May 2014
Farm & Field

A Bum Steer

  Dr. Donald Walker, Auburn University’s associate professor of large animal surgery and veterinary medicine in 1965, who attempted without success to make Evulse fertile.

AU gained positive publicity for failed effort on prize bull.

Evulse was a prize Aberdeen-Angus bull that became a bum steer.

After unsuccessful testicular surgery in 1965, headline writers and columnists had a ball denigrating the huge animal for his inability to emulate birds, bees and "even educated fleas" by doing "what comes naturally."

Born in Perth, Scotland, in 1962 and sold at a record price 18 months later, Evulse was shipped to Black Watch Farms in New York amid great expectations that he would eventually return a handsome profit from a record $176,000 investment.

Evulse’s purpose in life was to impregnate quality cows through artificial insemination to produce thousands of calves with similar genetic makeups.

At stake for his owners was a possible fortune, perhaps millions of dollars, if Evulse could just produce the DNA needed to rake in all that money.

Alas, it was just not to be for Evulse who shed 300 of his 1,800 pounds prior to surgery. The weight loss wasn’t helpful because he didn’t have the workable bovine plumbing needed to sire progeny of his own, let alone thousands of insemination-produced offspring.

Evulse, in effect, was a hoped-for stud that turned out to be a dud.

Auburn University played an important role in an unsuccessful effort to make Evulse whole again. Even when all efforts failed, AU still gained favorable worldwide publicity for giving what amounted to that "Old College Try."

The bull’s official name was Lindertis Evulse, but most just called him by the second half of his moniker.

His potential as a four-hoofed, money-making machine was such that venerable Lloyds of London was willing to take a chance on him and provided full insurance coverage.

Sterility proved to be Evulse’s undoing, but AU’s national reputation in successful large animal medical procedures was such that his owners opted for a "last resort" move to Alabama.

National publications had a field day over a bull that had become a laughing "stock" of the first order.

Esquire Magazine put Evulse on its cover and then into its "Dubious Achievement" awards section. The magazine, in mocking fashion, named him "Lover of the Year" based on the fact that he "flunked his fertility test."

Even the once-revered Encyclopedia Britannica got into the fun at the poor bull’s expense, putting a photo of him in its 1964 yearbook.

Evulse’s arrival from Scotland was greeted with great fanfare. His entry into New York City included a parade in his honor and he was carefully placed in a large armored car complete with police escort.

Before he arrived at AU, Evulse had already been to Cornell University, Colorado State University and the University of Virginia where efforts to correct his shortcoming failed each time.

Evulse’s problem centered around blockage in his reproductive duct system. AU surgeons led by Dr. Donald F. Walker, associate professor of large animal surgery and medicine at the time, attempted to bypass the problem.

The surgery took place in July 1965 with Boone Aiken of the Birmingham News witnessing the operating room scene where reporters and photographers from as far away as England lined up wearing surgical masks and caps in a sterile operating room for the big moment.

"Flashbulbs popped as the huge animal whose weight had been reduced to 1,500 pounds for the operation was strapped to the tilted table in the center of the room," Aiken wrote. "A hydraulic lift turned the table upright."

Walker was an expert in large animal surgery and had already performed similar duct operations on six animals the year before Evulse arrived. Two were successful.

Assisting Walker in the operation were three other surgeons, an anesthetist and two senior students. The surgery took less than two hours, an hour less than initial projections.

When he was finished, Walker used a phrase familiar to surgeries around the world, "Only time will tell."

Evulse may not have been wined and dined at the New York farm where he was brought from Scotland, but he came close to landing in his own pasture paradise with a private barn, a cooling system and lots of room to slowly roam around.

Reporters and headline writers had a field day with Evulse when the final negative news surfaced.

The Associated Press reported on July 21, 1965, that "Lindertis Evulse is a lot of bull and a big bust as a bovine lover boy.’’

Jack R. Dick, the managing partner of the Black Watch Farms which bought Evulse, said, "We never had a bull so close to being perfect as this one - extraordinary."

The problem was extraordinary only went so far and Evulse was described as a "lackluster Lothario."

Lloyds of London took it on the chin, too. The legendary London insurance company repaid Black Watch its purchase price under an insurance policy that contained a clause guaranteeing virility.

Dr. Robert Carson, a professor of veterinary medicine in the AU Department of Clinical Sciences, was just a teenager living in Tennessee when he first heard about Evulse.

His interest in the late lamented bull hasn’t diminished in the years since the surgery and he occasionally is asked about Evulse.

American scientists have put men on the moon, conquered a variety of illnesses and are working on new medical breakthroughs all the time, but can’t seem to find a way to fix a bull’s plumbing system.

"We’re talking about microscopic surgery," Carson said. "It isn’t something done easily and we may never be able to perfect a successful procedure in the future."

Carson also reminds those interested in the case that Auburn was the fourth university asked to see if it could help resolve Evulse’s medical problem.

The question of whatever happened to Evulse is somewhat of a mystery since most of those involved in the case have long since passed away.

Carson said he heard that Evulse was allowed to live out his days in a pasture near Union Springs, but no one seems to know for a certainty if that’s how he spent his last days.

Regardless of his less-than-glamorous ending and the lack of descendants, Evulse hasn’t been forgotten because he became a falling star in the world of veterinary medicine.

And, let’s not forget, there’s still that parade in New York City with a police escort all those years ago.

For one brief moment in his life, the big Scottish import weighing a sirloin or two under two tons was a star of the first magnitude.

It would have been a shame if Evulse became a lot of Big Macs.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.