One Farmer’s Almanac
portraits by Michael Wilson
This past weekend, Susan and I attended the annual meeting of the Red Devon Association in Winchester, KY. We looked at cows and learned how to evaluate body conformation, including udder size and shape, hair swirls in the coat, movement and shape of legs and feet, and proportions of body parts to each other. It was fascinating. The goal is to select cows that produce plentiful amounts of butterfat. Calves that receive such carry more intramuscular fat when they mature, producing tender, flavorful meat, and fertile bulls and cows.
At conclusion of the second day of the meeting, an auction of purebred Red Devons was held. Since we typically buy crossbred cows, which are cheaper than purebreds, to breed to Red Devon bulls, we were looking forward to another learning experience as spectators at the auction. We purposely did not register for the auction and therefore did not have a number with which to participate in the bidding.
Two or three animals sold at what seemed like depressed prices, but given there were quite a few cows to go, we assumed that prices would certainly average out. When the fourth cow came in and the auctioneer began to wax about the value of the animal, I detected motion to my immediate left. Being a cool dude, I didn’t break pose, even though the auctioneer was suddenly barking at me and heads were turning to look at us. But we couldn’t be bidding because we hadn’t filled out the paperwork and didn’t have a number. Not an issue, I told myself.
Yet I sensed the motion again and the barking recommenced. I began to suspect something was awry: Was I perceiving correctly that the auctioneer and my wife were in dialogue, along with some guy across the room? I tried motioning to her with my hands at my waist so no one would see, to cease and desist, but that turned out to be a futile exercise, as she was not paying attention. So, I summoned courage to turn my head slightly to the left to catch her eye, only to witness Susan’s hand up high and her eyes locked on the auctioneer as he sang his song, bobbing between her and the other side of the room.
This induced me to break into a sweat and adjust my hat, which of course helped, trying to look like we had this all planned, because the eyes of the whole house were suddenly upon us. I tried again to give her hand signals, but that proved as useless as the first time. I was trying to be stoic and impassive, even as I was moving into slight panic. Finally, finally, the torture stopped, when the auctioneer waved his arm our way and exclaimed with a flourish, “Sold!”
What a relief. I pulled on the visor of my hat, looked down at my hands, and just tried to breathe my way out of this. I heard the auctioneer ask for Susan’s bidding number, gaining a rush of hope that we’d be thrown out of the barn. She replied in full voice that she didn’t have one, and within 30 seconds, registration papers and a bidding number landed in her lap. It’s OK, I thought to myself, it’s just one cow.
The next cow came into the ring, and was met with the same sluggish enthusiasm from the audience. Uh oh, motion to my left, barking suddenly coming our way, then away, and then back again. People were smiling at us—and, cool as I knew myself to be, it was clear to the crowd that Susan’s right-hand man was struggling for equilibrium. Finally realizing I was outnumbered, I gained sense enough to dutifully submit, and with a ready smile decided to enjoy the rest of the journey.
We ended up with two beautiful purebred cows who are to calve within the next 30 days, at a reasonable price. And I felt proud of my partner, who doesn’t follow rules. After returning from settling paperwork on our new bovines, I observed a group of women and men surrounding Susan, congratulating her for bringing brazen vitality to the auction ring.
In submission to the auction house,
Drausin & Susan
Drausin has been the chief-cook and bottle washer at Grassroots Farm & Foods since 2008, when he chose to become a full-time grass farmer, leaving his job as a banker to do so. He and his wife, Susan, lease 200 acres at Red Stone Farm in Pike County, which has been in the John Wulsin family since 1968. In addition to grassfed meats, the farm offers prepared foods like chili and Bolognese sauce made by Susan’s Soulful Kitchen.