Breeding the Perfect Bull

A Texas cattleman used genetic science to breed his masterpiece – a near-perfect Red Angus bull. Then nature took its course

On the R.A. Brown Ranch, fifth-generation ranger Donnell Brown can't help thinking about the potential he had created through decades' worth of work. (Karen Kasmauski)
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Soon he is alone on Highway 183. A pickup approaches in the opposing lane and he raises two fingers, waves. He will do this over and over again, every truck he sees, until he reaches a town with too many to greet. Then, on the other side of that town he will wave again, truck by truck.

All the investors have said yes to the idea of cloning Revelation. Sometimes Donnell wishes one of them had said no. Sometimes it’s easier when God takes choices away from you. It’s up to Donnell now, up to him to call the lab.

His dad said no. Actually, his dad said, “Nah,” as in, Why in the world would you spend all that money on some dumb clone? It’s funny. Because his dad is the one who always wants to try awesome new things, and Donnell is the one clinging to good, conservative sense. You’d think their positions would be reversed.

But here’s his dad’s point: a better bull is on the horizon. Something even more amazing than Revelation will come along, so put your faith and your prayer and your energy there. In the future. Not the past.

It’s a tough one for Donnell to get. He’s a cowboy. A cowboy holds on to what is known and correct. It’s good to look forward, of course it is. But it’s hard to look forward when the past was so perfect.

He may yet decide to clone. He may not. But instead of idling, stuck in the mud of indecision, he thinks: Revelation plus AbiGrace. The top Red Angus bull. Donnell has the semen. The top Red Angus cow. He has the eggs.

And now he has the resulting embryos in 16 surrogate cows. This April, when the calves drop to the ground, he’ll see what he gets. He’ll see. Anyway, right now, he wishes he thought to bring a staple gun. Because tape won’t stick to a corkboard, and that’s the only place at this particular feed store where he’s allowed to put a poster. Other posters of other cattle are using up all the tacks, and he is not a man to take down another man’s poster.

He needs a staple gun, so he finds a Super Wal-Mart and pulls into the parking lot. He has on the spurs he won riding bronc at a ranch rodeo in 1989. He has on his fancy embroidered shirt. He notices a splotch of dried mud on his jeans. He takes out the knife he keeps clipped to his belt, unfolds it and scrapes. He reaches into the back of his truck, grabs his hat, the handsome black felt one he brings out each fall. He puts the hat on his head, positions it low, walks tall and listens to the gentle jingle of his spurs.

In this way, all dignity and elegance and fight, a cowboy enters Wal-Mart on an October afternoon full of steam, the way of sunshine after rain.

Jeanne Marie Laskas has written five nonfiction books and is working on one about overlooked American workers. Karen Kasmauski has photographed stories on six continents.


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