Friday, April 2, 2010

Raising A Revelation

photograph of Donnell Brown holding a picture of Revelation by Karen Kasmauski

Earlier this week, The Rural Blog mentioned "Breeding the Perfect Bull," an article by Jeanne Marie Laskas recently published in Smithsonian Magazine. It is an extremely well-written and wide-ranging account of the story of Revelation, a bull bred by Donnell Brown and the R.A. Brown Ranch, a West Texas family-run operation that has been in the bull business for over a century. After today's earlier posts from An Almanac For Moderns, it might be interesting to consider Aristotle's idea of a sculptor's marble next to the exceptional marbling that a rancher and animal scientist such as Mr. Brown can breed into his bulls. Here's the introduction to Ms. Laskas's piece and a later portion:
There once was a bull, an astonishing bull with a handsome, wide muzzle, stunning scrotal circumference and a square frame solid as a sycamore. He was the son of Cherokee Canyon, the grandson of Make My Day—a noble pedigree. The cowboy who designed him, who chose the semen, selected the dam, prepared and inseminated the uterus, named him Revelation. “We don’t intend to present this bull as divine,” the cowboy, Donnell Brown, would write in his 2005 sale catalog, “but we do count it a blessing to have raised him.” Brown was a salesman by nature, but not given to hyperbole. He believed in his heart that Revelation, at just a year-and-a-half old, could become the most storied bull in the history of the Red Angus breed. Finally, after decades of tinkering: might this be the masterpiece?
The average American at the backyard grill who cares to think about the steak sizzling before him may imagine little beyond the packinghouse, where meat is cut and shrink-wrapped, or perhaps the feedlot, where beef cattle fatten up on corn on their way to market. But those are only two stops—relatively short and highly industrialized stops—in a long process. Before they get to the feedlot, cattle live the lives their bodies were built for: grazing beside their mothers on endless pastures at ranches called “cow-calf operations.” These are independent ranches, about 750,000 of them in the United States, most of them with fewer than 50 head. The R. A. Brown Ranch, which has 2,000-odd head, belongs to a subset of these ranches that specialize in breeding: the “seed-stock providers.” They begin the beef production chain. The cowboys who run them are the inventors, the tinkerers who choose the genetics that determine the qualities of America’s tenderloin, rib eye, sirloin, filet mignon and burgers.
What follows is as much a portrait of the West Texas ranching community as it is a detailed and illuminating account of how science has modernized animal breeding.  The Smithsonian site also includes a gallery of Karen Kasmauski's photographs and this video with Ms. Kasmauski's photographs and audio of the ranchers talking about their life and work.