ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Harlan Medlam didn’t keep a bull, but he usually had about 30 cows on hillside pastures that bordered the creek.
Much to the annoyance of his neighbors, Harlan Medlam seldom kept up his end of the fences. The neighbors continually had to enter his pastures to look for their strayed animals, and make the minor repairs he should have made.
Their bulls got over the fences for dallies with Harlan’s cows. They fought each other fearsomely, with one large bovine engaged in pawing, head-butting and injury against his neighbor. The barbed-wire cuts from going through fences were many. The neighbors often had to separate their animals before bringing them home.
And, all of Harlan Medlam’s new calves every year resembled the neighbors’ bulls, the quality animals they had invested in to improve their herds.
His neighbor Paul was represented in the Medlam herd offspring by his black Angus bull, his neighbor Sam by the offspring of his red whiteface Hereford, and his neighbor C.J. by the offspring of his Shorthorn.
In the fall, Harlan would watch with a smile on his weathered wrinkled face as his neighbors gathered their cattle to take to winter quarters.
Then he would brush back the hair on his old head before catching a nap, and say to his wife, Florence, “We sure have a fine bunch of calves this year.”
Later, he might ask one or two of those neighbors for help in bringing his own cattle home.
So, it was at coffee one day that Sam said to Paul and C.J., “That old Harvey Medlam.”
They all shook their heads.
“You know, we shouldn’t let him do this to us year after year. It’s about time the old stinker bought his own bull.”
“Well, I guess I could run calves in that pasture this year, and that way he wouldn’t have the benefit of my bull.
“That’s a good idea,” the other two men said.
That spring, they all began to bring calves to the pastures.
Harlan Medlam awoke to that fact on a warm spring day after taking a nap under a hedge tree where he had parked the tractor and trailer. Florence had sent him out there to pick up firewood they had cut before rain made it muddy.
Florence had worn him out through the winter pulling on a two-man saw.
The honey bees were already buzzing by for the tree bloom, and Harlan yawned deeply. He looked across the fence and saw a herd of calves-no cows, no bull.
After a hurried tractor ride home, he and Florence drove around the area in his old black pickup.
“You’re right, Harlan,” said Florence. “They all have calves on the pastures. Guess we have to change our management plan to keep up with the neighbors.”
Harlan’s mouth gaped in a big smile at her suggestions.
That night Paul got a call. “Oh, hello Harlan. What’s up?”
He covered the mouthpiece and whispered to his wife. “It’s Harlan. I bet he’s asking about the cattle.”
“Paul,” Harlan said, “I was wondering if you could bring your truck over to help me get a critter tomorrow. I’ve bought a bull from an old friend, Evin Pritcher. I’m past 70 you know. Don’t know if I can handle it.”
“OK, sure, Harlan, I guess I could do that.” Upon hanging up, Paul said to his wife, “Well, this is an event. Harlan Medlam has bought his own bull.”
The next morning, with sunshine burning off a morning fog, Harlan stiffly raised himself next to Paul on the truck seat and gave him directions to reach the Pritcher farm 30 miles away.
“What kind of a breeder is this Pritcher-got a good purebred line?” Paul asked.
“Naah,” replied Harlan. “Old Evin has all kinds of cattle. Milks some Jerseys-nothing prettier, you know. Got a beef herd. Even got an old Brahmin crossed-up bull from somewhere. Looks like an old race horse to me with them legs.”
Harlan smiled, enjoying the conversation.
“He never castrates anything because he says the difference in price for a bull calf instead of a steer calf isn’t enough for him to take the trouble. He lets ’em run together all the time, so he’s always got calves that have grown enough to sell. Gives him a monthly income.”
“Good lord, Harlan, that’s terrible management. I don’t see how he stays in business-the calves must be so lousy. Say, what kind of a bull could he sell you anyway?”
“Oh, he said he’d be a good one. And it won’t cost me near as much as a purebred. Don’t need anything like a purebred to get calves.”
Once there, Harlan and Evin visited a while, thumbs hooked in their overalls, while Paul looked in horror at the worst bovine in the corral that he’d ever seen.
The bull couldn’t have been much more than a yearling, but it was hard to tell on its lanky legs with ridge-topped spine.
The bull snorted and pawed at him through the fence, then shook his horns on the strange square Jersey with a Brahmin long-nose head shape.
“Hey, he’s bucking now,” Harlan said, as he handed $300 cash to Evin. “Looks like a good one, Evin. Ought to have a lot of vigor. Lucky I got good neighbors to help me with him.”
On the truck ride home, Paul sat in tight-lipped silence, staring through the windshield while Harlan mused from time to time on what kind of weather it would be this year, and how the seedling crops looked.
When they stopped in Harlan’s driveway, Paul stepped up on the sideboard to look at the bull again.
“You know, Harlan,” Paul said, “I think I might know a situation at a sale barn where I could make a profit on that bull. Wouldn’t want to hurt you or cut you out, though. You gave $300 for this bull. I could give you $350 if you’d let me have him.”
“Guess I could let you have it,” Harlan said. “If the deal’s that good, give me $400, and we’ll call it even.”
“OK, Harlan, deal. I won’t even unload him, just take him there now, and drop you off because I won’t have time tomorrow. I need to get those calves off my pasture, and move the cows in-and the bull, too, of course. Guess you’ll be fixing some fence soon too, huh?”
“I don’t know, Paul. You know it’s terrible hard to get things done at this age. The joints creak, you move slower. Got to get lots of rest.”
Harlan Medlam yawned, and then grinned, and patted his pocket where Paul’s check for $400 set.
He said to himself, “Well, it’s been a tough morning, all that riding. But it’s dinner time anyway, and I’m sure Florence will see that I need a nap.”
Jerry Engler’s column appears in most issues of the Hillsboro Free Press Extra, which is available for $12 a year.