At the table this morning our conversation drifted to bulls as it often has in the last few weeks. I commented that I thought bulls and bullishness were appropriate symbols for the titans of Wall Street. Their size and strength is apparent from a distance. Garth chimed right in with, "yeah, they are hyper-masculine and dumb." Bulls can also be dangerous. There is an old adage that one should, "never turn your back on a bull". They may be large and lumbering most of the time, but if something sets them off, they can move with tremendous speed and power.
So why do we want to put ourselves in harm's way? There is another option, namely artificial insemination (AI) if one is entirely opposed to having a bull on a farm, but it too has complications. Often it takes more than one try for AI to take, somebody has to watch the cows very closely in order to detect when they are in heat, and the cows have to be brought into some sort of headlock or chute to attempt impregnation. These are all surmountable obstacles and we intend to use AI in the future for some of the breeding we do. In fact we've already tried a straw (of semen) on our heifer, but we don't know whether it took.
A major advantage of bulls over AI is a tight breeding window. Cattle come into heat roughly every three weeks until they're bred successfully. Because bulls miss less heat cycles than humans they can get a lot of cows pregnant in a short period of time. Since our long term goal is to have a seasonal dairy we want all our cows to calve in the spring and dry off sometime near Christmas. Calving in the spring will only happen if they get pregnant in the late summer or early fall.
All this brings us to our current situation - Ebon is a bull. He's among the largest of the Kerry bulls out there, or so we hear. We have not purchased him, we have agreed to feed him for the winter in exchange for having him here now to breed our cows.
Overall I like the look of Ebon in profile. The second photo is of him and a cow, demonstrating the sexual dimorphism that cattle exhibit. He has a deep chest which means he has plenty of intrathoracic capacity for heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Capacity in these organs is important for animals that harvest the majority their forage themselves. Most modern breeds receive high energy rations and as a result many cattle breeders don't focus on this pretty basic trait. I like that his muzzle is wide as it allows for more grass per bite. I like that he is very masculine - large shouldered, strong necked, broad headed, and, ahem, - well hung.
On the downside I'd prefer he were a little shorter overall. His feet don't track in as straight a line as I'd like to see. And his front feet angle in under his body a bit more than is ideal. But the good outweighs the bad on this guy, so I'm happy to have him here.
I will be doing some more posts on cattle, albeit infrequently. Stay tuned for more on rotational grazing and pastures.