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Irons in the fire: Beer run

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 May 2018

A lifetime spent in the pursuit of happiness, quite often generally and specifically in pursuit of a cow, in some form or another, has taught me nothing if it hasn’t taught me the world of agriculture is full of paradox and Renaissance men and women.

I was reminded of this again when I attended the funeral of the venerable Andy Anderson, whose passion it was to get cows pregnant. He worked in the beef cattle A.I. industry for years, pioneering genetic improvement for commercial cattle producers through synchronization and mass breeding techniques.

Andy, like a passel of folks I know, was more than just a cow breeder, though. He was a saddlemaker, cowboy and whisky drinker. But he was also a gourmet cook, family man, voracious reader and history fanatic.

Through my acquaintance with Andy, for the past few years I’ve had the good fortune to spend several days in the late spring and early summer helping with some big A.I. breeding projects in Idaho, Montana and Nevada. To be sure, it can be a dirty job, but the promise of consorting with good cattle and innovative yet old-fashioned ranchers, buckaroos, repro specialists and seasoned cowboy/scientists gives way to an environment ripe with story fodder.

That is to say nothing of the earthly heaven that is the western cow country of Montana’s Beaverhead Valley, the beautiful Lemhi Valley of central Idaho and the vast high desert ranching country of Lander County, Nevada – the natives of each respective locale certain in the belief theirs is truly God’s country.

As you might imagine, the topics of conversation and the language in a breeding barn can, at times, be as saucy as a cow fresh off of new green pasture or the heifer that’s been in the feedlot for the past three weeks.

With that being said, however, the ebb and flow of the dialogue can seamlessly go from the frustration of a hard-to-thread cervix or a rip in a plastic A.I. sleeve to Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy or Winston Churchill’s unparalleled ability as a public orator. The breeding barn, like I’ve found in the sorting pen or at the side of the chute, is a place for paradox and apparent oxymorons.

One morning in the breeding barn, Ruben, a beast of a man with a chest as thick as a grizzly bear boar, was explaining the tortures and pleasures of his running habit to CJ and me. He had recently completed a half-marathon and was preparing for what sounded to me like a vicious, miserable relay race through the mountains of central Idaho.

When I questioned him as to what would possess him to do such a thing to himself, he whimsically explained he really liked to eat and he didn’t mind running and working out. And there, he said, the twain shall meet. If he runs, he can still eat pretty much whatever he wants.

The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It is, to Ruben, an ingenious and practical solution. As an added bonus, he enthusiastically mentioned at the conclusion of the race, the finishers were treated to a free T-shirt and beer.

CJ, a thin, wiry guy, who looks like he could be a runner but eschews such vile activities in favor of team roping, was mostly a silent observer in the background of the running conversation. A few minutes after I had exhausted my supply of queries to Ruben regarding his pedestrian hobbies, CJ decided to chime in with his insightful wisdom.

“Paul,” he stated, with an air of visionary confidence, “I’ve changed my mind after listening to Ruben’s enlightening remarks. You and I darn sure need to sign up for this relay. I think we’d make a formidable team. You could do the running, and I could drink the beer.”  end mark