Once winter hits, I tend to think of snow getting tracked onto my carpet, how much I hate driving on ice, and “OMG! I need to start Christmas shopping!”
But no matter how much I despise the stress and cold weather, winter has a special significance to me.
I grew up on a ranch where my Dad owns a small cattle operation. My brother and I were always active in helping him raise his herd, putting up hay in the summer, scooping snow out of feed bunks in the winter while being pelted in the face with icy wind (I’m not giving you the impression that I hate winter, am I?), among other things. I started showing cattle before Kindergarten and continued until I turned 18 and could no longer participate in 4-H. Cattle have played a big part in my life.
And winter is when our baby calves are born, when we see first-hand that our herd is thriving and growing. But what a way to come into this world – landing in a pile of snow!
Aren’t they cuuuttteee! It’s always a blessing when they survive the sometimes cruel Nebraska winter. (I suppose if they can do it, so can I.)
But baby calves aren’t what make our cattle unique. After all, babies are a necessity to any progressing cattle herd.
It’s how my Dad raises them that makes our herd special.
It takes a special person to wake up multiple times each night and set foot into blizzard conditions to check on the calves and make sure the cows aren’t struggling during birth. I applaud all cattle ranchers for that level of dedication.
But my Dad’s patience, gentle manner, deep care, and extra time spent with his cattle have made them more than just a source of income.
It’s made them pets.
Yes, massive animals who approach you in the middle of a large pasture to eat directly from your hand and enjoy the occasional scratching on the underside of the chin.
Anyone who visits our ranch and sees this, is nothing short of stunned and amused. It’s also humorous to our family when we witness the reaction of someone new, after they have discovered the cows’ excessive slobber and sandpaper-like tongues during a feeding frenzy.
And when we leave, you’ll see a trail of cattle running after the vehicle, desperate for more food and attention. But they know we’ll be back. This never gets old to us.
This, however, is not the typical behavior you’ll see in cattle. Most are hesitant and intimidated by people. Some can be downright mean, and a lot of that is a result of how they were treated.
You should always be kind to animals – they’re living creatures that feel pain or comfort just as humans do. However, there is another angle to all of this – another benefit of going the extra mile to make your cows happy.
It creates a better product.
As much as I hate to admit that my hairy pets will eventually become hamburger on someone’s dinner plate, I must. They are a food product.
Cattle that live lives with limited stress have healthier meat; high quality and very tender. You will never see a bruise in your steak from excessive beating or a broken needle in your ground beef from an improper injection if you buy cattle from our family. The kind of meat created from an operation like ours is the bright red, rich-with-flavor beef you see being picked out first at the grocery store.
If you’ve ever set foot in a sale barn, you know that cattle are placed in a fenced ring to give buyers the opportunity to get a good look on what they could potentially bid. When my Dad’s cattle (whether they be cows or calves) enter the ring, they are calm and quiet, a direct message to the buyer on how these animals were raised and what kind of product they’ll be taking home, be it to slaughter or to add to their own herds.
This is not just a story about cute and cuddly cattle (which they are, you can’t deny it), this is also a message for you to think about your food.
Where is it coming from?
When you order a quarter-pounder at a fast food restaurant, do you know whether that meat was grown by a local rancher or a livestock feed lot with over a thousand head in another country? Do you know how that animal you’re eating was treated? Was it fed by a caring rancher right from his hands in the middle of a grassy pasture, or by a machine in the center of a dusty pen next to hundreds of other animals?
As we enter the season of copious meals and food (a.k.a Thanksgiving and Christmas), I challenge you to at least give that some thought, and if compelled, ask questions. Every person and family has the right to know what they’re eating is safe and healthy. I encourage you to support your local farmers and ranchers by purchasing from them directly, or asking your local grocer where they buy their food products.
I’m thankful and proud of our ranch. Our happy cows made a happy family.
They have for mine, and they will for yours.