His Name is Donkey

“His name is Donkey, and he likes to have his ears scratched” is not the normal introduction farm kids receive when Dad unloads a new bull.

Donkey was not a normal bull.

Treating a bull like a pet is not recommended at all. A bull that acts like a pet does not respect humans or give them space. A person is likely to be hurt by a large creature romping up to them for treats.  Mistreating bulls is equally problematic. A bull who fears or  is angered by humans will react instinctively when in close quarters. A 200 lb human does not fare well against a 2000 lb animal. Dairy bulls have a reputation for being especially ill-tempered.

Donkey was certainly an exception to the rules of bull behavior.  The yearling that Dad brought home grew into a 2400 lb Brown Swiss who quickly developed a daily routine. When Dad would let the milk cows into the barn, he would close the door behind them. After the cows were all situated, Dad would slide the door back 3 or 4 feet and pour some grain into Donkey’s pan. If Dad was a little slow getting the door open, Donkey would shove it open himself and step inside. Then, he would wait patiently by his pan for some feed.

After the grain had been eaten, it was time to scratch Donkey’s ears. In order to do this properly, we had to use the handles of a pliers and dig them into the skin behind his ears. Donkey would stand with his head lowered to just the right height and allow that day’s designated “ear scratcher” to do their work. Most of the time, this was Dad. I still have a mental picture burned in my brain of Dad leaning against Donkey, smoking a cigar, while scratching the bull’s ears.

Finishing the ear scratching was the most delicate part of the task. After the scratching stopped, Donkey would shake his massive head. If you had not scurried away to a safe distance, this shaking could be enough to break ribs or a jaw. After that, Donkey was content to ‘supervise’ until his girls were returned to him.

Most bulls get to hang around a farm for 2 or so years. This time limit is fairly universal because that is how long it takes for a bull’s daughters to join the herd. Obviously, you don’t want very many calves whose dad is also their grandpa…. Donkey was such an exceptional bull, in disposition anyway, that Dad found all sorts of ways to keep him around until he was 6 or 7 years old. It was a sad day when Donkey finally left, and he never was adequately replaced.

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About jheem

I grew up on a diversified dairy farm in southeast South Dakota where I learned how to throw a hay bale, pull a calf, deal with death, and "name" the cows. I was in 4H and FFA, and was privileged to serve as a state FFA officer. In college, I studied animal science, focusing on beef cows, mostly because I figured they were less work than dairy cows....I ended up with a Masters Degree in ruminant nutrition and went to work for the University of Nebraska, first as a research tech coordinating data collection for a swine unit and beef feedlot on a research farm and then as an extension educator. In my current job, I focus on environmental issues related to animal agriculture (which is a nice way of saying I talk about manure alot). My husband and I live and work on a seedstock cattle operation in northeast Nebraska. You can learn more about our cattle operation by visiting my husband's blog at http://aldersonangus.wordpress.com.
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