Lee Pitts: It’s the Pitts 8-27-12
“Is she open or bred?” It’s a simple question really. What the inquirer is wanting to know is if the female farm animal in question is in the family way. The answer depends on who’s asking.
The cattle feeder does not want a heifer to be bred because a feedlot is not a good place for children to grow up. If a cattle feeder had his way all heifers would be spayed when born, which would put us all out of business in one generation. Intelligent cattle feeders demand to know the pregnancy status of the heifers they buy and this has created some creative thinking.
“They have been run to be open,” is the typical cowboy answer. Translated to truth this means, “I have no idea.” Or that the bovine equivalent to teenagers, a bunch of yearling bulls, has been shacked up with the heifers for the past six months.
Ranchers have thought up some interesting answers to the “open or bred” question …
“The old bull did break in but he was crippled and couldn’t do anything.”
“The bull and the heifers he was with for the past 90 days come from different breeds and I’m sure they wouldn’t mix. He’s from the same family and I doubt they’d engage in incestuous activity. Their personalities clashed.”
“In all honesty, my royally bred cows did not find my neighbor’s inferior bull all that attractive.”
“That sterile old bull is harmless as a gopher snake. He’s blind in one eye and can’t see out the other. He had as much chance of breeding those heifers as a Duroc boar would.”
“There was a no trespassing sign on that pasture.”
“Those heifers have been saving themselves for a $10,000 purebred bull.”
Females found in male company are often referred to as “California opens.“ In other words, they’ve only been exposed to a bull. Yeah right. Like you’re 33-year-old son or daughter who’s been living with someone for 10 years. They only shacked up to save on household expenses.
“I never saw nothing happening,” is another common rejoinder. This always reminds me of the time I loaned one of my black-faced rams to a neighbor to breed his white-faced sheep. He complained my ram never did anything and all his ewes were getting was companionship. So my friend introduced a white faced buck as back up. Come lambing time all the babies had black faces. I guess my buck wasn’t sleeping on the job after all.
Of course, it works the other way. Some rancher silly enough to buy heifers he has to calve out usually wants them bred when he buys them. The big difference in price one gets for a bred heifer versus a yearling feeder heifer calls for some originality and marketing.
“Is this heifer bred, you ask? Sure. Judging by the way those bull calves were following her around this morning I’d say she got bred this very morning.”
Oh well, a calf and a rain are welcome any time, I suppose.
Then there are times heifers may actually be bred but the parentage could be called into question. “Of course she’s bred. We leave every 10th calf of ours a bull at branding time and we run all our cattle together all the time and never introduce any outside blood.”
You’ll probably get a calf all right, but it might be born with two heads or five legs.
Early in my cattleman career I asked an old snake if his heifers were bred and he avoided the question thusly: “Listen, son. Those heifers had two choices. They could get bred or become hamburger. Now which would you pick?”
Smart ranchers always hedge a little to account for accidents of biology. “I cannot guarantee she’s safe in calf but she’s been exposed.” (There’s that word again).
The most honest answer I ever heard when asked the pregnant question was …
“How do you want her?” ❖
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