Lad was a beautiful animal.
He was also the most dangerous beast we ever raised on our farm.
Lad was a Jersey bull.
Dairy bulls are a rarity on Ozarks farms today, just as dairy farms are increasingly few. But, even before hundreds of dairy farms disappeared from our rural landscape, beginning in the 1950s dairy bulls of all breeds were widely replaced by artificial insemination, and most of the “clean-up” bulls that remained were Holsteins.
Though hardly rare, Jersey dairy herds were much less common than the black and white cattle that dominated our landscape, and if Jersey bulls were not quite rare, bulls like Lad were.
Lad was a young Jersey bull of uncommon form and grace, a veritable Adonis among those of his ilk. Rather than the common dark chocolate brown and black of more ordinary Jerseys, he was enrobed in a sleek nutmeg cape over white-stockinged legs. The fine features of his face framed a distinctive white star on his forehead, his head always held high and his striking dark eyes ever alert.
Such noble demeanor was no accident, but, rather, the result of the intentional pairing of our best, registered cow with exactly the type of sire my genetic guru Dad desired for our growing dairy herd.
It was obvious from birth that Lad was something special — a truly beautiful animal. It also became clear he was to become what the French call “L'enfant terrible.”
Lad was one of those calves that did not simply nurse the calf nipple bucket, but attacked with with unflinching vigor, especially when the milk was gone.
Even as a calf he had no respect for fences. I watched him take out hot electric wires as if they were cotton kite strings. After the first bite on his nose, he simply backed up and charged it like a rhino.
As he matured, Lad became a challenge even for my dad, a seasoned bull handler who had formerly worked with the worst of those at the MFA A.I. bull farm south of Springfield.
As was common with dairy bulls, Lad sported a brass ring in his nose, commonly used to snap a lead to. Like the cows Dad brought to our new farm in 1957, Lad was trained to lead as a calf. But, he never quite surrendered to it like our cows and heifer calves had. Dad could handle him, but we boys never even got a chance to try.
No only was Lad blessed with a bovine boy’s exceptional good looks, he proved himself an exceptional athlete with a single, remarkable feat. It was when he was just a yearling tied with a short rope to a post in the barnyard fence — a new, barbed wire fence. We went to the house for some reason, and upon coming out the back door saw him standing on the yard side of the fence. It was one of those “What-the-heck, stop-in-your-tracks” moments.
We never did figure how he managed to clear those five strands unscathed, but he did.
It was not long after that incident he also proved himself 100 percent Jersey bull. My younger brother, Russell, was in the barnlot with Dad, and young Lad was milling around with the cows. Suddenly Dad heard a ruckus and saw Russell pinned to the ground, his slim torso between Lad’s adolescent horns. Dad quickly rescued him, but had he not been there, Russell would have been crushed.
I was probably 13 or 14 at the time, Russell a couple of years younger. We both gave Lad a wide berth, thereafter.
Most of our interior fences in those days were single wires electrified by a pulsating Wizard charger in the barn— enough to discourage the cows and we boys from reckless behavior, but of no consequence to Lad.
Dad’s first measure to control him was an 18-inch chain hanging from that brass ring, which delivered a considerable jolt when draped over an electric wire.
Beyond that, Dad also devised something to slow the fleet-footed fellow down when he decided to run one of us out of his pasture — an old truck flywheel on the end of a 15-foot chain fastened around the boy’s neck, cushioned with a length of old garden hose.
It did slow him a mite, but I can still see Lad racing across our lower field with that heavy flywheel bouncing like a feather-light beach ball.
After one crop of calves, Dad figured he should move Lad along. We’d been lucky, so far, and as an A.I. veteran, Dad knew of a safer option.
Russell and I were in school the day a local cattle trader came to load Lad in his red International pickup truck.
It was kind of nice after that not having to look both ways — like crossing a highway— when walking into the barn lot.
A couple of days later that cattle trader said our fence-jumper nearly cleared his stock racks before getting to his place the other side of Elkland. The last I heard a dehorning took some of the vinegar out him, but I doubt it was long-lived.
I never saw Lad after they hauled him away — not sure I wanted to without that fine pair of horns ennobling his proud mien. I’d rather remember him just as he was nearly 60 years ago, an Adonis among Jersey bulls, but more deadly than a rattlesnake — a beautiful and dangerous beast
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Copyright James E. Hamilton, 2020.