Smokey-the-Bull was in the wrong pasture again. He was supposed to be in with the cows I wanted to be bred, but somehow he managed to find his way into the heifers' pasture; these were the girls I did not want to get pregnant, yet. Smokey is one of four bulls at Miles Smith Farm.
We usually castrate a male calf within six months, although sometimes I'll leave a promising Scottish Highlander bull calf “intact” (not neutered) as a potential breeder, he'll do his siring elsewhere. A bull shouldn't mate with his half-sisters or other relatives; inbred cattle tend to be inferior. So a bull born on this farm usually must be sold away. We buy our talent from elsewhere.
The best time for calves to be born is in the spring when the grass is exploding from the ground and weather is cool, but not freezing. To get the timing right, a bull must mate with a cow in July and August; nine months earlier. I currently have four bulls-three Scottish Highlander and one Hereford bull, and when they are done breeding, I put the bulls together in their own pasture. But no matter where I put the escape artist, Smokey, he always figured out how to rejoin to the females.
My bulls are all gentle. We are raising beef cattle here, not producing ferocious contestants for rodeos or bullfights. Even though he escapes frequently, Smokey is a lover, not a fighter. Washington, a white Highlander bull, lets me put a halter on him and lead him, and Homer, a silver Highlander bull currently leased to a farmer in Vermont, is calm and easy to handle. Larry, the Hereford who is also leased out to another farmer, likes to lick people. Apart from the licking, the bulls respect people and have never charged or attacked a human. If one of my bulls, or cows for that matter, shows signs of aggression... well, into the freezer they go. I won't even try to sell them; those aggressive traits must be removed from the gene pool. No one needs a threatening bull in their pasture.
While I've never been attacked by a bull, I have been charged and thrown to the ground by a cow. Motherhood can make cows violently protective. A friend of mine was allegedly killed by a Highlander bull, but it's unclear whether the culprit was the bull or a cow protecting her calf.
It's easy to identify hostile intent. Cattle should scatter when you wave your arms, and if they don't- you might have a problem. If the animal lowers its head, stands sideways and looks at you with one eye, get out of there. These and other signs give a view of the animal's state of mind and should not be ignored.
To keep Smokey from getting in the with heifers, husband Bruce and I took him to a remote pasture, along with an amiable steer for company. But Smokey won't be with us much longer. He'll soon be related to too many cows on this farm (strike one); his small stature (strike two); plus his fence-jumping impulses (strike three) mean that it's time for Washington, the white Highlander bull to take over.