I Am Bull-Calf, Hear Me Roar!

June 12, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

Havre de Grace. -- In a few days, we'll be getting the cattle in for a late-spring ritual. We'll deworm all cows and calves, and surgically convert this year's bull calves into steers.

There are both management and market reasons for doing this. We don't want these pre-pubescent bulls to reproduce, nor do we want them to waste a lot of energy thinking about it and fighting with each other. In the first place they're crossbreds, and we use a purebred bull. Too, we have more than 20 of them, and one vigorous, mature bull can impregnate our entire 40-cow herd.

Besides, steers bring better prices. Usually we sell ours in early fall when they reach about 500 pounds. Steers of that size ordinarily bring 10 to 20 cents a pound more than either bulls or heifers. That's $50 to $100 a head -- real money.

This premium is based on physiology -- steers in a feed lot get fatter faster -- and on behavior. I don't pretend to know a lot about all species of mammals, but in the case of most farm animals, males and females behave differently. Sometimes the differences are subtle, and sometimes they're both striking and economically significant.

In our urban world, this is a fact lost on many otherwise well-educated and sophisticated people. It's also one reason why rural people tend to look with particular disdain on cer

tain current social and cultural conceits about human gender differences.

Farm people -- and I use that term here to mean more a state of mind than a place of residence -- don't confuse people with animals, or vice versa. But there are certain kinds of behavior they instantly recognize as either male or female, whether they see it in the barnyard, the schoolyard or the movies.

Our country is very confused about gender just now, which isn't necessarily bad. The roles of men and women in society haven't ever remained the same for long; they've changed as times and conditions have changed, and continue to evolve today. But the price we pay for this evolution is a steady barrage of nutty theories and, especially recently, the relentless whining of those who insist they speak for their gender and want the world to know they're oppressed.

Recently, female voices have accounted for most of the gabble. Here's a typical sample, from a recently published screech by an irate sociologist. ''Gender statuses today are inherently unequal. . . Subordination of women is an intrinsic part of the modern social order. . . . [It] persists because it produces a group

that can be exploited as workers, sexual partners, childbearers and emotional nurturers in the marketplace and in the household.''

But deeper voices are now chiming in, singing a slightly different song. With women increasingly taking control of politics, academia, the media and the law, a kind of harmonic male whimper has begun, and there's even something called the ''men's movement.''

Cathy Young, the amusing and perceptive author of a forthcoming book called ''Gender Wars,'' suggests that if there is a men's movement there will inevitably soon be a philosophy of masculism. There are plenty of apparent inequities out there just waiting for the masculists to scoop them up, Ms. Young notes in a recent piece in Reason magazine. For example:

* The judicial system treats female defendants more leniently. (Ms. Young should have been in Baltimore for the latest Jackie McLean courtroom circus.) The new Violence Against Women Act makes federal civil-rights offenses of various crimes against women, even though 65 percent of violent-crime victims and 75 percent of homicide victims are male.

* There's been great concern about bias against girls in school, yet girls are more likely to finish high school and go to college than boys, and boys tend to be punished more harshly than girls for identical classroom misbehavior.

* Breast cancer kills 43,000 American women a year, prostate cancer 35,000 American men. But breast cancer research gets six times the assistance from the federal government.

Instant sleep, or what? This dry stuff deals in facts and figures, just like any other old-fashioned interest-group politics. If they want to attain true celebrity-victim status, the masculists had better learn to point out that the subordination of men persists because it produces a group that can be exploited as workers, sexual partners, sires and emotional bogeymen in the marketplace and in the household. Something like that, anyway.

When we get the calves in, we run them through the chute regardless of sex. The heifers get a dose of wormer and then get turned loose. The bulls have to submit to the knife. It would be nice for them if they knew that out in the marketplace they're headed for, they'll be worth more per pound than their half-sisters. It's never easy being male, but it's more bearable if you've got your pride.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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