The livestock exchange at the National Western Stock Show in Denver this week is the last place I expected to find a political advertisement. So when I spotted a stack of glossy blue fliers on a hay bale with the name "BARACK" printed in huge lettering, I had to take a closer look.
Barack, it seems, is a huge, jet black Simmental bull from rural Illinois.
"Barack was producing flush quality semen at 11 months of age," reads the flier. "One semen share contract includes 50 units of semen in the first year. Each subsequent year, shareholders may purchase up to 100 units at $6 each."
The cost for a share of the bull's sperm is $2,500.
Later, I called up the number for one of Barack's owners, Jim Bloomberg, who runs Bloomberg Cattle in Berwick, Illinois. He was getting ready to take some of his cattle into auction, so he didn't have much time to talk. "I didn't bring the bull with me," he says.
Is the bull named after the soon-to-be president?
"Well," Bloomberg said, "my mother-in-law was so enthused with Barack Obama, I named him Barack." This was a year ago, when the bull was a calf and the then-Illinois Senator was still battling several other candidates in the Democratic primaries.
Next, I phoned Todd Line, whose Line Show Cattle is a cosigner on Barack the bull. "We were going to bring him [to Denver], but we've been collecting semen on him," Line informed me. "He was a little bit of a bigger bull than what would have been on display down there." They figured that the photo of Barack, taken at Line's ranch on December 31, would be enough to entice cattle breeders to sign semen contracts. Apparently, Barack's lineage is quite famous in the multi-million dollar club calf industry, where cattle are bred via artificial insemination to produce elite offspring capable of showing in competitions.
Line said that Barack's mother, Rocky Hills Mary, has birthed multiple state and national champions and was sold last year by Bloomberg for $150,000, one of the highest prices ever garnered for a cow. Barack's sire (i.e. father), Maximus, is "pretty legendary himself," Line noted. "He's produced a lot of great females."
Barack's pedigree has made his semen quite appealing to cattlemen. Bloomberg and Line have already sold 35 of the 50 shares they're offering in regard to the bull's sperm output. Members of the "Barack Syndicate" pay the thousands of dollars expecting that the exclusivity of the sperm will keep any offspring of Barack in high demand.
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Just like horse racing, it's not unusual for cattle to be given odd names such as Lee's Double Down or Mo Magic. But Line admitted that in the world of ranching, where politics typically skew as red as the meat, having a bull named after the most famous liberal in the world can make for some awkward moments around the cattle trailers.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm a Republican," he said. "Some people were like, 'Oh gosh, you named a bull Barack!'"
At first he just thought the name was catchy. With the inauguration of our new president, though, he's been thinking about the challenges and expectations faced by Obama. "He's got a mountain of work ahead of him to fix the country," Line maintained. "And Barack the bull, he's got a mountain ahead of him, too. He's got to live up to what everyone expects of him because of who his parents were."
What should his motto be? How about, "Barack: Bull we can believe in."