Bull Tales

May 20, 2011
Bull TalesA day at the office

It’s not commonly known in all parts of the country, but yours truly takes photographs. I’ve spent years chasing around the Pacific Northwest taking pictures of rural and agricultural people in all sorts of situations—some dire, others, proud and happy.

At times, I’ve been referred to as an agricultural paparazzi.

Years ago, I was assigned to take photos of a purebred cattle breeder—who shall be nameless for soon-to-be-obvious reasons—while he was preg-checking his heifers.

I called and set up an appointment for the following week. He told me that he’d put the girls in some pens and keep them handy for their big day.

At the time, neither of us realized the heifers he gathered were either the smartest cows or most determined in his herd. As he turned his back on the young cows, they figured a way to bypass his hotwire pens and tiptoe over to the nearby silage pile.

Every morning when he came out to feed, the heifers were happy to take his hay. That afternoon, they’d slip out of the pen and shovel silage into their mouths as quickly as they could. Come morning, like good cows, they were back in their pen.

Needless to say, there were no square corners on the cattle in that pen.

When I arrived, one of the heifers was in the squeeze. The owner greased his glove and got down to business.

Folks who are armpit deep inside a cow often develop interesting facial expressions arriving at that position. At the same time, the cow that is the object of all this unwanted attention has her own thoughts on the matter. Photographs of both faces, as cow and cowman each strain against the other, make an interesting picture.

Yours truly was standing with camera near the head of the cow concentrating on the faces of both participants. I was the wallflower waiting for the “special moment” in the “pregcheck dance.”

My moment came when the owner touched the “tickle-zone” inside the heifer’s uterus.

The heifer exploded with a volcano of semi-digested silage. The owner, fully committed, had nowhere to run or hide. The green and gooshy manure firehose pasted him in the face.

The effluent backblast hit the owner with such force and liquidity that yours truly was thoroughly splattered at the other end of the cow.

As the remainder of the cow manure tsunami dribbled from the barn ceiling, I still had the camera in position to catch facial expressions. Opening my eyes, I saw in my viewfinder the primary blast victim completely coated ... glasses, mustache, everything ... in a gooey shade of green.

Just then a secondary wave of green goop dribbled slowly off the top of his ball cap leaving little manure circles hanging on the brim.

There was my photographic moment. I could have taken the shot, but didn’t. The only newspaper that might be interested in a photo like that would be the National Enquirer in a “Mud-Man Space Alien” article.

I don’t work for those folks.

Besides, I saw no reason to embarrass the man in front of his friends and community. I put the camera down and—when we could both open our mouths without risk of an E. coli infection—asked if the owner was OK.

“I think so,” he said, in a voice that sounded like he had a really bad cold.

A short time later, I was glad the owner had thought ahead and plumbed hot water into his barn. As you can imagine, it took a while for both of us to get cleaned up.

“You didn’t take that picture, did you?” he asked later.

I knew he was referring to the moment when he looked like a dribbly, green tar baby through my viewfinder.

“Nope,” I said. “Thanks,” he replied, as he cleaned his ears, “I appreciate that.”

“But I gotta ask you,” I said, “did you have your mouth open when the bomb went off?” “Got it closed just in time,” he grinned, scraping out a big blob from the chest pocket of his coveralls.

“Whew,” I thought, shaking out my jacket, “just another day in the office for an agricultural paparazzi.” — D. “Bing” Bingham [Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller.

When he’s taking photos at a ranch, he never sets his camera gear on the ground where the male stockdogs can claim it for their territory. If you have a story or comment to pass along, contact him at bing@bing bingham.com.]