Today, we resume the adventures of seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan as he oversees the transport of six pedigreed Brown Swiss bulls to Greece aboard the Swedish M/S Boolongena, meaning “kangaroo” in Australian dialect.
The ship departed St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on schedule May 14, 1945. The next morning, Kaplan was introduced to the “experienced assistant who could understand English” which he had been assured he would have. “He was a good soul, about 55 years old,” Kaplan says, “whose extensive livestock experience was gained on a farm for a short time when he was a child.” Kaplan soon came to realize that “hi” was the extent of the man’s English. “We misunderstood each other beautifully with the immediate consequence that he fed the bulls twice as much concentrated feed as I had indicated. The lately arrived package of drugs [for the bulls] proved its value.”
After ideal weather the first few days, Kaplan says, “we entered a period of pitching and rolling during which ‘the kangaroo’ lived up to her name, until we reached Gibraltar.” Orders for a change in the ship’s Greek destination from Piraeus to Patras necessitated a six-day stay in Gibralter. The new route ran through an area where the magnetic mines laid by the Nazis had not yet been cleared, so the ship had to be demagnitized.
While in Gibralter, a “near-catastrophe” occurred, Kaplan says. “Duke, the oldest and strongest bull sporting two nose rings, indicating previous trouble, became restless. Duke broke the chain which partially confined him.” Then Duke made a “mighty heave backwards.” He tore the rings out of his nose spraying Kaplan with blood as he was trying to fix the chain. They now had “a pain maddened bull loose in what was too obviously an inadequate enclosure for an animal in his state.” Kaplan slowly retreated and advised those watching to “get out on deck and up on the hatch if the bull made a break.”
“There was little we could do until he had quieted down,” Kaplan says. So they went to dinner. Kaplan went to bed that night and dreamed of being chased by the bull.
Kaplan reconstrained the bull, then, by giving him “a Mickey Finn in his drinking water,” 40 times the strength needed to incapacitate a sailor, “which made him merely buckle slightly at the knees,” Kaplan says. But it gave Kaplan the time he needed to insert new nose rings and replace the collar with a much sturdier rope, “strong enough to lash a ship to a dock,” he says.
After a tense passage through the mined area, the ship docked in Patras, only to discover the message of the change in port had not reached the people who were to prepare the dock for unloading. A flying stall was constructed on the spot, and the bulls were offloaded and trucked to Athens and the experimental farm waiting for them. “Athens swelled visibly with pride as we entered with the bulls,” Kaplan says. “My contribution to the swelling was a not inconsiderable sigh of relief. May their seed flouish.”
And flourish their seed did. Heifer Project sent another six bulls to Greece in February 1948, and UNRRA sent a few more. “Since the program started … over 16,000 calves have been born and more are coming every day,” states John Halpin, Artificial Insemination Program Director in Greece, in an August 1949 article in The Brown Swiss Bulletin. “These calves sired by outstanding selected sires will have a tremendous influence on the future dairy industry of Greece.”
Next post: Heifer Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico and two seagoing cowboys at odds.