Recent travels in the neighborhood, either on foot or in car, have taken me past Allandale Farm, still closed for the winter. Curiously, there are two bulls regularly lounging in the shade near the algae-filled pond. I say curiously because this is a new sight at the farm, and I have no idea why they are there.
Driving past, I point them out to Grace. She has the same question as mine. “Why?”
“My guess is that the farm has rented them to sire the cows,” I say.
Then I recall that there are no cows there.
“Another thought,” I add, “is that the farm owns them, and they are renting out the bulls to impregnate cows on other farms.”
“I don’t really get it,” says Grace. For once, I decide not to explain everything. Beyond mentioning that cows are female and bulls male, I avoid the topic of animal husbandry.
But the desire to get up close and inspect the bulls remained. Today I walked over to the farm, cutting through the cemetery — yeah, I know, growth and death, circle of life — and made my way over to the pond. There is a shed and pen for the bulls, and as I approached, one of the bulls stuck his massive head over the wire fence. I was kind of flattered, as though the bull had pegged me as a friendly person who might give an apple or a pat. I was also intimidated: the bull was bigger than a VW Beetle, his head alone bigger than a 30 pound supermarket turkey.
Turns out, he didn’t want me, an apple, or a pat. He wanted to scratch. First he rhythmically scratched behind his right ear by rubbing it on the chain link fence post. His eyes rolled back in the sockets. Next he rhythmically scratched behind his left ear after deliberately adjusting the position of his head. This I videoed.
He was smart enough to get what he needed from his environment.
I walked home in the other direction, through a neighborhood of once-starter homes that have been lived in for ages. I noticed that, in most of the yards, a number of idiosyncratic gardening purchases and decisions have mostly led to clutter, either actual or visual. I made a mental note to go through my own yard carrying a big plastic garbage bag and to throw out the old plastic pots I’ve left here and there as well as the ugly or surplus ornaments. The season for gardening is beginning.
My last stop before home was the local Starbucks for iced coffee. Some itches are easy to scratch. I might as well this one, I thought.
UPDATE (June 1, 2012): I was at Allandale today buying some mulch and a few dahlias. A young woman who worked for the farm loaded the mulch into the car. I asked her about the bulls: “Are you folks going to breed them?” She answered that the original intention was to farm them for meat, but that the longer they hang around, the more attached the farmers and the patrons are becoming to them. (And they are steer, not bulls, which I was politely told are castrated bulls.)
I also learned that they are a friendly species, Scottish Highland, “which are used in rehabilitative setting,” this young farmer explained. “They’re good with people.”
“So, like, they’re therapy bulls, er, steer?” I asked.
“Yes, like that,” she answered.