Near Escape: A Story from a California “Livestock” Auction

A group of young breeding bulls just sold at auction were herded into the chute to the transport truck. Their coats were black and shiny and they were in good shape. Strong and energetic — the picture of health. Two men herded them, one with a paddle and the other with an electric prod. As they neared the entrance of the multi-tiered transport truck, one of the men jabbed the bulls repeatedly with the electric prod. Terrified, they balked and clamored over each other into the truck, desperate to get away from the shock from the prod. One of the bulls — with ear tag #1799 — broke away from the group, turned around, and thundered back down the passage from where they had come. The men started shouting and running, trying to contain him as he ran back through the maze of pens and chutes.

Tish and I stood directly above, on a catwalk that meandered above the expansive network of auction holding pens. We watched as the young bull with ear tag #1799 ran through the chutes with the men chasing him and other auction workers running over to assist. I silently screamed, “Go, go, go! Run!” with the same irrational hope that the bull probably felt. Irrational because there was nowhere to go. Irrational because even if he escaped, he would be chased down and shot, like a steer who had escaped at a previous auction I attended. That steer had made it all the way out to the country highway and ran and ran until the auction workers caught up to him and shot him dead.

Still, Tish and I both rooted silently for the bull.  For that moment, we indulged in the glimmer of irrational hope that this bull would be free. In the next moment, one of the auction workers managed to slam a gate closed to contain the bull and he was forced to run back into the chute leading up to the transport truck. Trapped in the chute, he paced and stomped and snorted, determined to find a way out. Determined not to go into the truck. By this time, the man with the electric prod was angry and he jabbed the bull again and again with the electric prod to force him into the truck. With each shock of the prod, the bull jumped forward until he was unwillingly forced into the truck. The man slammed the door to the compartment closed. The transport truck slowly pulled out of the auction yard parking lot and they were gone.


Bulls are largely ignored when thinking about the dairy industry and the violence that occurs against animal bodies. Of course, the majority of male calves born into the industry are either raised for veal or killed at birth for cheap meat (called “bob” veal), while some are raised as steers for beef. A tiny percentage of male calves, from exceptional genetic lines, are raised as intact bulls for breeding. These bulls are increasingly kept on separate breeding farms whereby they are forcibly ejaculated for the international semen trade. Two forms of ejaculation are common — the artificial vagina or the electro-ejaculator. The artificial vagina is a tube-shaped device used to collect the semen. A ‘teaser’ animal is used (generally a steer or a dummy animal) to arouse the bull and, after several false mounts, the farm worker diverts the bull’s penis into the artificial vagina to collect the semen. In the case of the electro-ejaculator, an electric probe is inserted into the bull’s rectum and sends an electric shock into the prostate, causing the bull to involuntarily ejaculate. This forced ejaculation (by whichever method) is typically performed 2-3 days per week and 2-3 times per collection day. The semen collected from this process is then sold on an international market and used in the artificial insemination of cows for dairy production.

It is easy to forget the bull — or to not think of him at all. Indeed, he becomes an invisible figure in the idyllic imaginary of the cow used for dairy. But the bull, like the calf and the cow, is subject to the violent appropriation of his life and body in service to the production of dairy.

If you missed the story of a calf at auction, read “I’m not your mother!: A story from a California ‘livestock’ auction”.

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1 Comment

  1. I am just now getting caught up on your posts from the last few weeks. This is another heatrending look into the unfamiliar auction culture. Very emotionally charged and perfectly painted in all its horror.

    Have you considered compiling a collection of Auction shorts for the greater public? These contained stories would work beautifully in weekly print publications. I just strongly believe that educating citizens about these very standard practices would go a long way.

    Beautifully written tragedy, Katie. Keep writing!

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