This creative piece was written by one of our regular authors, Gerald Anderson. Be sure to read the full story to reveal a fun twist at the end!
Once again, world-renowned Hammerstead University is on the cusp of upsetting academics with another mind-boggling breakthrough in dairy science. Rumors have been swirling for months that the university is close to releasing a dairy technology that will represent a quantum leap in efficiency with the stated objective of increasing global milk output another 20% overnight. To achieve this lofty goal, the dairy team, led by highly respected professor Mort Mortimer, has been operating in complete secrecy the last three years on a unique group of proprietary methods to better calm down the average dairy cow. Mortimer, whose achievements in the dairy field are quite legendary, agreed to an exclusive interview with me. I was finally able to catch up with him at the highly classified and secretive facilities of Hammerstead’s bovine unit last month.
To the uninitiated, Hammerstead’s bovine facility is an architectural marvel. A unique mixture of engineering and bovine art awaits anyone who is fortunate enough to tour this facility. From a distance, as you walk toward the five-story building, located in the middle of a pristine prairie with rolling white picket fences and grassy cow paddocks around the perimeter, you can’t help but admire the beautiful, shiny blue glass, which is the prominent feature of the structure. Once inside, you are greeted by an impressive escalator that goes up four stories nonstop in one shot. Most of the heavy research is conducted on the fourth floor. The fifth floor above it is a classy restaurant serving delicious yogurts, ice cream treats, gelatos, and a healthy mixture of other dairy products, including real whip cream on fresh strawberry shortcake. It is from this vantage point that one can access the high observation decks that surround the restaurant, allowing one to view the contented groups of Holsteins and Jerseys below.
As I traveled up the escalator to the fourth floor, I wondered if Mortimer would be as eccentric as some of the faculty had warned me. Upon arrival at the large spacey visitation room, Mortimer bounded out of his office and lunged at me, giving me a powerful hug, hence his name, the “mad hugger.” I had been warned about how eccentric he was by some of the faculty on the first floor — and they weren’t exaggerating. As he stood before me in his black suit coat and yellow alligator silk tie, he pulled his wire-rimmed glasses down to the end of his nose to get a better look at me. His dark beard and mustache were starting to turn grey, betraying the many decades Mortimer had been working at advancing dairy science. His lips were almost translucent, one of the strange things about his face.
From behind him a tall, youthful assistant emerged out of an adjacent room, apparently eager to share some information. “Dr. Mortimer,” he said, his voice full of excitement. “I have the demonstrations ready that you ordered.”
“Good. Good indeed Hunter. I see you are on top of your game today!”
Then, turning to me, he said, “As you know, Gerald, animal care standards are revised every three years to reflect the most current science and best management practices within the dairy industry. At Hammerstead, we try to extrapolate what the industry might need six years from now to comply with these standards.”
“Yes, I understand, Dr. Mortimer. A wise strategy indeed.”
“Well, I am sure you realize that because of the geometry of the bovine eye, cattle have near panoramic vision.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” I agreed.
“But with the panoramic vision comes a downside. Dairy cattle have a hard time judging depth. When a cow comes into a traditional tie stall barn, they can’t judge is the gutter is 12 inches deep or much deeper. To some, it seems like the Grand Canyon, and they leap across it in fear.”
“I know. I witnessed that myself years ago when working with my own herd,” I confirmed.
“Well, then you know that some of these cows leap so hard that they can’t stop in time, and they end up slamming their heads into the tie rail. That’s rather problematic for some folks, therefore I decided we should hire trained observers to monitor this behavior for hours upon hours and see if we could come up with a resolution. It worked. After many hours of studies, I think we have finally come up with ultimate solution to prevent this unwanted stress and injury.”
“Follow me,” Mort waved toward the adjacent room. He headed off quickly across the terrazzo floor at a pace much faster than most people his age. I had to hurry to keep up with him as he rushed back toward the neighboring room from which Hunter had emerged. Stepping into the room with Hunter, Mortimer was already at the front of the room tugging at a heavy curtain, straining to pull it back out of his way so that he could unveil his invention. With a final massive tug, the curtain snapped back revealing a row of oversized helmets.
Mortimer looked at me and smiled. “You guessed it, didn’t you? Crash helmets for cows. To get the cost down, we are going to utilize state of the art 3-D printers that can custom print each helmet according to the size of an individual bovine head. Using the most advanced polymer extrusion materials, we expect this advancement to greatly improve bovine safety in the coming years ahead. Impressed?”
“Well, that’s remarkable,” I said. “But surely the university doesn’t have enough money to engage in a large, commercial project such as this.”
“That does bring up an interesting point, Gerald. I must agree,” elaborated the doctor. “To make a commercial project such as this work requires outside investors, collaborators, if you will,” he said as he pulled forward on his glasses, adjusting them to his nose. “Business partners willing to take on some additional risk. We have already contacted investor brokerage firms, and we think we have nailed down one potential partner uniquely suited for such an endeavor.”
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“You’ve probably never head of them — Kickapoo Incorporated. Kickapoo has expressed interest providing we could find some other way to use helmet technology on the farm. With that in mind, I had my undergraduate researchers do supplementary work and we decided we could also sell a line of safety helmets to dairy farmers.”
“Yes. Have you ever noticed older, reckless dairy farmers hogging the zero turn lawn mowers they own? They do this because they are so much fun to run, and they won’t let other younger members of the farm team on them. Then, one day, when they are at full throttle whipping around trees, their spouse will come out of the house and yell at them that the vet is on the landline. When the farmer looks back over his shoulder to answer, that’s it, smack into a tree just like that cow jumping a gutter. Now, if we sold safety helmets for zero turn operators, it could be a huge source of revenue for us. Besides, it is only a matter of time before regulators make this mandatory anyway. After all, they regulate everything.”
“I don’t know about this,” I said. “According to the rumors I heard, I was looking for something much more revolutionary from Hammerstead University than this — though, I must admit, it is intriguing technology.”
“Hmmm.” He pulled his glasses forward on this nose again. “Well, we do have some other advancements I could show you, but you must promise to keep quiet about this until we release the products. This is a very competitive industry, you know, and the competition is always trying to outdo our research.”
“I can keep quiet. I promise.”
“Good. We will have to climb the stairs to the observation levels above to see the research. Are you up to that?”
“One flight of stairs, no problem at all.” Going up a flight of stairs with an artificial knee was never a problem for me. It was coming down that would prove painful.
Without any hesitation, Mortimer and Hunter ascended the stairs and I followed closely behind them until we reached the observation decks that were nothing short of a dream factory. We entered the Holstein Hotel, as it was called, which featured an amber glass box that was cantilevered 15 feet from the face of the building and provided a near 360-degree view of the pasture paddocks below. The view was nothing less than stunning. Below us suspended at 60 feet above the paddocks was the Endless Bridge, another favorite observation post. It was 12 feet wide and cantilevered out 185 feet from the face of the building, giving students and researchers another good place to work. From where we were, however, we could see everything clearly.
Below, in one of the grassy paddocks, a group of 15 springing heifers milled around. Six of them had broken off into a separate cluster, and they were pushing what looked like a large 6-foot diameter yellow beach ball across the area.
“What’s this all about, Dr. Mortimer?” I asked, puzzled.
He nodded at me, and our eyes met. “Toys for cows,” he exclaimed as if I should have known.
“Yes, toys for cows. We got the idea after a neighboring farmer complained that a 6-foot-long plastic mineral feeder he had in his pasture disappeared. He hadn’t put free-choice mineral in it for a few weeks and when he came out to refill it, he couldn’t find his feeder. Then, a week later or so, he was out spreading some manure and he discovered it a quarter mile away near the fence line on his 80-acre pasture. That’s when we realized that cows are bored, and they need toys to play with. The beach ball you see down below is weighted just right so that it gives the heifers a bit of a challenge and they get a blast out of pushing it all over. So, it is a win for the heifers and a win for all the activists who think the cattle should be doing more social interacting. We think it will prove to be another project that earns us a lot of revenue.”
“Perhaps, that’s the case, Dr. Mortimer,” I stammered, “but the rumors I heard seemed to suggest something far more advanced than toys for cows.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “Well, if you were hearing rumors like that, then someone from our organization is leaking critical information, I believe.” He pulled his glasses forward again and looked straight at Hunter.
Hunter nervously returned his gaze, clearly worried that I was seeking more information than they wanted to reveal. After considering the implications of the problem, Hunter spoke. “Perhaps we had better come clean, Dr. Mortimer.”
“Maybe we should do that,” Mortimer speculated. “As long as you can keep your mouth shut,” he said addressing me.
“I already told you I can,” I replied. “You have my word as a dairy farmer. No one will ever hear about this.”
Hunter looked at me anxious. “Doctor, should we take him to the restricted area after all?”
“I guess we don’t have any choice if rumors are already out there. We will just have to accelerate the project deadline.”
Turning around, we left the amber room and descended the stairs one flight until we reached the level four lobby area. My left knee was starting to hurt from bending, but Mortimer didn’t slow down. He charged along a small hallway to a door that had a sign hanging over it that read, “Private.”
Opening the door, we walked in, and I could smell the malodorous breath and odors of cows that were being hustled into a very small herringbone parlor. The staff handling the cows seemed exceptionally relaxed and not worried at all.
“This is it,” said Mortimer, pointing at the operation. “This is the revolutionary technology that has been classified for the last three years and has finally come to full fruition. We have done it! Hammerstead University has the milking breakthrough of the century — magnetic shoes for cows! No more getting clobbered on a cold, winter night! No more dodging a swift kick from a springing heifer. Just hit the switch and her hooves are anchored to the floor like cold cement until the milking is over. It doesn’t matter if you use a parallel, a herringbone, a parabone, a rotary, a top swing or swing-over, robots, or anything else. Just hit the switch and you can milk in total peace.”
“That’s amazing Dr. Mortimer! I can’t believe you did it!” I exclaimed. “How soon will it be before we can purchase this product in the marketplace?”
“Well, if we expedite the process right away,” Mortimer said, adjusting his glasses, “I do believe we could have it on the shelves as soon as April 1.”
Happy April Fool’s Day!
Gerald Anderson is a dairy farmer who lives near Brainerd, Minn. He has been a regular contributor to Hoard’s Dairyman for many years.