My late Uncle Cletus, second-eldest in a family of thirteen, explained the family-planning in those days:
“What’s that?” said Mom.
“I’ll set a trap,” said Dad.
“Better go kill a chicken. It will soon be hungry.”
“I’ll kill a quail. The others grew so fast.”
“Maybe this one will be small.”
“Yes – start right. Control its diet.”
“It can be a Stenographer.”
“It seems small.”
“It’s still a baby.”
“Get it out from under the table.”
“We should find it some clothes – it leaves little to the imagination.”
“It’s a quiet one, though.”
“It doesn’t want to attract the others.”
“Good survival instinct.”
“What sex is it?”
“Give it time.”
“How soon can we put it to work?”
“Soon – simple tasks.”
“It’s rather hairy.”
“That’s a good name.”
“It has a lot of hair.”
“It’s a December child…”
The thing is, Andrea and I didn’t have thirteen children, but we did have something small, hairy, and unexpected arrive this December.
Mable is our sole remaining milk cow. This is after selling her mother, Mary. It seems like a terrible thing, to sell someone’s mother, but Mable doesn’t seem to care. Her mother was a full-blood Jersey, a breed prone to milk-fever, so we crossed her to a Milking Shorthorn sire, a breed not known for milk-fever. This made sense, to us. Mable has the red-and-white colouration of the dad, overlaid with a nice brindling.
Now, here’s the thing about yaks: you can cross a yak with a cow, but the resulting bulls are sterile. The cows remain fertile. Prevailing wisdom surrounding yaks says that if you wish to accomplish such a breeding, you must separate the yak bull together with the cow you wish to breed. He is something of an elitist, you see, and will only breed a cow when the pickings get – or are rendered – slim.
Mable was not separated from our small yak herd and we didn’t worry. We thought one day we might separate her with Clint, our yak bull, when the time seemed right. Anyway, she started bagging-up in early December, but not much, so we didn’t think much of it. “She’s becoming a woman,” that sort of thing. Nothing else to cause alarm seemed to be occurring.
It got cold, so we put her in the old milking barn, the one built by Arnie Arnesson way back when and that we put a new metal roof on because it was on its last legs, although it should stand now for a long time. Log barns, so the prevailing wisdom goes, don’t fall over, they just get more squat over time, like the folks that build them; and all the other folks, too. We hope the prevailing wisdom surrounding log barns has more substance behind it than the prevailing wisdom surrounding yaks. You see, it had only been a few days that Mable was snug in her barn when I went in and thought,
“Who let that mongrel in here with the cow?”
But I was wrong. Mable had given birth. A little calf was there, small, hairy, red-and-white like the mom, and already frolicking about, his name: Herman Nelson. Half-yak, one-quarter Jersey, one-quarter Milking Shorthorn. Not only did we have a new calf, we had learned something more about Clint, our yak bull, Herman’s dad. Something that we hadn’t thought about before, something that would not have occurred to us: he was not much of a reader. And this is the thing about yaks, the other thing. Their calves are small, like a sewing machine. They make no more difference to the mother’s girlish shape than a couple of beers make to the shape of a long-haul trucker. The result being that they tend to simply appear, if you are not watching closely. If you do watch closely, they appear anyway.
Just like our ancestors did.