How a city girl, gone country grieves
(and raises cows)
One of the first things about farming with livestock I had to learn was how to eat them. It’s a whole new world when you can pet an animal one day and eat them another. I wasn’t raised in a hunting family; all our meat came from the local grocer. I knew the beef came from cows, chicken from chickens, turkey from turkeys and nuggets from McDonald’s. That was the world I was raised. It never dawned on me that the cows could actually be pets!
This week was a little harder than usual at my visit to the slaughterhouse. I have developed a new, unusual habit; I stay with our beasts from hoof to hook. It’s a recent habit I developed late last year to ensure humanely handled beef and for my own education. I can confidently tell our more animal-minded clients the truth about their beef; they were loved to their death.
This week it was Buick’s turn. Buick Special was one of our first-born, deliberately bred animals here on our ranch. His unique story starts one Tuesday morning when his mama came running up the hill in the pasture bawling in distress. My husband was home that day, and he and my son followed the cow into the back woods where she led them to a deep ravine. It had rained hard the night before, and she apparently calved in that spot, but there was no calf to be found. After following her tracks around the rim of the ravine, the two men descended down the steep muddy slope into the ravine. At the bottom of the ravine were old junk cars that had been dumped many generations ago. The cow was still circling the ravine, calling out. The two men started looking around the old rusted out shells of the vehicles to no avail. Suddenly my son heard a thump coming from the trunk of one of the old cars. He lifted the trunk lid and there was this little brown calf. He had apparently slid down the ravine and straight into the trunk through the rusted out wheel well! The car he was in was an old Buick Special ... thus this little bull calf’s name.
Our first batch of weaning calves were very spoiled, Buick among them. They were hand-fed and treated and loved like children. We didn’t get to the currying or brushing stage, but if my husband had his way and the time, we would have. When it was time, we turned Buick out with our herd sire as a cover bull when he was 16 months old. He was a beautiful Parker brown bull, with a white switch tail and a lot of personality, especially if you had a treat bucket. He let my husband pet his horns and scratch his head. He was an easy keeper. But as the old adage goes in livestock, we can’t keep them all.
when he went down, I simply burst
into tears and bawled like a baby.
Buick was later used as a herd sire for two small herds of our friends. His last ride was this past Monday. It was one of the most difficult processes I have ever experienced, and I know there are more to come as we continue to produce, raise and process. Buick was a real darling. He was so well-behaved in the chute, so calm, that when he went down, I simply burst into tears and bawled like a baby. It was both out of relief he didn’t suffer, and grief because we loved him so much.
As beef producers we take our job very seriously. We are feeding families, and if we don’t love these beasts from birth to death, then these are just commodities. I believe that these living, breathing animals are our responsibility, from humanely providing them proper nutrition and care to the final moment of converting their life to beef. I also believe you can taste love, and when a beast is cared for well, he will provide well for those who partake.
In my original post, I had mentioned a whole different world on this side of food production. This is part of that realization. We are such a small but intricate part of a huge circle of life. Competition is fierce in the traditional beef industry, and I have learned to focus on being the very best in our corner of production. We didn’t create longhorn beef, we’re just responsible stewards honoring God’s creation and providing the best that nature has to offer.
Why do it? Why go through the worriment, heartache, cussing, fussing, caring, managing, petting, vetting, moving, loading, unloading, feeding, loving just to end his life? These are cattle; their purpose to provide us food. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He also catches our tears and heals our wounded hearts when it’s time. It’s a hard, broke life. Yet we farm for passion not pocketbook -- for provision not pride.
We fall in love every time and they are all loved from birth to death.
Until we ‘meat’ again,