rabbits are funny, too.

My earliest experiences with purposeful breeding of livestock came courtesy of Spanish Pete. It was August and time to back breed the cows, so they would calve in May, when the weather in was reliably warm.

images (5)
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

Spanish Pete was the nearest thing to a cattle baron I knew as a kid. He seemed to own every sheep in sight and all but about three of the cattle. How in the world a Basque immigrant who arrived on the shores of America with literally nothing in his pocket could become the virtual Lord of Lassen County was beyond me, but he had done it.

It was a wonder I pondered until the moment Pete said, “You picked a good day to come. We’re knocking up cows today.”

After being assured the day’s activities would be a strictly bull-on-cow affair, Jake and I pulled on our rubber boots and followed Pete out to one of numerous outbuildings on his spread. Inside an enormous barn was a pipe pen divided into two sections, one empty and the other populated by half a dozen young bulls, barely a year old. Even at the tender age I was, the proportion of bulls to cows struck me all wrong. Come to think about it, there were no cows.

What the hell kind of bovine sausage party was Pete running here, anyway?

I was under the impression that very few bulls were needed for a large number of cows. Something was definitely wrong with this situation. Where were the cows?

Pete usually let nature take its course, but he had a few head he kept separate from the others because he was doing something particular that I don’t remember. The point is there were a couple dozen cattle assigned to the Spanish Pete Special Projects Division, where breeding was controlled.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

I have always figured I had a pretty good life, all things considered, but these cattle were some pretty pampered animals. They didn’t spend their time out on the range in the weather exposed to predators. No, sir. They were kept close to the house, fussed over, and even saw a vet. I suspected they had cable TV in the barn for them, too, but I could never confirm it.

A ranch hand separated two of the fence sections, while another led in the lucky bull. Unlike the bulls at the opposite side of the pen, this one was impressive. He was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of bulls, and it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit, if old Pete told me this one survived on a diet of anabolic steroids and live sheep. It would explain why Pete was the only person in the county to run sheep.

As the behemoth lumbered into the pen, he scanned the young bulls lined up in the adjacent temporary pen and snorted with contempt. They all took a step back at the same time.

I'm here to chew cud and screw cow. And I just ran out of cud.
I’m here to chew cud and screw cows. And I just ran out of cud.

“That’s Sam. Ain’t he pretty?” said Pete, with a gravely Basque accent from behind a huge yellow grin. Sam was led by a rope attached to a ring through his nose. The opposite end was tucked into the back pocket of one of the ranch hands. “The rope won’t do any good, if Sam decides to do his own thing. It’s just a reminder from when he was young.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I still dry off inside the shower before stepping out onto the bath mat. To this day, I expect my mother to come flying around the corner and beat me with a slipper for dripping water onto the carpet.

Sam made a couple of laps around the corral after the rope was removed from his nose ring. The bulls in the other corral stepped back from the railing each time Sam passed. It seemed to me that Sam had established his bona fides with these fellas quite a while ago.

A few minutes later, another ranch hand with a rope in his hand appeared leading a steer by the nose and coaxed it into the corral with Sam. It was obvious the steer was nervous by the way the hand had to pull him into the corral. Hell, I was nervous for him.

I was starting to believe this was either some sort of elaborate practical joke or old Pete didn’t know as much about cattle as it would seem.

The ranch hand manning the corral opening produced a spray bottle. The ranch hand leading the steer held out his hand, his compatriot spritzed a liberal amount of the contents onto the other man’s hand, and the steer’s rope-holder rubbed his moistened hand over the steer’s rump.

Pete explained that Sam was a genetically superior specimen, but was such a massive beast that, as often as not, he would injure the cow. The solution was to artificially inseminate the cows with Sam’s sperm. And that’s where the steer would do his part.

It turns out, the spray bottle contained the urine of an ovulating cow.

Yes, you read that right. This castrated bull, presumably lacking an interest in sex, was getting Horny Cow Piss smeared on him to trick the bull into mounting him, so Pete could collect the…ahem, genetic material.

I’ve heard stories about these sorts of tricky shenanigans going on in Thailand, and they typically don’t end well.

I wondered about the poor bastard who had to collect this ovulating cow urine.

Don't ask.
Don’t ask.

My mother tells the story of how, when she was about eight and still living in the Azores, Grandpa would thresh grain my laying it down and having one of the cow walk back and forth across the stalks. My mother was handed an old coffee can and given instructions to walk just behind the cow to collect anything that came out before it fouled the grain by landing on it.

My mother always said she loathed the task, but she should have been grateful for being taught one of the skills necessary for scientific selective breeding. There is no word what the cow thought of the entire arrangement.

And the bulls in the adjacent corral?

“They’re there to learn,” Pete growled. “You wouldn’t know what to do, if we threw you into a room with the Sports Illustrated magazine girls, would you?”

Ah, good old Pete, with his farmer’s understanding of the world. I didn’t respond. I just blushed at my lack of carnal knowledge in cows, women, and any other species. It turns out, they’re all pretty similar.

You know you’re pretty low on the priority list when your job involves acting as bait in the sting operation. How mad is this bull going to be when he figures out what’s going on? Then again, it wasn’t Sam’s first time doing this, so he might have been OK with the whole situation. There was just no way to know. Either way, this poor steer is taking the risk of getting severely injured from one end or the other of Sam the bull.

It rather reminded me of a school dance. All the guys without dates lined up against the wall, facing the the dance floor, while the captain of the football team stepped out for a dance with the head cheerleader. Every one of them jealous of what he fantasized would be horizontal dance moves executed away from prying eyes and adult supervision.

We parents tend to figure things out. We just might not tell you that we have.

So, there’s me, Jake, Spanish Pete, and a couple of his ranch hands, standing by as bouncers in case the whole thing went south, and a corral full of teenage bulls staring at the transvestite sex show that’s about to go down.

It was horrible and wonderful, all at the same time.

Sam is sniffing at the air as the steer is led around the corral. I can tell he’s thinking, “It smells like a girl.” For his part, the steer is really nervous. He keeps looking over his shoulder at Sam and quickening his pace. Sam falls in behind the steer for another lap, sniffing at cow urine as they circle. As he passed us, the steer looked at Pete with hate in his eyes.

Gimmie some sugar
Gimmie some sugar

After about the fourth lap, Sam decides he’d rather take what he can get before the lights come up at last call. Sam swings his front legs over the steer’s rump and lines up to take care of business. The steer starts bawling in what I can only imagine is the cow equivalent of a convict calling out for the guards to save him from getting railed by another inmate.

The teenagers, bovine and human alike, are staring wide-eyed at what’s unfolding in front of them. Out of the corner of me eye, I see Pete grinning and mouthing the words, “Atta boy. Get some of that.”

Before Sam can skewer the Thai Lady Boy steer, one of Pete’s ranch hands comes running through the corral with what can only be described as a sandwich bag for baseball bats and comes to a skidding stop underneath Sam, while simultaneously grabbing the bull’s cock with his free hand and slinging the plastic sack over it, all the way to the base.

Nearly thirty years later, the speed, accuracy, and sheer balls of that little, brown ranch hand still astounds me.

The ranch hand then spends about six and three-quarters seconds giving Sam the bull what might have been the world’s fastest handjob. Mission accomplished, the ranch hand hauls ass out of the corral carrying the plastic bagful of bull jizz before Sam realizes he had not only been doubly tricked, but embarrassed in front of the younger bulls, to boot.

The Artificial Insemination process was not nearly as exciting or as conducive to retelling to my schoolmates that fall. Looking back, I’m fairly certain that stories like that, or at least, the retelling in detail, is a significant reason I didn’t have a girlfriend until after high school.

I haven’t heard news of Old Pete for at least a decade, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to hear he was dead. There are regrets I have at not returning to the ranch for so many years. Principle among them is missing out on exposing my seventeen-year-old to the same experience. Perhaps, he too, could have avoided having a girlfriend in high school.

It would have certainly prevented the current bout of sulking around the house, news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy weighing on his shoulders, and petrified of having to break to me the news I’ve known for a couple of months.

I made a career collecting and interpreting information from a wide array of carefully cultivated sources. Part of tradecraft is not burning those sources or revealing informants unintentionally. And, occasionally, you drop a breadcrumb to observe for effect.

Perhaps, if the boy took an interest in my writing, he could save himself some anguish. Looks like he’ll have to keep twisting in the wind until he finds “the right time.” Maybe I should have hired a Mexican ranch hand who is quick on his feet with a plastic baggie.



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