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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- THE SCIENCE OF SCIENCE

Wes Ishmael

“If they dropped a bomb on this place I wonder if anyone besides immediate family would really care,” wondered Hooter McCormick as he surveyed a gaggle of the more than 4,000 meat and food animal scientists gathered from around the world to discuss the minutia of what makes a hen cluck or a Mexican steer live.

Hooter's question was an honest one. He'd taken more than one animal scientist to task over the years for what he termed, “A blatant disregard for reality in favor of theoretical horse puckey.”

And, here he was, stranded in the midst of all of these thinkers because he'd agreed to help a pal of his peddle a new mineral concept at the trade show, by sitting at the booth and sharing his pasture-level experience with every slide-rule waving Tom, Dick and Harry that happened by.

At least, that's how Hooter had figured his ordeal on the way in. “Just look at that,” he'd said disgustedly, stabbing a greasy finger at one of the agenda items. “Artificial Neural Network Prediction for Fun and Profit. What God-fearing cow man can pronounce that, let alone understand what that has to do with helping a cow live on sand and sagebrush?”

To be sure, there is no telling how many half-baked, quarter-cocked, downright ludicrous research projects had been funded by the public over time, all in the name of some supposed practical application that had the potential to tilt the world's axis.

That's precisely why Hooter found it easy to hold the ivory world of research in quick contempt. In fact, he had first-hand knowledge.

You see, unbeknownst to plenty of his pals, Hooter McCormick was within a gnat's whisker of receiving a Masters Degree in animal science back in the day when a professor demanded he do something that Hooter deemed downright sacrilegious.

To wit, as he set about designing the last leg of a research project that would evaluate the nutritional impact of different feedstuffs on the actual milk production of range cows—heady stuff at the time—the professor who chaired Hooter's graduate committee suggested he amputate the teats on several cows to replicate the missing and malfunctioning delivery systems conjured by nature and shoddy selection in order to make the trial as real-world as possible.

“You want real-world!” Hooter had screamed. “Here's real world. Do you have any idea how hard it is to build mamas like this where I live? I go to intentionally impairing their production ability and anyone worth his salt back home would line up to shoot me, and I'd load the gun. I quit.”

At that, Hooter had jerked the class ring of his Alma mater—the one that he used to cherish—over the top of a calloused knuckled and hurled it at the professor's feet. He shouted over his shoulder, “If I ever find you in my county, we'll sure enough show you a whole new kind of amputatin.”

The problem with Idiots

Of course, time will do more than heal a case of smooth skin. The years had softened Hooter's outrage at the profession if only a little. Besides, his estrangement was always tenuous because for every ridiculous idea and the research fool who perpetrated it, Hooter also realized there were plenty of taken-for-granted technologies he couldn't enjoy were it not for born and bred producers like him who had decided to trade a life on the range for a career in the lab.

For instance, who in the world ever dreamed up the notion of artificial insemination or embryo transfer? Surely more than one eyebrow was raised at what must have seemed a needless and preposterous notion: “Pardon me Ma'm, but may I say your dewlap is looking lovely tonight.”

And how about something as page-worn as implants? First you cut the hormone supply out of a bull, then you stick it back in via a pellet that's tucked within the skin of the ear no less. And, the list goes on.

Still, Hooter couldn't help but wonder as he looked around the room, at the scientists swapping adventures about BOT analysis and the genomics of immune response, “If someone just cratered the place, would it make any difference at all?”

Moreover, compounding what Hooter figured should have been an easy response to the question was the fact that he had plenty of other animal science buddies who weren't researchers as much as they were applicators. They took what the research boys came up with—some practical and some seemingly absurd—rolled it around in their minds and figured out, if there was any way at all, how to make it matter to folks like Hooter. Or, they whispered meaningful innovation into the ears of the lab rats who wound up claiming the idea as their own and figured out a way to make it happen. So, Hooter always tempered his disdain for the titration rangers of the world with the first-hand knowledge that some university folks turned out to be the best friend a cowboy ever had.

“On the tests that you have conducted, what was the standard mean deviation relative to the Crude Protein content of the control and did you find a genetic correlation to dry matter conversion?” queried the next visitor to the booth.

“You mean in terms of the bipolar recticular function or the fact that every cow on the face of this earth is different from another one, same as you and me,” snapped Hooter. “I'm familiar with statistic mumbo-jumbo, but I ain't no numbers guru. All I can tell you is out around Apache Flats it's been a help in getting thin cows to breed back, period.”

“You know,” countered the researcher, kindly oblivious to Hooter's ridicule, “I've often wondered if a genetically engineered mineral hybrid might be more effectively absorbed.”

“Well sir, you're just gonna have to go on wondering,” said Hooter. “I believe I'm supposed to be at a meeting regarding the confounding challenges of feeding supplement in knee-high grass.” He ducked out of the trade show into the first meeting room he came to.

“…you know the coolest thing about nucleic acid…” the speaker at the podium was saying with unabashed excitement. Hooter ducked right back out again.

Opening what's closed

“Hooter! You old pear puss,” came the cry from across the hall. “I didn't expect to see you here. I know what you think of us, what was the term you always used to use…test tube prostitutes, that's it.” There was nothing but affection in the statement.

It was Jesse James Jenkins, one of the professors in school that Hooter had had tremendous respect for. In fact, Dr. James had made a special trip to Apache Flats, asking Hooter to reconsider his abrupt departure from school, saying he understood Hooter's disgust and that there had to be a way to engineer the project around his concerns. But Hooter had drawn the line and there was no crossing it.

“Heya Dr. Jenkins. It's great to see you,” said Hooter, plumb happy to see a face that had made the whole journey worthwhile. “I don't much cotton to this high-rise, higher education stuff, but it's OK. Shouldn't be here, though. Ran into a buzz saw with the calves back home before I left, getting sicker than Democrats at the last election and nothing seems to work so far. Not giving up the ghost, just so drizzly you'd think they'd never seen feed nor vaccine.”

“Hmmm,” murmured Dr. Jenkins, cocking his head and crooking a finger under his chin. “If I know you, you know what the feed and water is, have taken some fecal samples?”

“Yep.”

“You know Hooter, for what it's worth, years ago there was a man I knew who ran cows in your part of the world. Seems like he ran into something similar if I remember right. You'll laugh, but he said he mixed some Beechnut chew with vitamin E and molasses, top-dressed it on some hay. Said it worked like a charm.”

Hooter was looking at him intently; Jenkins was never one to kid around about stuff like that. “So, how'd it work? What made it work?” wondered Hooter.

“It's a science,” said Jenkins.

“I kind of got that idea,” said Hooter. “I mean literally, what made it tick?”

“It's a science, or it's an art,” repeated Jenkins. “It all boils down to seeing the practical in the impractical and the stupidity in what seems so logical, taking the best of both worlds and making something positive. In the case of this Beechnut hycolonic, how's a rainbow work? It did the trick, that's what mattered…Oops I got a go. Another one of those prostitute meetings to get to.”

And that's why Hooter had always respected him. Dr. Jenkins was always more about results than methodology.

After saying adios to Jenkins, Hooter made a beeline for the phone to call Lonnie Johnson at the feed store back home: “Hey Lonnie, got some mixing I need done, and don't you go substituting that Red Man on me.”

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