In a recent article, I made the mistake of admitting that I had stooped so low as to use a calf table for branding and castrating a few calves. As a result, I received a lot of mail accusing me of being a wimp, a sissy and, quite possibly, gay. Which came as a big surprise to my wife after 35 years of wedded bliss. In the few instances I'd used a calf table, one letter writer wanted to know why I didn't use a squeeze chute made for fully grown cattle. I don't know what kind of cattle he raises but around these parts we usually don't let our calves get that big before we work them.
This is not to suggest that I haven't castrated bull calves in a squeeze chute before. In fact, the most profitable cattle enterprise I've ever engaged in involved the purchase of 400-500 pound bull calves that their previous owners were too lazy to castrate. I'd buy bull calves that didn't look too “staggy” at the auction, castrate them and raise them on grass till they reached 800 pounds and then I'd sell them at the same auction. I made so much money doing this we almost had to pay income tax!
Not that there weren't risks with this endeavor. In many ways it was the most dangerous thing I've ever done. That was because to castrate the bulls, I'd kneel down behind them to get eye to eye with their manhood. Needless to say, this position exposed some of my vulnerabilities. The only thing that prevented me from getting my teeth kicked out and being a gummer the rest of my life was a trick known by any cattleman worthy of his spurs. If you take a bovine's tail and pull it up and forward over his back it renders the animal unable to kick. I don't know why it works, and when I was crouched behind a bull I often wondered who was the first cowboy to test the theory. He was either courageous or dumber than a 15 year old fifth grader!
The only problem with this technique is that the same person cannot hold the tail and perform the modifications so you must entrust someone else with your life. Who do you trust that much? According to a recent poll only six percent of Americans feel the federal government is trustworthy and only 14 percent of us trust our local or county government. So that immediately rules out asking your Congressman or Farm Advisor to help you castrate bull calves. Forty-six percent of those polled said that they trust their neighbors but they must live in a much better neighborhood than I do. Besides, even if you do ask your neighbor to hold the tail there is still a one in two chance you'll be spitting your teeth out like they were sunflower seeds. According to the survey, by far, the group that most Americans trust most is their family.
I see some problems in asking a family member to help. With your face between two kicking machines do you really want to trust your kid whose attention span is shorter than a Paris Hilton greatest hits album? And if you have accumulated any wealth do you really want to tempt someone who stands to inherit all or part of it?
In my case, I came to the conclusion that the only person I could trust that much was my wife. With a couple exceptions, of course. I learned to never castrate bulls after any kind of argument. There's just too much temptation to let go of the tail. I also came to regret the immense power I was placing in her gooey hands. There were many times I was in such a compromised position that I'd agree to do anything just as long as she didn't let go. This is how she got a new car and also explains why I agreed to have dinner with the in-laws. (I would not recommend this venture for anyone undergoing marriage counseling or if your wife has recently hired a private investigator or a divorce lawyer.)
We eventually gave up on bull-altering because I didn't like the person I was becoming. I had to be so darn nice all the time. “Yes, honey I'll take out the trash. Here let me do those dishes.” I tell you it was sickening. It got to the point that I felt like the bull calves weren't the only ones losing their, well, you know what I mean.