All The Dumb Things

A cautionary tale in development

Collecting bull semen for a living. Springvale, Vic. Australia. 1971

Posted by razzbuffnik on June 6th, 2008

I was looking through my old photographs for something that I could put up as a post, when I came across this old photograph of a high school friend of mine called Stephen. 

Stephen

My family used to move around a lot when I was a kid (no, my family wasn’t in the army), and as a result, I attended six different primary schools and three different high schools.  Because I was in so many different schools I learnt how to make friends and then get over them (when we moved again) quickly. I think this has led to an ability to just move on and start afresh without any nostalgia.

I haven’t stayed in contact with a single person from my school days.  Truth be known, I can hardly even remember more than a handful of names from that time.  It still surprises me when I talk to people nowadays, and they reminisce about “the good old days” at school or when I meet some of their old school friends.  It’s like I’m being told about some strange alien land that I don’t have a visa for and I’ll never be able to visit.  I feel a little envious, but then, I just move on.  That basically sums up the way how I’ve lived a large part of my life. 

Experience, reflect, move on.

Experience, reflect, move on.

Experience, reflect, move on.

Stephen is one of the few people that I remember from high school and in some ways, we shared quite a few things in common.  Stephen’s family had emigrated from England to Australia, and he still had an English accent.  Both Stephen and I were outsiders, who were interested in other things besides, music and sports.

We used to go to auctions together.  One time we went to an animal auction and tried to buy a ferret, because we wanted to go ferreting but we didn’t have enough money to buy one.  Then there was another time that we wanted to buy a hawk so we could try and train it to catch animals.  Luckily for the environment, we didn’t have enough money for that either. 

One funny thing that Stephen used to do at auctions was to buy whatever silver trophies that were on offer.  Stephen’s bedroom was lined with other people’s trophies that have been turned around, so you couldn’t see the engraved names of the actual recipients.  It was almost as though he was trying to create a history of achievement for himself.

Stephen and I also used to like to go skin-diving, and we both got our scuba diving certificates when we were 14 years old.  The fact that we didn’t have any money to buy the equipment didn’t bother us.  We both jumped at the chance when the YMCA in downtown Melbourne offered the course in their swimming pool for a mere $11, and that included one ocean dive with the use of the equipment.

Stephen’s parents were decent down to earth people who always treated me with kindness and respect.  Which at the time, struck me as rather unusual, as most of the other kids I knew, had parents who didn’t seem to take an interest in who their child’s friends were. In the past, I’d been normally greeted with just a grunt and a nod, when I went around to friend’s houses.

Another thing that was different about Stephen’s parents is that they kept a goat so they didn’t have to mow the lawn.  We weren’t living out in the country, we were living in the suburbs.

One day we were in the backyard of Stephen’s place shooting his air rifle at a target with his younger brothers, when his father came home from work.  Steve’s dad was a nice guy and he joined us in shooting at the target.  One at a time, we would fire several shots into the target and then go and see how well we did.  Every time the five of us would walk up to the target to inspect it, the goat would follow us right up to it.  On one occasion when we were looking at the target, one of Stephen’s younger brothers grabbed a hold of his father’s dangling tie, unnoticed, as his dad was checking our results, and stuck the end of it in the goat’s mouth.  As Stephen’s father was bent over, the goat chewed away at his tie and worked his way right up to his throat. 

Suddenly, Stephen’s father felt the weight on his neck and he tried to jump up, but the goat had worked its way right up to the knot in the tie and was still attached.  It made for quite the hilarious scene, as Stephen’s father danced around, trying to stand up and push the goat away from his throat at the same time.  The goat had eaten the tie, fair and square, and wasn’t about to let it go. 

Every time Stephen’s dad tried to push the goat away it would just chomp down harder on the tie and his efforts to free himself, choked him.  The eventual solution was to slap the goat on the side of the head with an open hand to get it to bleat and release an inch of tie at a time.  Slap, bleat, slap, bleat, slap, bleat, until the saliva covered and concertina shaped tie was extracted.  The tie was a mess and there was no way that it could be used as an article of clothing any more.

Unlike how I imagine most people’s parents would have reacted to such an event, Stephen’s father just roared with laughter. 

It was funny.

As the afternoon turned into evening, I was invited to stay for dinner.  Stephen’s family were different to other families who I had dinner with in the past.  Everybody spoke to each other in one big general conversation about whatever subject was being discussed.  Now when I look back, it’s pretty obvious that Stephen’s parents were fairly enlightened and they encouraged their children to interact in an adult way.  I really enjoyed the way how they treated me as an equal, but to be honest, I wasn’t very good at the conversation with adults thing. Not much practice you see.

To everyone’s horror I asked Stephen’s mother, what she did for a living.  There were quick nervous glances around the table, and then Stephen’s mother sort of stiffly raised her hand as though to say, “it’s okay, were all adults here, I can tell him”.

” I work in an artificial insemination facility”

“ A what?” I asked.

“An artificial insemination facility”

I naively blundered on with, “what’s artificial insemination?” I’ve been blessed with an unusually high degree of insensitivity, and I was oblivious to how I was cruelling the conversation.

After another quick intake of breath and nervous glance exchanges between her and her husband, Stephen’s mother swallowed, took a deep breath, and raised her hand again, in what I can only guess was a calming gesture to the rest of the family and answered me with, ” artificial insemination is when you make an animal pregnant using artificial means”

“Oh………. how do you do that?”

More nervous glances, another hand raising.

” We collect the bull semen, and we put it inside of the cows”

“Really!”

” How do you do that?”

Faces were getting redder and the glances more strained.  Without realising it, I was really testing how enlightened these people thought they were.  I bet Stephen’s mother never thought that she’d have to explain such things to a naive idiot over dinner.

Stephen’s mother was made of stern enlightened stuff, so she went on to explain.

“At the facility where I work, we have a fake rear end of the cow made out a fibreglass with a real cow standing next to it ” “We then bring in the bull and when it sees the cow it tries to mount her but we steer it onto the fake fibreglass rear end”

“Really!”

This was all starting to blow my mind. I could never have imagined before that moment, that such things ever happened. My brain was starting to reel.

“Then what happens?” I blurted out as I was still trying to take it all in.

Eyes were starting to roll now, and Stephen and his brothers had their heads bowed down and they were staring at their plates.  Their father, just bowed his head and held it in both hands.

Stephen’s mother then said ” I sit inside of the fake cow’s rear-end and when the ball inserts himself in there I collect his semen into a container.”

“What?!”

“With your bare hands?!”

“No, no, no, I wear long rubber gloves” was the answer and that I nonchalantly received.

Every now and again, I wonder what kind of parent, I would make.  If I was ever to have any children, I’d like to think that I would be as bravely enlightened and forthright as Stephen’s parents.

After Stephen’s mother’s straightforward explanation about her work, conversation just continued as normal. 

No big deal.

When I look back on that dinner I’m in awe at how Stephen’s parents didn’t make a big fuss about something that would seem very strange when taken out of context.  The bare bones of the matter is, that artificial insemination is a day-to-day reality in agriculture, that is performed by people who see it as just a part of their normal everyday working experience. 

When one thinks about it, we make a big deal about a lot of stupid little stuff in our society. 

Having said all of that, I don’t think I’d be too comfortable telling people that I had such a job.

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17 Responses to “Collecting bull semen for a living. Springvale, Vic. Australia. 1971”

  1. brooks Says:

    Perhaps she worked for a conservative politician and felt the bull sperm job was less embarrassing.

  2. razzbuffnik Says:

    The funny thing was that I don’t think she was embarrassed, but I’m pretty sure she was sick of other people’s reactions though.

    When I told my wife about this story, she told me (she went to a school that had an agricultural component in it’s curriculum) that it’s done with an electric gadget nowadays, that gives a shock to the animal’s testes that makes the whole process much simpler and quicker.

  3. nathaliewithanh Says:

    I feel saddened that you have not experienced long-lasting childhood friendships. I spent my whole schooling in a single establishment and have recently reconnected with dozens of former students. while we may not have been best buddies in our teens, our common past brought us back together in a very strong and emotional way.
    I cannot say however that I ever knew one artificial cow inseminator. I also want to state that I would hesitate before inviting you for dinner ;-)
    I bet if you googled Stephen’s full name, you could find him.
    Thanks for the story!

  4. Pat Coakley Says:

    “Really!”

    ” How do you do that?”

    “Then what happens?”

    What?!”

    “With your bare hands?!”

    Do you mean to tell us that you noticed all the rolling eyes, red faces, bowed heads in hands, staring at plates, and you still asked all these questions? I didn’t laugh all day until now. Some of us are paralyzed by subtle social cues. Not Razzman. When he is interested in something, look out. I love that father. Goat eats his tie. He laughs. Son’s friend asks every question he didn’t want him to ask. He simply bows head and puts it in his hands. P.S. I’m from New England. Talk of electric gadgets causes acne.

  5. razzbuffnik Says:

    Pat

    “Do you mean to tell us that you noticed all the rolling eyes, red faces, bowed heads in hands, staring at plates, and you still asked all these questions?”

    Goes to show how clueless I was/am. I’ve been incredibly insensitive most of my life (many would say I still am). Sometimes it almost crushes me when I think of some of the thoughtlessly cruel and stupid things I’ve said and done. Perhaps this is because I haven’t grown up with an unbroken peer group to help me to identify what is acceptable or not.

    I come from a Anglo-Celtic background where sex wasn’t discussed. Although I was 14 or 15 at the time of the dinner, I was amazingly naive.

  6. razzbuffnik Says:

    Nathaliewithanh

    “I feel saddened that you have not experienced long-lasting childhood friendships.”

    Me too sometimes, but what can be done? Life goes on and I try to enjoy it.

    “I also want to state that I would hesitate before inviting you for dinner”

    I’m sure your not alone in thinking twice before you invite me to dinner. I am a reckless dinner guest (although my wife helps to keep me under control by kicking me under the table) and that’s why I throw a lot of dinners for people at my place ;-)

    “I bet if you googled Stephen’s full name, you could find him.”

    I did it years ago and I’ve just done it now. No luck.

  7. Robert Says:

    Hey there, I am 42 and I believe I would still be asking the very same questions as you did over a dinner, with my wife frantically kicking me under the table, killing me softly with her glances.

    I actually already have some specific questions about this sophisticated process of semen collection… ;-)

  8. razzbuffnik Says:

    Robert

    Thanks for dropping by.

    “I actually already have some specific questions about this sophisticated process of semen collection”

    Old school or new school?

  9. Robert Says:

    Old school, of course…

  10. Pat Coakley Says:

    Ok. Now, I love the father in your story, you, of course, because you are like none other, and now, Robert, cuz he admits he’d be asking these questions (and more apparently) at age 42 with his wife frantically kicking him under the table!

    I’m not sure I’d want to be hosting the dinner, but I’d pay to be a dinner guest with you two at the table together anytime. The first thing I’d do? Check out what kind of shoes your wives are wearing.

  11. Epicurienne Says:

    Hi Razz,

    what a great post! Hilarious…
    Hope you manage to track down your friend one day to find out if he went into The Family Business!!!

    Take care…
    Epic

  12. razzbuffnik Says:

    Robert

    A shock in the testes unappealing?…. but,… but,…. electronics are the way of the future.

    Pat

    Nerf boots I hope.

    Epicurienne

    Thanks for dropping by. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a family business. Can you imagine how weird it would be if parents were pushing kids into such things? Too strange to contemplate ;-)

  13. forestrat Says:

    Have you ever read the “All Creatures Great and Small” series by James Herriot an english country vet back in the 1940’s? There is a hilarious scene in one of the books (I forget which one exactly) about trying to collect a semen sample from a bull back when this sort of thing was really new.

    MDW

  14. razzbuffnik Says:

    Forestrat

    No I haven’t read the books but I did see the TV series and that incident never made it onto the TV.

    gee, I wonder why? ;-)

    Thanks for dropping by.

  15. Robert Says:

    OK, mate, I could not resist, just could not do it!
    Me and my wife visited her parents and I had to, really had to, ask her father, a retired (75 years old) veterinian about the old school of semen collection… Over a nice evening glass of wine. It all started with a very reserved energy, but ended up in hysterical laughter when comparing the Australian approach with the Slovenian one. Not many differences, I must say…
    Anyway, this post of yours certainly inspired an excelent evening chat of two generations. Cheers and thanks! ;-)

  16. razzbuffnik Says:

    Robert

    Good on you!

    There’s nothing like a little conversation about bull semen collection to lighten the mood and bridge the generation gap over dinner!

  17. Robert Says:

    Oh, I forgot to tell you about the differences: in Slovenia they have used a fake cows rear made of metal (bulls can weight up to 1.500 kg!) and covered with a cow skin. And they called this construction A PHANTOM! The rest is more or less the same, you know, little lady, rubber gloves…

    Hey, I really got into it! I am already thinking about writing a book on these sort of secrets…

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