To Be Human

 

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To be human means to question whether or not we slept too long; whether it was lazy; whether or not beneficial for our health; or bad for it; whether acceptable, since it is only one day a week; whether it prevented us from getting more chores or work done the following day; whether it matters.
How much of that, I ask, is from cultural programming? Programming from half a century, in my case. Who gave us the line to tow?

The work ethic is alive and well in the field of agriculture. We have towed the line of industrial capitalism and “industrial agriculture” despite the oxymoron in that label. We have self-sacrificed and raced to prove our worth, relative to one another and relative to the machines that we built. The machines were built with promises of efficiency and more leisure time. That was the promise, as is the case with the promise of computer electronics.
We have deceived ourselves. We have moved faster and worked harder for an “end point” and a “big prize”, neither of which ever existed. Production agriculture was never value-based. We must now dig deep to find such life-affirming values within us; to understand our connection to the cycle of life that depends on rest and restoration for the sustainability of all that sustains us. Put another way, we must feed ourselves first, before we can sustainably feed others.
We are our own endpoints and the prizes are within us.  So take care. We are not machines, alas.

I have my own programming to revise.
I find myself asking if it’s okay to sleep in if I’m sick; if I’m exhausted; after making love the night before; if it’s during a cleanse; if it’s raining; if it’s the weekend and the big seasonal work is done; or for no freaking reason at all.  Seriously.
Why the guilt on a Sunday morning?
Is this yet another day I have stolen – as if someone else owns this life and must grant me permission for rest and repose?
It’s hard to shake the monkeys on our backs, whomever they might be.  They are crazy-making; like the jobs that restrict our freedom and creativity when we are being called to be more; to see more; to demonstrate more.
Stolen time is an interesting concept.
As if were were EVER tasked with an urgency and an imperative to accomplish earthly tasks to save our souls.  And yet the time concept gives us motivation to dig in and experience the friction that leads to change, development, enlightenment.
It’s complicated.  And yet it’s simple.
In fact, it is always both.
Our lives are intricately complicated. And yet they are simple.
Rest and sleep is indeed quite simple though.
Why can’t we let it be so?
The cows let it be that way.  So do our dogs. And certainly the cat understands.
The beasts let us know…….that WE are the ones who censor the love, abundance joy, comfort and yes, the rest, in our lives.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Speaking for Ourselves…..

[In response to an animal rights activist demonstration and march through Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair on November 10th, 2018……]

 

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Much of our western culture has a romanticized image of farm animals from story books read and cartoons we watched as children.   We have anthropomorphized animals and presume them to “think” like humans.  But if we’re to decide for them, we should live with them for a very long time…..four seasons; four years; a lifetime; if we’re to decide for them at all.

Some of the animals defended by activists would actually hurt or kill them, depending on the circumstances. Don’t turn your back. They are instinctive creatures.  What they deserve is our respect, our love and their space. But they don’t need us to “talk” for them.

We have purebred cattle, some of which we occasionally take to exhibitions in town. We begin contact with them – touching them – in certain ways in which we slowly ask their permission and many have allowed that contact.  We respect that.  We respect their space and we know how to move around them in order not to upset their equilibrium – their instinctive need for safety.

Because animals don’t lie, they would never allow our contact otherwise. They would object vehemently if they weren’t comfortable letting us work with and be around them in a respectful way. They sense disrespect a mile away.

Animal rights activists say they “speak” for the animals. No human being should presume to “speak” for an animal, let alone any creature with which they don’t have contact and connection.  We do not “speak” for our animals.  We observe and we “listen”.

Violent, extremist language is sometimes used, calling out “animal abuses” on the farm when most of the animals which the vocalists supposedly “speak” for are far better cared for than they would be if fending for themselves in nature. They are not only fed but nourished with the best feeds available.  Water is never far.  They are protected from predators, for the most part. Their illnesses are treated. Their pains are addressed with analgesics. They are assisted, if needed, at calving.  They are admired – i.e. energetically held in high regard. They are free in non-fenced range areas; free in our gigantic fields; free to express themselves in every possible way.
They aren’t bored.
Their primal needs are met as herd animals. We work with, not against, their routines and life cycles, as much as possible. Our cows are content cows. Even if we didn’t adore them and respect them, it’s still in our best interest to ensure their wellbeing and contentment to ensure their health and productivity. Most cattlemen recognize that, when cattle are their livelihood.

“Nature obeys us precisely in proportion as we first obey nature.” – Thomas Troward

Some cows, on other operations, unfortunately, fall under the abusive hands of humans, just like many children do.  Who would think to graphically, publicly show the world via any kind of media, the abominations of abusive households and hold them up as examples of why nobody should have children or “hold them hostage” in their homes. Images of animal abuses make us cringe more than anyone. “Let them be free,” they say.  Similarly, we could we say “Let 2-yr-olds go play in the streets.”

Most livestock farmers are responsible.  Some are downright saps who love the life that living with livestock allows them.  They would live in a shack, if necessary, to keep that lifestyle, because it’s like no other, in terms of how it connects us to the animal world and their nature – Mother Nature.

Being under the influence of most cows’ energy is downright meditative.

Many of us are sensitives. We are mostly quiet people.

Extremists come yelling, with mega phones at public agricultural and livestock events, shouting, violently, calling us evil; scaring cattle, ironically; calling us part of the industrial problems of the world, when we couldn’t be further from that narrow definition.  We are, rather, surviving, honouring, respecting – being the shepherds and caretakers that we signed on to be, attracted to the animal world; and taking it on as a responsibility like no other.  Our work is not a job.  It is a lifestyle that we commit to seven days a week, 24 hours a day and through all  “holidays”. There are parts of the larger beef industry that could be modified and modernized for the better, as is the case in every other aspect of modern industrial culture.  We are learning here, like every other human being.

But outside the food processing industry, such as it is currently, we, as caretakers, who raise livestock,  are living out our souls’ agreements, as the animals are living out theirs.  It is our intended experience here, as it is that of the animals.

Plants, after all, object to being destroyed and eaten.  Scientists have shown how they cringe and do everything possible to protect themselves – from pests and from the elements – to ensure their growth and/or recovery.  We eat plants.

We are cellular beings; living, breathing parts of consciousness in various forms of expression and expansion.  We rely on one another for sustenance in this bio-diverse world in so many different ways. We rely on one another energetically.

The question is, what energy do we bring to each and every one of our actions and interactions?  That is for each individual to decide. Without self-righteous judgement.

We respect the multitudinous ways of being human – the vegetarians and vegans as much as the meat-eaters.  We are a diverse species capable of expressing our individuality in beautiful colourful variations. We respect all living creatures equally. To work with them is a privilege and an honour. We’re all in this together.

We choose to focus on helping cattle thrive; not on the abuses they are subjected to at the hands of some other humans but on the joy that cattle bring us and on everything they teach us. We focus on our colleagues who share this joy.  What we focus on  expands.

***

It’s Quiet Here….

A crisp fall morning on the ranch
A crisp late summer morning

Recently a girlfriend of one of our veterinarians accompanied him to the ranch. She is a city woman. She was here just a few minutes or so when she remarked, “It’s quiet here.”                                                                                                                       Her “quiet” is our “normal”.  While I always appreciated this, I hadn’t thought of it that way before.  I thought about my contrasting experiences visiting the city.  My experience there is one of an assault to the senses; one to which it takes considerable time to acclimatize; one I look forward to escaping as soon as possible.                                                                                                                            Nearly five years ago, we moved from Ontario to BC to manage a large cattle ranch here.  The draw, for us, was the challenge of managing a large herd in a starkly new environment, and rebuilding that herd. But I had been drawn to the mountains since childhood, alas. You cannot come here without a reverence for the majesty and the power and the breath-taking beauty of these mountains and how they dominate the landscape, defying human civilization. They have an unforgiving nature. Roads that attempt to defy that unyielding nature remind us every day of our place here, as humans.  I like it that way.  I like being reminded of who’s in charge, ultimately.  It is Mother Nature.  And if we choose to remain ignorant to that reality, we ultimately pay the consequences.                                             American medical researcher and virologist Jonas Salk once said:  “If all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within fifty years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within fifty years all forms of life would flourish.”                                                                                          This is a reminder, as were the words of our recent visitor.  It IS quiet out here.  It’s the way we like it. It’s the status quo. It is peaceful, tranquil, and energetically life-supporting.                                                                                                                Make no mistake.  We are still in touch with the world; just in a different way.

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Halter Breaking season….

Be calm. Be quick. Be conniving. Be quiet. Push. Pull. Go close so when you get kicked it won’t hurt as badly. Watch out for “leaping lizards”. Be ready for rope-burn blisters and possibly an aching back or worse, from pulling. Be ready to get your toes stepped on; or pounced on. And be ready to get shit-covered. All in a day’s work!

Across Canada, a lot of purebred breeders, like us, are halter-breaking calves for the show ring and the sale ring.  We separate them from their mothers for a couple hours, then for half a day and then for most of the day, as they get older and as the summer moves along.

We bring them in out of the heat of mid-day and turn them out again mid-afternoon to join their mothers and “frolic” on pastures in the cool of the evening and night in British Columbia’s southern interior. Inside the barn, during the day, they are under fans to keep them cool and are in spaceous pens with clean wood mulch under foot.  We start washing them and drying them and clipping them and teaching them etiquette on the other side of the rope – how to be kind and responsive to their handlers – ideally – and how to not embarrass us in public! While in the barn, they get a bit of grain ration at chore time….. once they’re broke……

The practice of halter breaking is an exercise of instinct and patience.  Every cattle person has their own way of handling the situation. But it’s about showing calves (read “prey animal”) that you really aren’t there to kill them.  The exercise is one of earning trust and depending on any given calf’s temperament, it can get really interesting. Temper tantrums aren’t advised (from handlers), unless you want to fail in the trust earning exercise. But tantrums are expected from the calves, as we launch into this clashing of worlds (human & animal). We always wonder why we didn’t start sooner – when the calves were smaller. But there was the calving season to wrap up, followed by breeding season, vaccinations, branding, castrating, barn clean-out and getting cows out to grass. And then all the embryo transplant work and cattle moves on grass. And the water legislation and the breed association business, and the farm safety program administration and  the every day ranch administration and the event planning that we’ve gotten ourselves into. And my writing gigs……

There are no two calves alike, in body conformation or in attitude. There are the sulkers, the learning-impaired ones, the mean ones, the kickers, the very resourceful ones (i.e. too smart for their own good!), the bellowers, the brave ones and the scared-to-death ones. After day three, the lot of them begin to settle into routines and be slightly more cooperative. They stop pulling as they stand, tied up. Some eventually lie down (relaxed) and some chew their cuds (relaxed). And we start to scratch them and groom them with combs and brushes, to further gain their trust. If we’re lucky, and most of the time we are, they actually enjoy the routine.  And then they are taught to follow our lead. It’s that time of year again.  The deadline for entries for our first show is this week and show season will be soon upon us. It’s one of our many seasons on the ranch. (…as our main guys are stressing over hay season which is also upon us.)

After our third day of exercises of tying calves up, we lie in bed talking to one another with our aching 50ish-year-old bodies saying we really should get more help for this exercise. (Our daughter was already helping us in a big way!) But then, who would we trust to do it “right”???  The next question is “how long will be able to do this?”  There is no answer.

No question as to which creature is the most stubborn.

-xxx-

 

My world of cows….

This blog is dedicated to all the cattle beasts I have known and the thousands more that I’ll meet in my lifetime.
I was raised in their beastly shadows and am privileged to have been their observer; their admirer; their follower; their caretaker.
Like people, some of them let me into their lives willingly with trust. This is a trust that must be earned. That’s how it works in the animal world. It ‘s purely an instinct thing.
Like people, most cattle have been good-natured, curious and obliging. A rare one turned on me, distrusted me or just never warmed up to me. Some were unstable from the get-go and some were just plain nervous. Some are what I’d call “smart” while others just never seemed to learn. Some are quite the characters. Some just want to be left alone. Others can never seem to get enough attention.
Being allowed into their space and working side by side with these remarkable beasts has been a privilege.

Cows have taught me most of my life lessons………
Life is beautiful.
Life is tough.
When life gets complicated, it’s usually because we made it so. (We run from potential disaster, though it’s never usually as bad as we think it will be.)
Change is scary.
Life isn’t always fair.
Life is competitive.
Life is awe-inspiring.
Life starts with a painful birth that is sometimes seamless and sometimes a fight for survival.
Life is full of sacrifice.
Life is abundant.
What you resist persists.
Simple jobs can turn into very complicated ones.
We are all part of a food chain. (Responsibility and an attitude of gratitude is what’s required when you’re at the top of that chain.)
Life is habitual. It is largely comprised of routines.
Allegiances are sometimes important.
There is strength in numbers.
It is important to breathe; to live in the now; to just be; …….to ruminate. We need down time. (About one third of a cow’s life is spent sleeping. Another is spent ruminating.)
Life is looking after our “family” and loved ones – our “herd”.
Life is an endless series of surprises. No two days are ever the same.
Life is an endless search for sustenance.
We are all food-motivated, to some degree or another.
Exercise is essential.
So is fresh air.
Don’t mess with a mother cow. She is a fierce defender of her offspring.
In the animal world, it really IS survival of the physically fittest!
Herd mentality can be non-productive…..dangerous. But sometimes is isn’t.
Mother Nature is without sentimentality. It can be ruthless.
Some beasts are not cut out to be parents. But most step up to the job and take responsibility once they ARE parents.
Victimhood is a human condition.
Sometimes we just need to dance (or kick up our heels, so-to-speak).
Some lead; some follow. Some respect fences while some push beyond them.
Our actions (and energy) speak louder than words.
We think too much………

Life with my husband started as a friendship centred on our love for cattle, as it remains today and is now shared with our beautiful daughter. When I first met my husband, I told him that even if it meant I had to live in a shack, I visualized my future life with cows in it. that is when we knew we shared a common bond.
Since then, it has been a life commitment to breeding, raising and managing cows together. For better or worse, this commitment has involved peace, joy and fulfillment paired with financial stress, physical exhaustion, very long days and many wakeful nights; not to mention a virtually non-existent social life outside of cattle circles. It has been a commitment that few family and friends could be expected to understand. No doubt, it seems illogical. But animals don’t take holidays and since we care for them, rarely, if ever, do we.
I also write for a living, as a hobby and for cathartic reasons. And since I’ve felt a great disconnect from the ones I love and from city folks who are further and further removed from their natural existence, I will write, in this medium, in the hopes of making much needed connections.
Ranching and livestock agriculture will be central to my discourses. So will sharing my beautiful life with cows in it.

-xxx-