THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- DOUBLE THE FUN

by: Wes Ishmael

When the same idea keeps showing up at your door wearing a different hat, you'd best invite it in, no matter how preposterous it seems. That's what Hooter had always believed, although this latest visitor was testing his commitment.

Hooter supposed it had started with that fiasco involving the Underwood twins a few months back. Next, it was cousin Charlie telling him that he and his wife were expecting twins, happily but unexpectedly. The final cog shifted into place when Izzy Franklin was trying to purloin homemade brownies from Lonnie Johnson's backroom ice box.

“You're already big enough that there ought to be two of you,” Lonnie squalled. “It ain't like you'll starve without them. Are you sure you're not some scientific phenomenon, twins stuffed in one body?!”

Twins.

Hooter never seriously considered pursuing twinning rate as a practical means for growing calf production in his own slow-growing herd, which now resided in Kansas on shares, thanks to the drought.

Sure, the notion had been around forever. During the single semester he spent on the college rodeo team he'd attended a few animal science classes. He remembered the professor talking about twinning and what folks had written about it going back to the 1800s. If he remembered right, there was a difference in twinning rates between dairy and beef breeds, and between the breeds of each. None of the rates were past the low single-digits.

Hooter remembered the inherent challenges, too, from that class as well as his own infrequent experiences: more calving trouble, freemartin heifers, more likelihood one or both wouldn't make it to weaning and all the rest.

Still, as he pondered present and future high feed costs, the possibility of doubling production with the same resources loomed like the lost Dutchman Mine, rich with possibility, but tougher to find than a flea's mole at midnight, if it even existed.

What Friends are For

Hooter also knew that his old pal, Uncas Bingelmeyer, had long pursued a high twinning rate as the cherry on top of what Uncas believed to be the unsurpassed Bingelmeyer composite.

Fighting his better judgment, Hooter called Uncas and then headed across the Red River to get educated.

When Hooter arrived, Uncas greeted him hurriedly, glancing over both shoulders as he ushered him into the shop.

Once inside, Uncas answered the obvious question. “Can't be too careful Hooter. What I'm about to share with you is something no one else has been privy to; it could be the start of a new revolution. We've got to keep it on the down low, know what I mean?”

Hooter knew just what Uncas meant. It wasn't the first time he'd heard such bold proclamations. He could also assure Uncas that he had never shared the pearls of wisdom gathered here with anyone, ever, out of self defense.

Uncas always had some new line of thought he was pursuing. It had been that way ever since Hooter first met Uncas on a 4-H judging team. Loony as some of his notions sounded, they were always supported by a unique logic that Hooter had never been able to grasp fully. Though unconventional, Uncas had been financially successful.

“If you'd be so kind,” Uncas said, motioning Hooter toward a dilapidated single-unit school desk. It was the kind you likely last sat in for grade school or maybe junior higher, the kind that gravity and middle age make a whole lot tighter.

As Hooter squeezed into the seat, his heart sank. As much as he wanted to know what Uncas had uncovered in his twinning research, he wasn't sure he could withstand the assault. There in front of the shop was a chalk board with all kinds of formulas and chicken scratch scribbled in different colors of chalk. Catty-corner from that was a screen; in front of it both an overhead projector and slide projector humming in defiance.

“First, I thought a little review might be in order,” Uncas announced as he dropped a ream of papers on top of Hooter's desk with such force that the metal groaned.

“You can review that as time permits,” Uncas said. “I believe I've gleaned the highlights here.”

Uncas placed a transparency on the overhead projector: “Key Points. Fraternal Twins—resulting from two individual eggs. Identical Twins—resulting from a single embryo that splits.”

“What does that tell you?” Uncas asked.

“What it says.”

“Huh?”

“It tells me what it says,” Hooter replied. He felt the same helplessness he'd experienced in those few college classes, seeing something that was so clearly black and white only to be told it was obviously gray.

“Beyond that,” Uncas said impatiently. “What does it mean?”

Uncas had one of those laser pointers that he stabbed at the screen. “If you want to increase the incidence of fraternal twins, it means you must increase the frequency of multiple ovulations from a single ovary or the frequency of a single ovulation from both ovaries…are you with me…On the other hand, increasing the incidence of identical twins means figuring out what causes the embryo to split within about 10 days of ovulation and how you can reliably increase the incidence of that happening…Now it's your turn Mr. McCormick.”

As he had in college, Hooter took to the offense. “Which occurs most frequently naturally, the identical or the fraternal?”

Uncas beamed. “Now you're getting it, excellent question. Research tells us about 10 percent of beef cattle twins are identical. Keep in mind that same research also tells us twinning in beef breeds is less than five percent.” He stared at Hooter, daring a response.

“Which is likely to change the most through selection pressure?”

Uncas beamed again. “I knew there was a reason I liked you. That really is the question isn't it. Nutrition, hours of sunlight, genetic predisposition, they all play a role. How greedy do we really want to be?”

“In other words, focus on increased twinning, be they fraternal or identical, especially since identical twins are so rare?” Hooter ventured.

“Excellent, excellent. Yes, I'd say that's the point. And, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, as you may know, has shown us what is possible with their twinning project. If memory serves, and it does, the folks there increased the incidence of fraternal twins in the experiment herd from 3.3 percent to a little better than 50 percent in about 20 years.”

Hooter put his pencil down. “I could be road kill in that length of time, Uncas. I thought you told me you'd discovered a secret.”

Uncas looked stunned. “I have Hooter. But for you to understand the power of it, I thought it would be best for you to understand what we're up against with Mother Nature.”

“I didn't mean to offend you, Uncas. It's just that I could probably succeed in breeding for purple jackrabbits if I had 100 years or so. Like I told you on the phone, I need something more immediate.”

“And you shall have it sir. As to your comment regarding jackrabbits, keep in mind the secret I'm going to share with you does not absolve you of your lack of preparation.”

“Huh?”

Uncas tossed Hooter a gunny sack that was about a quarter full. “You want the bottom line so quick, there it is.”

Hooter looked inside the sack. He scooped out a handful of a mixture that was part grainy and part fibrous. He smelled it; musty like old hay. “I don't get it,” Hooter said.

“Bingelmeyer Ovarian Supplement 180,” Uncas announced triumphantly. “That's the secret to increased twinning without years of selection pressure.”

Hooter didn't ask what was in it; he knew Uncas wouldn't tell him. Instead, he asked, “Uncas, you never did tell me, what's the twinning rate in your herd?”

“If you adjust for mortality, about 5.5 percent.”

Hooter's heart sank again. “And how long have you been working on it?”

“About 20 years.”

“And how long have you been feeding them this stuff?”

“About five years.”

Hooter emptied his hand and set down the sack. “I'm missing something. You say this stuff works, but your cows twin at about the average rate of the national herd, maybe just a little higher.”

“I never said I'd perfected the cow supplement, but I know it works,” Uncas said. He was the picture of serenity. He motioned for Hooter to lean close so he could hear his whisper. “About five years ago, I bought me a little flock of sheep. I fed them this and I've got twins everywhere.”







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