View from the back of the …
By DOUG CLOUGH
Farm News staff writer
(Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of monthly articles in which staff writer Doug Clough, a city boy, visits area farms, works for part of a day and writes about his thoughts and experiences.)
IDA GROVE – When Mason and Diane Fleenor established GG Genetics in 1990, their Montana partner had three pieces of advice – maintain good and honest records, cull non-productive cows and artificially inseminate for breeding quality.
It’s no wonder then that I found myself hand-to-forearm in the rectum of one of the Fleenors’ cows on a recent evening in May.
When Mason told me that both his wife and he had been to AI school, I was more than sure that I would not be actually artificially inseminating a cow or heifer, being a chore that required formal education. Soon I found, however, that locating the cervix was something that, even a city boy could attempt.
“Cervix location is important,” Mason Fleenor said, “you can work its three rings around the gun that inserts the semen.”
Until I witnessed Fleenor actually AI-ing a cow, I imagined the role being somewhat like a gynecologist, not that I have gynecology experience, mind you. Although, I reasoned that the chute that restrained the cows might be considered cold metal stirrups.
Finding the three rings of a cervix is like a three-ring circus for a sit-behind-a-desk customer service manager. And I was the clown who would attempt to locate it through the cow’s backside as instructed.
As Fleenor handed me the long, latex glove and lubricant, I thought about how I felt at my last proctologist exam.
“Well,” I said to myself, “I felt like kicking the doctor. It only makes sense that the cow might feel the same.”
I shot the question out: “What do I do – or not do – to assure I don’t get kicked?”
“I’ve AI’d hundreds upon hundreds of cows and have only been kicked once,” Fleenor said. “It was a cow that turned its head back to look at me. If she does that, get out of the way.”
Assurance notwithstanding, I had yet a couple nagging thoughts:
- Keep a keen eye for a turning cow head.
- A second kick is long overdue.
Glove on hand, there was no turning back. I handed my Nikon camera to Diane Fleenor thinking, “Ain’t no one gonna believe this unless I get it on camera.”
As I always do when I switch roles with an interviewee, I told her that she could take lots of photos as digital pictures are easy to sort through and delete.
“You’ll feel the cervix through the rectal wall,” Mason Fleenor said. “It’ll feel like a blob, but there are three rings that will need to be manipulated around the end of the gun.”
Like the first cold swim of spring, I’ve always felt like I should just dive into something that I agonize over. Before I could continue to overanalyze the situation, my hand was in the cow’s rectum and my forearm was traveling close after.
Grass-fed cattle, according to Fleenor, have required him to use his available hand as a baffle against bionic bowel movements at times. Combine that piece of wisdom with my healthy fear of being kicked, and I knew this was no place to loiter.
Diane Fleenor, however, had a methodical way of setting up each picture – just a few at various angles – with healthy pauses in between each. I stammered, “You-you-you can take as many as you want, as fast as you can, digital film is cheap, blah, blah, blah …”
I was rambling a dissertation on the advances in photography while my hand was being compressed by the rectal cavity of the most patient cow I ever met. One thing for sure, I was loitering.
Having found the blob of what I assumed to be the cervix, but no discernible rings, I decided I was hanging around the heifer’s hindquarters only for a deranged-photo-opportunity. I exited, hearing the cow sigh in relief as Mason Fleenor took my spot.
Fleenor took the gun from the waist of his pants where he was “keeping it body temperature so it the semen wouldn’t get damaged.”
“You’ve got to maneuver the cervix around the tip of the gun; you don’t go through the cervix but around it. There …” demonstrated Fleenor, who pushed the semen through the tube, exposing as much of her uterus to the semen as possible.
As the Fleenors continued to AI 10 or so additional cows, I helped to separate the ones in heat and worked the chute gates for the ones that were next in line.
Fleenor kept records of the AIs and chose the frozen semen of the five bulls – Trust, Summercrest Complete, Hoover Dam, Total Impact, and GG Diamond – based on how their trait combined with the cow at hand.
He thawed the semen at 95 degrees for 45 seconds and then loaded it into a straw-shaped barrel of a injecting gun.
“We choose to AI because it allows us to pair the right bull with the right cow,” Fleenor said, who has sold cattle to buyers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana and Missouri. ” We want to breed for easy calving, good disposition, and rate of gain amongst other traits.”
Fleenor has AI’d up to 80 cows in one day, which left me to wonder how multiples are ready to be impregnated on the same day.
The modern-day cattleman has science on his side, I learned, as a vaginal insert paired with chemical injections, both done at the appropriate time, cause a cow to go into heat. This process has helped the cattleman to plan his yearly workload to some extent.
After helping with the inseminations, the Fleenors took me in their truck to the top of their pasture hill. The view was a Terry Redlin painting at its finest with breeze-blown brome, a walnut tree-lined creek and a hundred or so grazing black cattle dotting the landscape.
“Some people say that cattle are inefficient,” Fleenor said. “I disagree. I feed our cattle products that no one else will use, the byproducts of grain farming.
“Beef is also in high demand and prices are good if you can efficiently feed and get the performance buyers want.”
On the way out of the pasture, I closed the gate and snapped a few photos of the scenery with my Nikon D-60. Through my camera’s lens, it was easy to see the allure of being a cattleman.
As for my own part, I was happily on the backside of my camera, which is far less intimidating than a cow’s behind.
Contact Doug Clough at email@example.com.
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