Guernica Magazine

The Details Will Be Ours

You meet someone, you fall in love, you get married, you buy a house with three bedrooms, you have two babies, you remodel your kitchen, then you die. The post The Details Will Be Ours appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku.

“We do artificial insemination here,” says Neal, the rancher whose cow-calf operation I’m visiting for the day. Cow-calf operations are what they sound like: a rancher keeps a herd of mostly heifers whose only job is to crank out calves. My company, King Beef Packing Co., buys these calves when they’re ready for slaughter. I’m here to make sure everything is up to code and to see if we can create any efficiencies, my boss’s favorite phrase. “We call artificial insemination AI for short,” Neal goes on. “Not to be confused with artificial intelligence.” He chuckles. Neal has a face like a potato: wide, chinless, unremarkable.

We’re standing at the end of a long pole barn, where Rosie, the heifer about to be inseminated, stands between a red metal head gate. Her irises, so dark they appear pupil-less, stare straight ahead. It makes her look vacant, hopeless. Or maybe I’m only assigning such human emotions to the cow because the other night my husband, Derek, asked me if I thought it was time we start trying. The question echoed in my ears like it had fallen into a dry well. Trying. It seems antithetical to use that word, when you spend most of your life trying not to get pregnant. And it just sounds so arduous, like having sex without birth control might make us pull a muscle. You know what I’d like to try? All sixteen flavors at the frozen yogurt place. I don’t want to try to have a baby, then try to lose the baby weight, then try to make VP at work after I just took two months off, then try to have pleasurable sex with Derek when my vagina is stretched out like the waist of some decade-old gray sweatpants.  

The rest of the cows are out grazing in the field. A group of them line the edge of a circular man-made pond. Their colors remind me of a spice rack: turmeric, cinnamon, clove, black sesame. A group of exclusively cinnamon-colored cows cluster underneath a small tree, and I wonder if they know they’re all the same color. If they’re the cinnamon clique. It’s a sunny, warm day, and I’d like to ask Neal for a refill of my now-empty lemonade, but I haven’t been able to find a break in his steady stream of cowversation. I don’t think he gets many visitors, much less visitors who are interested in all the details of a cow-calf operation.

“A lot of places still use bulls, but I’ve found a better success rate with AI. We get our semen from this distributor called Select Sires. It’s virile stuff,” he says, winking. The most ironic thing about artificial insemination is that it all starts with a male-on-male sexual encounter. Semen distributors use a steer “teaser” to arouse the bull—they don’t use female teasers because they don’t want to risk actual intercourse and the spread of venereal disease. The bull will mount the steer but before it can get too far, an actual person has to insert the bull’s penis into an artificial vagina to collect the semen that eventually impregnates heifers like Rosie.

Neal pulls on a breeder’s sleeve, a plastic glove that extends to the armpit, and rubs mineral oil over it. “We’re about to get to the unladylike part,” he says. “There’s a bucket of pears up there next to Rosie. You can go feed her one so you don’t have to watch.”

“It’s my job to be

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