Growing up we were often heading out on adventures. Sometimes the adventures would be intentional. These could be as close as a muddy spring trip along a trail on our “back 40.” Just preparing a fence line for our cattle to pasture on in Northern Minnesota could lead to a full weekend of trudging through the mud by tractor or truck, getting stuck and with many tools, getting unstuck.
Our life revolved around our cattle. In fact, each January we loaded our prized cows, calves and bulls to find our way through Minnesota’s infamous winter weather to compete at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado.
Fighting our way through temperatures of forty-below zero and downright lethal winds, we hauled our hearty Scottish Highlanders down the interstate highways. Often times the gates across I-29 in North Dakota would drop behind us as we hit snow drifts at 55 mph only to barely emerge from them with enough speed to escape into the wind-cleared pavement ahead.
It was often silly to be on these yearly pilgrimages because of the bad the weather. Add to that the fact that we were trying to grow our farm as a business and couldn’t afford a decent rig to haul our animals. The risk of attending these well-attended national events was great. My father saw it as a required risk in order to build awareness of our breeding program.
Imagine for a second the power of Mother Nature. The outside temperatures were cold to the point of brittle metal. The stock trailer was open to the wind and weather. Traveling at Interstate Highway speeds likely dropped the temps to nearly -100° F. Yes, 100-degrees below zero, 132° F below freezing. Very cold conditions to withstand for hours on end.
Mother Nature also created the hearty Highland cattle eons ago. Their thick hide, hair up to 12 inches long and massive horns made them tough. Their toughness likely saved their lives during our yearly trips.
One particularly cold trip caused a bit of stress. Several hours into the trip, we pulled in for fuel and to check on our prized load of animals. The 18-year old cow with her calf stood without issue when we encouraged them to get up. The five-year old bull that my father was particularly proud of for his 2,000 pounds of heft, square physique and docile nature were exactly what the breeding program intended to create. The bull refused to stand from the woodchip and straw lined metal trailer floor.
In a bit of a panic, both my father and I increasingly prodded and pushed until the gentle giant struggled to get up. The problem was that he stood up with his front legs and the rear stayed down. Bovine stand up rear legs first. This was not a good sign. He pushed with his powerful rear legs, but always got to a point when his well-muscled honches relaxed on the floor. Shining a flashlight we found the problem.
A bull has a very specific purpose in life. The bulls are recognized at a young age for demonstrating characteristics that could improve a herd of cattle. His genes pass through the herd to create better and larger quantities of beef for sale.
In his slumber the bull must have kicked the bedding away from underneath his rear end. His testicles rested unprotected from the frosted metal of the trailer. The skin was now glued to the metal like a kids tongue to a school yard flag pole. With empathy for the poor fella, we separated his main tool for him to fulfill his purpose in life from the trailer. An agonizing, yet sincere look of gratitude escaped his eyes as he stood tall. Now released from the clench of Mother Nature and the man-made steel trailer.
The evidence of this event was easy for the show ring judge to notice. The once healthy pink skin was blackened in an area the size of three silver dollars. A crowd of spectators dotted the stadium seats. With his microphone turned off, I watched from the sideline as the judge questioned my dad about the bulls condition. An obvious cringe came across the male judge’s face as he turned on the microphone in his hand, raised it to his mouth and addressed the crowd. They soon shared in the judges cringe.
The judge finished with, “This is an incredible example for the breed. He surely would have scored better than my placement in fourth had he not survived a bit marred and unlikely to spread his genetic strengths on in a breeding program.”
Our dreams and the reason for this entire adventure squashed with a fourth place bull. Perhaps we should have written the judge when that bull went home to breed 150 cows that summer.
Again my father and I are leaving on an adventure and this time, in the warmth of May and without hauling hooves. Along with my wife, Monica, we’ll ride BMW R 1200 GS motorcycles along the length of the Pacific Coast Highway.
Hopefully, nothing will get stuck to cold metal on this trip.
In the days to come, I’ll share the ride and our experiences along the Pacific Coast Highway.