artificial insemination

This is a story to illustrate just how easy it is to make yourself look stupid, and just how long a country person will let you go on doing it.

I was making up the bed the other morning, pulling up the red duvet and smoothing the quilt that Shawn’s mother made for him forty years ago when I had one of those eureka moments that come out of nowhere when you suddenly understand something that has long been a mystery.  In this case it made me laugh first, then blush.

We have been milking cows for about eight years now, having switched from goats after five years of drinking but not liking goats’ milk.  As you may not know, if you have never thought about it, keeping a cow in milk year after year requires that she calve annually, that is, she must be bred and bear offspring to start the hormonal chain of events which includes lactation.  This, if you don’t keep a bull, means either borrowing a bull, or taking your cow to visit one, or getting an artificial insemination technician to come inseminate your cow.  For those of us without friends with bulls, the last named option is by far the easiest, if you can find an AI guy; you just give him a call as soon as you see signs of heat in your cow; usually things like ‘bulling’, that is, riding another animal, or a drop in milk production, or refusal of her feed, or maybe all of the above.  The technician, comes out within about twelve hours.  If you have Clover already tied up for him, he can usually get the job done in something under fifteen minutes, and if he knows his job, that should pretty much do it.  When you call he asks a few questions, usually about when you saw the first sign of heat, what breed of bull you want, etc.  Our A.I. men have always been prompt to come out, knowledgeable and helpful.  One day when our lead cow, Isabel, was to be inseminated, I got a new suggestion.

“Isabel, is that right?  Jersey, then, and you usually want a Jersey bull.  I’ll bring you a straw from Bowtie, he’s an exceptional Cavanese sire.”

“Cavanese?  Then is he a Jersey?”

“Yes, ma’am, he’s a top-notch Jersey bull.  Cavanese bulls sire small offspring; generally smaller than eighty pounds.  Easier on the mamma cow.”

I had never heard of Cavanese bulls, but as long as it was still a Jersey the smaller animal sounded good to us, so we went with it.  Sure enough, Isabel’s next baby was born without incident, a beautifully formed, medium sized little heifer calf.  In August we called the technician to come out again.

“That’s Isabel, is it?  Jersey semen again?”

“Yes, sir, same as last year.  This year’s calf was a nice little one, no problem in parturition, so we would like to use one of those bulls you used last year, I forget the word.  It means “throws small offspring”.”

Just a slight pause on the other end of the line.  “You mean ‘Cavanese’?”

“Yessir, that’s it, one of those.”

Every year I had to ask that question.  The Cavanese bulls were a great thing because a smaller calf is less likely to cause its mamma trouble in birthing, and every year we asked for them, but for some reason I never could remember that word; at least, I knew the reason:  it goes back to that one year in college when I thought I would major in biology, and before I figured out I would rather be dead in a ditch I had picked up on the fact that scientific nomenclature was always Latin, or at least when it wasn’t it was Greek, and “Cavanese” didn’t sound like either.  The right word, I thought, should be some form of Latin for “small babies” or something.  Every year I had to ask for the word again, and every year there was that small pause before the technician supplied it.  I guessed that somehow it was hard for other people to remember, too.

Until that morning smoothing the maple leaf quilt and the red duvet, when unbidden the word came to my mind, “cavanese”, and I thought, oh, that’s the word, the A.I. word  I can never remember, and as I thought it I heard it in my head, “Cavanese — calvin’ ease.”

The internet, consulted, readily pulled up images for “Cavanese”.  I found myself staring at half-a-dozen postage-stamp photos of an approximately six pound, long-haired, bug-eyed lapdog.  “Calving ease,” on the other hand, brought up farm and ranch businesses, books, and products.

And the A.I. guys had never told me.

“Calving ease”, lady.

Or did I want semen from a small, long-hairedbug-eyed lap bull?

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