His voice was weak over the phone. He said that he had purchased 3 heifers from Gene Wiese and wanted them bred to a Wiese bull. Since I had just purchased three young Wiese bulls, Gene had suggested to him that I might be willing to rent him a bull. Of course, I would do about anything for Gene Wiese.
What Goes Around…
You see, Gene is an icon in Iowa agriculture. He has accomplished things in his lifetime that most of us can only dream about. Driving to his Carroll County farm for the first time, I was amazed to find a 1200 acre oasis of grass, hay, and trees in the heart of Iowa’s corn and bean country. He along with his son and daughter, David and Helen, have set the standard for environmentally sustainable agriculture practices while building one of the most successful Hereford breeding stock businesses in the country.
I once commented to Gene “I’ll bet you have seen a lot of changes in this industry over the years”. Indeed he had, and he told me some details of his journey.
In the 50′s he had a request to send several bulls to South Africa. He loaded them on a train where they were railed to New Orleans, put on a ship and sailed to South Africa.
In the 70′s the Soviet Union wanted several hundred of his heifers. He put them on pot belly cattle trucks, trucked to Chicago where they were put on 747′s and flown to Russia.
Since the 90′s he has been shipping several thousand units of semen annually around the world from his Iowa farm via UPS.
And, in the 2000′s he hauled three heifers to an aging bachelor farmer, Olin Hamman, just south of Corning, Iowa. Because that is what an icon does!
Olin was the person who called me looking to rent a Wiese bull. That year I delivered my bull to Olin in late October.
Olin lives alone on the same farm and in the same house where he grew up. It is a rough farm. Like Olin, small patches of row crop live between rolling hills of hay and pasture. His house is modest but neat with a small barn behind. This is where he asked me to unload the bull. As I backed my trailer up to the gate, I could see in my side-view mirror the white faces of three curious heifers poking their heads around the side of Olin’s barn.
” I don’t know what I would have done without these girls around here this year”, Olin told me as if we had been friends from childhood. “You see my dog, Murphy, died last New Year’s Eve and it has been pretty lonely around here since then. These girls have given me reason to get out in the morning… how much do I owe you?” Olin said, quickly changing the subject.
Since Olin fed the bull all winter and his neighbors (Fred and Beth Berggren) returned the bull the next spring, no money changed hands. When Olin called last fall to again make arrangements for the bull, I learned of the crippling health issues that he had been struggling with the past year. “The new calves did just fine, but, I’m not gettin’ around so well”.
Several months had passed when Kenny Hamman, Olin’s nephew, called to say that Olin was taken to a nursing home in Red Oak and could Fred and Beth bring the bull back? Upon learning that the three heifers also needed to go, we settled upon a price and the “girls” were put on Fred and Beth’s trailer with the bull.
Last week, Beth backed the trailer up to my barn gate. When Fred stepped around to the rear to let the girls out, he said, “We’ve gotten kinda attached to these girls since chore’in for Olin. Now that first one is Grace, the little one is Cinderella, and Lottie is the big one.”
In the perfect world, Olin will recover, buy back the “girls”, and Fred and Beth will pick up all four next fall. But until then, these girls will give me “reason to get out in the morning”… and for that, Olin, I’ll owe you. Besides, I think that is what Gene would call sustainable agriculture.