Much has been written in recent years about the human/animal bond in pets. People and their pets interact in a unique way that is deeper than silly Halloween costumes or cutesy names, but in a way that speaks to the soul of who we are as human beings. Although the dynamic is different, the same bond occurs between farmers and their livestock.
Even though we don’t look at our pets the same way as our livestock, we still feel very attached to our cattle. When they look good out in the pasture, dog-gone-it we’re proud of them. We’ll laugh at the way the calves play with each other, acting like they are the big bulls. And when they are sick we feel terrible too.
To illustrate this let me tell you a couple stories. The first is from this past week. A grizzled rancher brought a sick calf in for me to look at. The calf was obviously not doing too well. He grilled me for answers on what we could do to help this calf. There wasn’t that much that could be done. After explaining that to him, you could see his shoulders drop and he sighed. “I just really hate losing them, Doc. Makes me sick.” It was obvious it wasn’t the monetary loss that bothered him, either.
The second story (and happier, I promise) is a snippet about the most attentive rancher I know, my mom. Now most people check on their cows, do their chores, and keep the calves healthy. Mom is in a class all her own. She doesn’t just check them, but sit and observe them to see if they are all acting the way they should. If there is a hint of pinkeye or a touch of a limp, she is on it like ants on a picnic basket. She knows all her cows’ personalities, as well as the type of calves they have every year. She like a walking history book of all the cows we’ve had.
For example, I’ll be working the calves and she’ll say, “This is calf 21, his mother is that baldy number 16 with the one spot over her left eye,” since she knows each cow distinctively. “She seems to have more heifers than bull calves.” Although she keeps written records of all these things, she doesn’t need to check the book to remember them.
I like to point to stories like these when some vegan activist screams about cattlemen “exploiting their animals for profit.” Look, if we wanted to make mega-bucks, then we wouldn’t be in agriculture. This is a way of life and our livestock are right at the center of it, with family and the land. Without our cattle, life would be missing a critical piece.