Wednesday, August 09, 2006



The Horns of a Dilemma

Trespasser is closest. He is checking out his honey.

There was always a lot of work to do, dealing with the cows. And it even fell my lot to clean up after the cows - all six girls and one bull, though they were kept at the campus barn. That is a lot of work, added to full time school and my other full time work duties. Long, hard, hot, physical labor in the sweltering Maryland summer. I often had trouble keeping up and was at the barn long after others had left for the day. One such day, I was walking through the barn, and saw Trespasser with his head through a headstall, pointed toward the trough as if about to eat. But, there was no food, no likelihood of food, and his head was twisted a strange way.

"What are you doing?" I asked politely.

A mournful bellow was his only response.

"Why don't you take your head out?"

He strained at the grill, knocking his horns from side to side with frustrated swipes. His horns were causing him to be stuck and he was upset.

"Okay then. Maybe I can help."

Helping a bull is a matter of some delicacy. If he suddenly surges his weight, you can get pinned or slammed, your fingers or hands, pinched or severed. You can get kicked. And you can irritate him in a way he will remember. I wanted Trespasser to have only fond memories of me. Like, "Remember the time I told to Maddy that she choose you over the food?"

Gingerly, I tried to suggest to him, with gentle pushes and torques, that he turn his head just so, BEFORE trying to pull back. It is a strange but common phenomena that when someone, person or animal, gets excited, they may persevere in doing the same ineffectual thing, in rapid-fire repetition, working themselves into a greater and greater frenzy, but to no avail. Such was happening to Trespasser, despite my best efforts.

With marine mammals, we learned to use velcro on training harnesses^, so they would break away if the animal suddenly got spooked and ran away, dangling a harness after him. Otherwise, the harness, banging and spanking him as he fled, whipped him into such a frenzy it could really be bad. Or, the animal, getting a harness on for the first time, would normally extend the neck to take the harness over the head. Then, they felt the harness around their neck, and pulled their neck in, to try to look down at what was there. This tightened the strap girdling the neck, making the strap feel constricting and too small. Now the animal might freak, running away and not allowing the trainer to remove the halter. We learned to teach the animal the concept of constriction first, and to use break-away strips, but until that point, there were some difficult situations.

But Trespasser had come knowing about head halters and how to lead, so I did not give much thought to teaching him about constriction, how to act when constricted, etc. Right at this moment, however, I wished I had. Instead, I tried to help him pry his head around, pull a little to the left, and he seemed to get it, easing along with my directions, until suddenly, in a spasm of frustration, he would dash his head to one side, endangering my face and fingers. I stepped back. This was clearly a problem for a Ph.D. Say, a Ph.D. with executive authority over this bull. Say, Mark Varner.

I ran across the parking lot to the Animal Science Building, noting the lot was empty, except for Mark's olive green truck. Good that he was still around. I popped up the steps expecting to pull the door open and continue inside, but it was locked. They were all locked. What is the good of four doors if they are all locked? I banged, hoping to raise someone inside. No joy. Mark was all the way up on the third floor. I abandoned the door and ran around to the side of the building. Mark's window was closed. In fact the only open window was to the first floor bathroom. Too bad. (This was pre-cell phones!)

I ran back to see Trespasser and tell him the bad news. However, when I returned, he was obviously having a bad time, getting hot and bothered, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was a complete failure and had nothing to offer him. Better try again.

I ran back out and across the lots, past Mark's lonely truck and to the nearest side of the building. I could not climb up to Mark's window, but I might be able to make it to the bathroom window. Dang it all, why didn't they just give me a key to the building! Make a note to ask. The front of the Animal Science Building was higher than the rear, which had a basement entry. Or rather, the earth sloped down and away from the front end of the building to the rear. May I say, it sloped precipitously. I could almost step right up to the open window of the bathroom, but not quite. Part of me had to reach over a descending drop. I don't like descending drops, especially when examining them from a free-fall perspective.

So, I pulled my focus back to climbing, muttering about bulls who don't know their own horns, why was there no one around when you needed them, did I really get paid enough to worry about these things, wasn't I off work anyway... and I worked my way awkwardly, and perilously, to the window. Upon reaching the ledge, I then began a painstaking process of pulling and edging myself up onto the ledge, and from thence, inside, having to reorganize my limbs in the window in order to land on my feet instead of my head.

Whew! That done, and once inside, I pulled my clothes back into position, before resuming emergency mode. Passing the mirrors, I noted that I looked a disheveled mess. Tsk, tsk. A girl can only do so much. Throwing hay to cattle, full time school, hours of searching in the library, dance classes - one has not much time for beauty. In fact, none at all, unless I wanted something. But, that is another story.

Thus I mused as I bounded up one of the staircases. There was another, and an elevator, and I hoped Mark would not choose this moment to go home, via another exit. So I pressed on. No worries! I saw Mark's open door as I exited the landing, and commenced to trot. Breathlessly, I surprised Mark at this desk.

"How did you get in here?! I thought the doors were locked!"

"Yeah, we need to talk about that. I had to climb through the window."

"Drat" said Mark. "They should have locked that too."

Mark was overjoyed at being pulled away from his never-ending work, in order to be physical therapist to a bull.

We discussed the course of emergency action as we walked toward the barn...

"You might have to call the fire department and get them to bring those thingies*."

"Well, let's hope we don't really need the 'Jaws of Life'", returned Mark. I really need to get that paper done and get home."

"Well, I am sorry to call on you, but I did not know if this might go critical, and while I am expert at dodging bulls, as of yesterday, I know nothing about untangling their heads, and I was afraid we might have to cut the bars and I did not want to start dismantling the barn with blow torches without your approval. Heck, blowtorch, bull, hay - that situation could go 'Barbecue', and that would effect the validity of our study, which is based on responses from live cows."

Mark shot me a withering look. "What happened to initiative?"

"I think 'initiative' is that part where I risked my dignity, not to mention life, to scale the bathroom window!"

"It's a first floor window, for god's sake!"

"Ha! That last third is at least a couple of feet higher then the rest! You know, this is why workers fail to strive - lack of appreciation, not to mention lack of hazardous duty pay. I think untangling bulls is definitely classified as hazardous duty!"

"I thought we weren't mentioning that part," growled Mark.

"Well, if I had gotten killed trying to rescue this bull, then think of all the paperwork it would require."

"That's true!" said Mark, brightening. He always got that look when some idea impressed itself on his psyche.

And suddenly, we entered the barn, crossed a hall and we were there.

But Trespasser was not. Or rather, he was there, but he was not standing, panicked and bellowing, with his head through the bars. Instead, he was eating calmly, be-knighting our arrival with a placid eye.

Mark fixed him in a hard glare, as if interrogating him about what had REALLY happened.

And Trespasser munched idyllically, as if to corroborate Mark's suspicions.

So. No emergency. Well, no problem! A little inconvenience, but... I mean, if the worst that happens is that the bull is fine, that is not such a bad outcome. I thought, turning suddenly to run.

I could run like the wind and I could outrun Mark. Shoot, I could even scale the window faster.

^ I believe Jim Mastro may have been the person I worked with at Scripps who started creating break-away harnesses, 1973 -6.

* For the non-scientific reader, in scientific jargon, a "thingy" is any apparatus whose name doesn't immediately spring to mind, which is most of them. If you desire to stay abreast in the newest and most creative developments in scientific notation and terminology, please also see "Cover's Annotated and Adulterated Compendium of Terms of Science, Faith and the Occult", which currently is available only in my imagination. However, if you send your email and $9.99, you will be the first to know when it is available in a material form, and also, when the English translation comes out.

4 Comments:

Anonymous SmK said...

So is it working? Do the heifers tell you when they are estrous? I suppose you won't know till the study is over, though, huh?

4:24 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Pardon me but the links to videos shown in the sidebar here are deadends. Where can I see these videos?

7:56 PM  
Blogger Kayce Cover said...

Hi kathy,

Videos moved to: synalia.com/videos (also check main page, synalia.com).

Thanks for checking it out.

Kayce

11:04 PM  
Blogger Kayce Cover said...

Hi smk,

The heifers were very able to make choices, and to demonstrate that they knew what they had chosen. However, we needed to refine our question. We were asking "do you want time with the bull?" We needed to ask "do you want to be bred by the bull?" Sometimes the heifers wanted to visit the bull for reasons that had nothing to do with romance. ;> I am writing a book on training right now, but when I get done with that, I hope to write more about this project, and others that I found equally as fascinating.

Best,
Kayce

11:06 PM  

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