A farm on a range. A model farm, like all farms in Quebec had become since the sixties. Vast fields that had been cleared of stones and drained deep. Lone trees standing against the horizon like knick-knacks on a shelf. Buildings covered in galvanized steel sheets gleaming in the sun. Black and white cows tied up in front of a trough all year long. Bony, cumbersome Holsteins often lame from lack of exercise and the unforgiving cement floors. Their horns had been burned off when they were very young, and the long strands of curly hair that now covered their scars made them look soft and disoriented, like stuffed animals. A wall of the milk room beside the stable was lined with photographs of breeding bulls. Beside each picture, a hurried hand had written the price of each pipet of semen, a price which, like everything in this world, obeyed the law of supply and demand. The inseminator would show up within six hours of the phone call with the semen preserved in a basin of liquid nitrogen. He would put on a long plastic glove that covered his entire arm and shoulder, and brush away the tail of the future mother. Bound by her collar or chain, she would raise her head for a second and arch her back as the groping hand sunk into her. This ultra-selective method of fertilization can, when breeders have an eye for the signs of ovulation, be just as successful as natural breeding. But life being what it is, the procedure did not always work. Animals that had calved several times already would suddenly appear to be sterile. These animals were called anneillères.
Bonté III was an anneillère. The inseminator had come several times, in vain. Month after month, the signs of ovulation returned. They were the same as with other—the swollen vulva, the discharge of clear mucus. She was ovulating, but no embryo would develop in her uterus.
Bonté III was five years old. At that age, a cow should be at her best. Best is an accounting term. A dairy farm is a business and must be run like one. From that point of view, the days of Bonté III were numbered. Numbered was not an empty word. She had represented her line very well. A cow does not have to try to be a cow. It simply lives a cow’s life. The cycle is imposed. The cycle lends itself well to accounting operations. It eats. It drinks. It ruminates. It pisses. It shits. That all costs what it costs. It ovulates. It bears a calf. It gives birth. It produces milk. That all brings in what it brings in.