Don't turn your back on the bull and other important advice
Mychal Wilmes remembers when a number of livestock-related injuries and deaths occurred and his own run-ins with his bad bull, Whitey.
Something in the air had caused bulls to go crazy in the neighborhood and state.
As children, we played in the pasture and didn’t give a second thought to the bull. It was decided that something had upset the applecart.
Theories abounded — a full moon, sonic boom producing aircraft, and bizarre claims of outer space activity. The last gaining weight because of breathless reports in the media of mutilated calves and full-grown cattle.
The fact that a few farmers were injured by bulls and aggressive cows in recent months caused tall tales to be told among us children.
Extension service and experts urged farmers to switch to artificial insemination for safety and genetic improvement reasons.
No one in the neighborhood had been killed, which wasn’t always the case. The government reported then and reports now that a half-dozen people are killed annually in livestock-related accidents.
A 45-year-old farmer was attacked by a bull that the family had bottle-fed as a calf but had recently become more aggressive. A 63-year-old dairyman bringing cows into the barn was fatally stomped by the herd bull. And a horned Hereford bull gored a rancher as it moved through a chute.
We never had a hyper-aggressive dairy herd bull until Whitey came along. I had picked him out myself from several offered for sale. He turned mean a few months later. A brother (who never experienced him on his worst behavior) suggested that I needed to show him who was boss.
It was impossible to follow that advice when Whitey was chasing me through the pasture. On that occasion, the half-mile chase ended when I climbed the wood pile. He got me again the following spring after the cement cattle lot was scraped with a skid steer.
He hit me from behind and knocked me beneath a four-legged feed bunk. The bull tried to lift the bunk but wasn’t successful. Following the attack, I couldn’t raise the left shoulder above my head.
My brother said never to turn my back on the bull, and to carry a pitchfork with me at all times in the lot. It would have been much wiser to buy the bull a one-way ticket to South St. Paul. However, we had paid top price for the bull and wouldn’t recoup the money by shipping him.
Decades later, the incident is remembered without bitterness. It is true that my brother and I never got along the best. When one has six brothers, it is impossible to be best buddies with them all.
Those who are alive have reached their late 70s and are dealing with the aches and pains that age brings. The farmstead that had such a great influence on us all was sold years ago during the Farm Crisis. The two silos that fed the cattle have remained empty, which may be a fitting monument to a bygone farming era.
The barn (though it lost its roof several years ago) remains. Great plans were made inside its walls. Discussions were heated there about possible land purchases, cattle and the future. It was with cocky certainty that it was a given that the center of our universe would always be the farmstead.
Life takes its unexpected twists and turns.
The former dairy barn houses goats. The species is gaining popularity in this country and is the most raised livestock in the country. The South St. Paul stockyards are no more. The livestock hub is now located in Zumbrota, a thriving town in southern Minnesota.
I wouldn’t necessarily change a thing other than purchasing a different bull than Whitey. Maybe I could have done more to show him who really was boss. But deep down, both he and I knew who really was boss.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.