Last night we fell asleep to the frantic cries of mama cows separated from their babies. I tell you, life on a farm can be really noisy. If it’s not the bulls bellowing to everyone how … randy they’re feeling, how they really want to … be affectionate with the females, then it’s the mamas bellowing how they want their babies back NOW.
Before you go all animal activist on me, this is a natural part of raising livestock (listen to me all sounding like I actually know what I’m talking about). The calves get separated from the mamas, get vaccinations and get tagged. Then they’re weaned from mama’s milk and sold for a pretty penny, or ground up into hamburger meat for our freezer. It’s just that natural cycle that cattle farmers live by.
Lance’s dad keeps cows as his hobby because he’s really weird strange bored interesting. I had the ahem, pleasure, of experiencing first hand being around the cows one weekend in the wee hours of dating Lance. Reitzel carried (in the South you don’t say drive, you say carried, it’s just one of those cute little Southernese things) me and Lance over to his farm of beasts to go “work the cows”. I didn’t know what he meant, maybe making them run around the field in a kind of cow-aerobic exercise to make them lean?
* Aside: let me give you a brief glimpse into the back story. I had never, ever, ever been on a farm. The nearest I had gone to a cow was the hamburger I purchased at McDonald’s. I had never touched one, smelled one, been pooped on by one nor had I ever really been near manure. I had no clue that manure was not a hard substance but is really a runny grass stain that simply hardens into roundish pancake-like things that litter a field. I was a city girl through and through.
So here I am, surrounded by cattle of various color and scent. Reitzel, my father in law, handed me a stick and stuck me in a far corner of a field and told me that I was supposed to wave that stick and herd the cattle into another portion of the field. So I waved that stick, and those dumb cows just stared at me in my purple Columbia jacket and Adidas shoes they were itching to stain with their projectile grass stain poo. So I waved harder and started running, tripping over hard and fresh piles and not having one clue as to what I was doing. Secretly, I think Reitzel was just messing with me.
Well, eventually, we got the cows all herded together and the separating began. Oh, the sounds! Mama cows hollering “give me back my baby, you evil farmer!” in their mooing and baby cows hollering “Mama, where are you?” in their tiny moos. By the way, moo isn’t really how a cow sounds. It’s more kind of a merrr, I’m just saying. That Old McDonald really got it wrong. And cows only really go merrr right before they poo everywhere and then flick said poo with their poo-covered tails. I can’t believe we eat these things.
At first, Reitzel and Lance were in one pen with all the calves doing whatever, wrestling them or something and I was in the other pen with all the belligerent mamas. They kept looking right at me and shouting “Merrrr!“, like it was MY fault that they were in there with me and the babies were over there with the meanies. A city girl can only take so much so I started merrring right back, like “don’t blame me, sister! I don’t want to be here either!”. We had our little merrring conversation going until Reitzel said “You know, they can get mean and charge you, right?” Uh, that would be a no, but thanks so much for letting me know and um, can I come over there with you away from the angry cattle that might CHARGE ME!!
It was really no different with the calves. They looked at me and merrred at me like it was my fault, too, but I thought if one of them charged me, I could take ’em. So there’s lots of merrring going on around me and Reitzel hands me this ginormous needle/gun thingy filled with what looks like the worst yellow pee ever and shows me where to stick it in the calf. Yuck. I was NOT born to be a vet. I think I did just one of those and that was it.
After all the vaccination fun, then began the castration. Yes, you read that right- castration. The cutting off of the male genitalia. MUCH MUCH merrring. At least I didn’t have Lance’s job which was wrestling the calves to the ground while Reitzel sliced away. Talk about poo-it covered Lance. Yuck. Once the testiclely stuff was cut off it just sort of laid around on the ground, covered in dirt. One part of me was totally grossed out and the other part of me was fascinated. I don’t think Reitzel appreciated me prodding the bits and pieces with a stick, so he sent me to the Farmer’s Co-op to buy some earrings for the calves. Ok, so they’re really not earrings, but they’re ear tags that go on the ear, so big difference.
I climb in the truck that’s circa 1956 and head off in the general direction of the Co-op. I go in, ask for some cow earrings- er, ear tags. When it came time to pay, I told them Reitzel wanted them charged to his account so they got out an invoice and actually made me sign it as “Lance’s girlfriend”, that’s right-not “Kearsie” but “Lance’s girlfriend”. Geez.
I climb back into the old truck and head back to hell the farm. Now begins the ear tagging. All the calves looked the same to me, but Reitzel had been there for most of the births so he knew which calves went with which mama cow, which is pretty amazing. He numbered and tagged all the calves and let them loose to grieve graze.
We were done. I was dirty, sweaty, and stained. My Adidas never gleamed white again, they looked kind of nauseous from then on with their grass stain poo tinge. My jeans were torn and poo-covered, too. But I had a great story to tell everyone when I got back to the college. It became such a hit that it was requested I re-tell the story at our wedding rehearsal. The best part was when Reitzel’s father, Lance’s grandfather, about fell out of his seat laughing.
So last night when we heard all the bellowing, I had to smile and remember this crazy story. Perhaps the next time you chomp down into a cheeseburger, you’ll remember this story and realize you are eating a dirty, slobbering, stinky, poopy cow. Bon Appetit!