My trip to pick up semen collected from a bull earlier in the year led to an interesting talk with the A.I. technician about a niche market for buck semen to service deer farms.
While I was seated at the grill one August evening, my phone rang. It was a guy who lives about 30 miles away. In early June that year, he had stopped by to perform a service for me. He does fertility tests on bulls and also custom-collects semen from them for A.I. We had one bull checked and collected that day. Since it was time to breed my heifers that week, I needed the product this guy had collected back in June. He gets the job done, then he takes the semen back to his place to run it through the lab, package it and store it in his liquid nitrogen tanks.
Mr. Collector's real name is Max. When I talked to him a day or two after he was here in June, I couldn't quite figure out his accent. His name sounded Dutch, but his accent sounded a bit more Austrian.
Max had taken over the collection and fertility business of a guy who had retired. When I got to his place to pick up the product he was storing for me, a guy who looked like he'd just hit the beach after months of being in his windowless office was waiting on the front lawn. I got out of the truck and was greeted by the beach guy in his shorts and T-shirt. It was Max.
We got the nitrogen tank out of my truck and walked over to Max's camper. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that Max was barefoot and didn’t break his pace as he walked across the gravel. It didn't bother him a bit, but it was making me cringe to watch. We entered the early-1970s camper to find a fairly nice laboratory and work station. Once we got all the product out of Max's tank and into mine, he handed me the paperwork and we headed back to my truck with the nitrogen tank. I grabbed both handles, thinking I'd haul it myself and spare him the walk on gravel. He wouldn't hear of it and took his half as soon as we got out the door of the camper.
Once we got my tank in my truck and secured it, I grabbed a checkbook to pay Max. That's when the conversation really got going. Max mentioned something about "since I came here a few years ago." Then he said something about the six-and-a-half years he'd been in this country. Turns out he came to America from South Africa.
I began to ask a few questions. The bull fertility and collection business is extremely seasonal. The action starts in about February and pretty well winds up by the first part of June or late May. When that's over, Max said he "moves to exotics."
I was a little confused, which must have been obvious.
"Deer. I work with deer. I do A.I. on them and I semen-collect a lot of bucks."
The conversation quickly turned to a point where it was easy to mix up male deer and dollars for "bucks." Max could tell I was interested, so he talked freely with more spark as he went along.
It seems there's a pretty good market for the services of a guy like Max. Let's say you're a rich dude with a captive deer ranch. You're either selling breeding stock or you're letting other rich dudes come to your place (with the super-high fence) to pay you large sums to be able to hunt deer. If they're paying, they don't want some dinky deer. They want a whopper they can brag about to all their friends and make it sound like they were practically Davey Crocket and killed it with their bare hands – rather than the reality of shooting it with a high-powered assault weapon, from the comfort of a La-Z-Boy, inside a climate-controlled tree stand with cable, wireless Internet and its own espresso machine.
Max has a client in Ohio with a really nice buck. The buck has a national reputation for its enormous antlers. It's supposedly the world's largest whitetail. Its deceased father also had an enormous rack and was extremely famous for it. The buck had been in all the national deer and hunting magazines. The client was offered THREE MILLION DOLLARS for the buck. He turned down the offer. (Not that it matters, but the guy is Amish.)
I had to start doing some mental self-evaluations to see if I was suffering from low blood sugar. Did Max just say an Amish guy passed up a three-million-dollar offer to sell his DEER?
Max must have recognized my disbelief. He smiled and said, "Yes, he turned down three million dollars for the deer. Here's why. Each unit of semen from that buck sells for three thousand dollars. Each time we collect, we get a hundred units per collection. Three thousand times one hundred, that's three-hundred-thousand dollars each collection. In a season, we can collect the buck ten times. That's three million dollars in just one year. That's why he wouldn't take the offer of three million dollars for this buck."
I needed a Dramamine IV right then, because my head was spinning something fierce. Here I was, driving all over the place to pick up about 75 units of some bull semen that I would either use on my own cows or sell for maybe fifteen bucks a unit, and this guy is out massaging three MILLION dollars from Bambi's dad each year! Man, I am SO in the wrong business!
The conversation got better from there. Not only does Max collect from bucks, he also A.I.s the does. His territory covers a stretch from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast. One guy from New York wanted him to come out there to breed his three does. Max told him it would cost about $1,400 for mileage alone. The guy had no problem with that, but he wanted to synchronize the heats for the does so they would get bred at roughly the same time. He also wanted to use a CIDR, a device used in A.I. to improve the synchronicity of the animals being bred. They'd all come in heat within a few hours that way. The guy wanted Max to put the CIDRs in for him. Okay, but that's another $1,400 for the trip. Who'd remove them 14 days later? Again, the guy wanted Max. Fine. That'll be another $1,400. Plus, they’d have to wait 60 hours to breed them once the CIDR was removed. That means another trip and another $1,400 for three does. If Max stayed there the whole time, he’d miss a lot of other action throughout the country. Seeing an opportunity and an incentive, the guy said he’d set up a route for Max to breed and collect all kinds of other deer on the East Coast while he was on his way there and back.
Not only did I not know this stuff was going on, I didn't know it was happening so frequently that a guy could spend that much time doing it at so many different locations across the country.
By the time I finally left, I had been chatting with Max for more than an hour. We covered everything from which zoo animals he’s collected and impregnated, to some fascinating stories about life in South Africa that you won’t hear on Nightline.
Just as I put dinner on the table the next day, my phone rang. The caller was telling me that he had some bad news about the famous bull I owned with him and some other folks. For some reason, the A.I. company that had been marketing the bull had decided to drop him from its lineup. It was probably for data reasons, which is another story entirely. They had some of his semen left, but they would shoot the ownership group a deal for us to buy it back. As of July 31, our contract was up and he was ours to do with as we pleased. I don't know about the other owners, but I know the guy I want involved when we collect more semen.
Now if we could just get the bull to grow some monster antlers . . . Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
Guy No. 2