18 OCTOBER 1991, Page 31

Fertile balls

Sir: Although I quite enjoyed the article 'Shotgun marriages' (28 September), I do find myself becoming increasingly irritated that any piece of writing even remotely con- nected with agriculture is always awash with half-truths and misunderstandings. Artifi- cial insemination in cattle is so much a standard routine for every dairy and some beef farmers that I am surprised that it merits comment. However, since mention has been made, here are a few comments.

I have never once heard the word 'sperm' used — always semen; and the 'sperm gun' I have always heard referred to as an 'AI' gun, if referred to at all. The custom of COWS mounting each other is universally known as 'bulling'. It is the traditional and most reliable way of knowing when a cow is ready for service. Cows are always 'she', by the way, not 'it'.

The reason that very few farmers keep dairy breed bulls on farms is that the bug- gers are highly dangerous; and secondly, the extraordinarily detailed and exhaustive research that has taken place over the last 50 years has allowed the quality of the national herd to have been improved beyond measure. For reasons too obvious to detail, this has only been possible through A.I.

Beef bulls, be they British or continental, are generally much more easily handled and more 'docile', if that's the right word, and therefore I suggest that their presence on farms now is as high as it has ever been. For half a century there have been very few dairy bulls in the field — but there are thousands of beef bulls doing their work with herds.

Finally, many people believe that a bull is identified as a bull by the presence of horns — I swear that this is a common question at agricultural shows. This is not the case!

Tom Thatcher

Buxbury Farm, Suitton Mandeville, Salisbury, Wilts