The day the cows left home

            Moving back to the farm and being more involved in the day-to-day operations of a farm/ranch operation has been quite an education.  I’ve learned how to watch the commodity markets and place open orders for the crops.  I’ve learned what happens when the rain comes in huge buckets full and washes out a good portion of the year’s soybeans.  I’ve learned how to replace the starter on my riding lawn mower and how to get a cranky chain saw running again.  And I’ve learned what it feels like the day all the steers are loaded into semis and taken to the sale barn.

            That last lesson had an unexpected effect on me.  This morning the guys showed up around 6:30 a.m. to start herding the cattle down into the lot to wait their turn through the loading chute and onto the trucks.  Watching it unfold was much more emotional for me than I ever anticipated it being.  Of course, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for animals, even cows.  I remember as a little girl getting up early, way before the sun was up, and going out to milk May, our Jersey milk cow.  Dad would lift me up on May’s back and I’d ride her into the barn where she would munch on hay while Dad milked her.  When he was done we’d walk the full bucket of milk back to the house where my mother would use a hand separator to divide the milk from the cream.  I can still taste the rich sweetness of that fresh milk.

            Dad raised cattle for awhile when I was growing up, but there were some tough years with low prices and eventually he stopped and focused completely on farming.  Occasionally, Mom, who was the bookkeeper for a local feedlot, would buy a few of the puny young calves that the feedlot owner didn’t want.  The first year Mom did this I helped her feed the calves who quickly grew into full fledged steers.  Mom named them Enny, Meany, Minny and Mo, which was a mistake, because when it came time to sell them it was like selling a member of the family; a distant relative for sure, but still one with whom you were familiar and valued.  The next year, Mom bought a few more calves, but this time she named them Color TV, Sewing Machine, New Carpet and a few other items on her wish list.  It made selling them a little easier, but it still left a sting in our hearts.

            Watching the unsuspecting cattle being brought down out of the pasture this morning I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of that sting again.  Over the last few months I’ve gotten use to seeing them around.  They were a friendly herd, probably made more so by the guys feeding them pellets from their four-wheelers.  Whenever I went into the pasture they assumed I too would be feeding them so they followed me everywhere.  Friends from the city delighted in having up close and personal interaction with the cattle.  Well, until the steers wanted to get a little too close, then my friends would run back to my ATV with their voices registering at least an octave higher than usual.  The cattle got so use to our being around that when friends would ask to stop so they could take pictures, I swear the steers lined up for the perfect group shot.

            This herd was so social that they turned into a nuisance.  The evening my friend Robin and I went up on top of the hill to watch the sunset and have a picnic, the cows followed us and made such a pest of themselves, circling us and coming in so close to see if perchance we had cow pellets in our picnic basket, that we abandoned our plan and retreated to the deck for the sunset eats.  Often I would have to outrun them to the gate in order to get out of the pasture before they did. 

            So this morning when it was time for them to go, I actually felt sad.  I quietly thanked them for their sacrifice and hoped they had enjoyed their time in these lush hills.  I guess if I were a cow, I’d like to spend my last few months in such a peaceful and picturesque place.  I have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, but I swear there were times I noticed them stopping to watch a particularly spectacular sunset, or looking out over the river valley with the same light of appreciation in their eyes that I knew was in my own.

            I tried to calm my emotions this morning by believing the steers would be adopted, like a lost pet, and would find another good family, but I grew up on this farm and know that their fate was not going to an idyllic setting with kids to play with and long days spent chewing their cud.  No, these steers are destined to be someone’s dinner.  But, if you eat meat, I can’t imagine a better animal for it to come from than one of these steers that was grass fed, treated and cared for well, and spent its days wandering the beautiful Flint Hills prairie.

            That said, I am seriously considering becoming a vegetarian.  I just don’t feel right about eating my friends.

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About louannthomas

Speaker & writer
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16 Responses to The day the cows left home

  1. Kelley says:

    Lucky cows to spend their time on your beautiful land!

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  2. Philip says:

    What a nice piece. It is that returnee to the farm from the world view that is so interesting. Helps one to appreciate where their nourishment comes from. I won’t be joining you on your vegetarian fork in the road.. but I will pay more attention to my food and be more thoughtful as to where it comes from. Cheers LAT

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  3. Georgia says:

    Loved your piece! Those cows definitely had a great life on your farm. I also would have had a hard time watching them be loaded on the truck. Beans are looking better all the time.

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  4. Clark says:

    Once again, “Bravo, my dear!” Next time we do burgers, I’ll get you a veggie version. 🙂

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  5. Marty says:

    CHICKEN!! 😉

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  6. Julie says:

    I am 98% Vegetarian but that is due to the horrific factory farms – not the kind of farm your cows are raised on. Every now and then I give in to a slice of really crisp bacon but I have to not think of the pig that was slaughtered while eating it. There was a photo in Ad Busters of pig in a slaughterhouse and the fear in his eyes couldn’t be mistaken.

    If I come back as a cow someday and am raised for food I hope I can live out my life in a setting like you have!

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  7. Robin says:

    I am surprised to be so deeply affected by your essay. But over the last six weeks I have told so many people the story of our interrupted picnic that those bovine have become part of my fabled trip back to Kansas, and I find I am genuinely sad to see them trucked away to become some nameless person’s meal. They were familiar and valued to me too. Furthermore, you’ve caused me to consider the source of my carnivorous protein in a whole new light. Thanks for the laughs and the nudge to think deeper about my place in the food chain. You are a remarkable writer and friend.

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  8. Pam says:

    Your stories of your childhood and naming cows reminded me of my own visits to my grandparents farm as a child. One year PaPa bought 7 calves and my brother, sister and I had them all named. PaPa was a night watchman at the highway department and got home in the morning around 7:30 or 8. We always tried to get up and feed the calves before he got home and would help him feed them in the evenings. Luckily, we weren’t there when they were hauled off or we would’ve been crying too. It’s funny how we get so attached to animals that aren’t really meant to be “pets”. I liked your idea of them being adopted and that works for me too.

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  9. Lori says:

    You’ll be happy to know that one of your steers is living in my spare bedroom, I think I will call him Fred…or maybe Challenger (the car I have my eye on)…’cause I do see the way my extremely carnivorous child is looking at Fred! But on a serious note, beautiful story.

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  10. Never lived on a farm. Never got close and personal with any livestock. But I always wondered how the 4H kids felt when the auctioneer shouted “SOLD!” and his gavel whacked the podium to signal that theirr prize-winning animal’s fate was sealed.

    As one who appreciates the difference between caged, feed-lot and happy, grass-fed, wandering-around beef , I hope you do continue to raise cattle. But it’s easy to understand why letting them go might be difficult.

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  11. Marilynn says:

    Your history on a farm is so reminiscent of my own! I would go into the pasture (many acres of rolling hills) with my father and he would “call” the cows. He gave them some ears of corn and, like your cows, it was hard to get away from them once they came for their treat.

    Thanks for sparking some dear memories!

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  12. Diane says:

    Awesome story!!!! I love your writings…thanks for sharing them with all of us!!!

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  13. Connie says:

    Growing up on a farm, I can relate. Also, I was in 4-H and I remember one year I named my white calf ‘Casper’. I got so attached to him that it was really sad to have to sell him at the 4-H livestock auction. Love your stories!

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  14. Kris says:

    Lou Ann, i was wondering how you were spending your time. Listen, I stopped eating meat in Feb. About a year ago I started feeling really contemplative about eating pork. I’m not sure why or where it came from, but I compartmentalized it just to pigs. Then, as part of a health issue regimen, I decided to eat no meat (I allow fish). This has been much easier than I thought. I am losing weight and feel better. I think it is okay to eat meat from animals that are raised and killed humanely and if the person eating the flesh has given thanks for the sacrifice of the animal. Problem is, I am starting to feel that same depth of thought about all animals and I’m afraid I won’t be able to go back. matter of fact, I’m starting to have more second thoughts about eating fish, but truth of the matter is I do need that protein. At least in the world that we live in, it’s hard to balance a healthy diet without it. So, I wish you well, and thanks for sharing your farm with us.

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  15. Michelle S. Hartpence says:

    I love this entry…you pull at my heart strings with it…

    Like

  16. Larry says:

    Loved the story. It has been about 16-17 yrs since I stopped eating meat, but still eat chicken, haven’t found a way to give that up yet. I first gave up the meat for health reasons and advice from doctor, now it has grown into compassion for them as they are social animals. Just need to find something to eat other than chicken as they deserve to live too.

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