Friday, April 20, 2012

Cattle Are Sentient Creatures - And I wouldn't have it any other way . . .

J.West's Elsie Edna and J.West's Clementine, April 2012
Best Buddies, Born 4 Days Apart

There are times in this cow business when I find myself considering, fleetingly, becoming a vegetarian; when I keenly understand why some folks are so adamantly anti-meat.  Some particular event happens that makes me think a little deeper about the 'feelings' of my cows, or at least some of them.

I then mull over in my mind many of the fairly ridiculous stances of a lot of the extremist PETA types, most of whom no doubt have never stepped in cow manure or certainly never resuscitated a newborn calf -- but yet are emphatic that cows are 'sentient' creatures and therefore shouldn't be eaten.  Which leaves them in a sorry life in a zoo in some perfect future vegan world with zero meat consumption. Wait . . . That's also the FAO arm of the United Nations' long term plan! But I'm not going there this morning, discussing the FAO right now would give me a headache and make me nauseous, and my health care has already gone up 40% in the last two years, so I have to be careful not to go to the doctor, that might be an excuse to raise my rates another 20% next year. Oops, digressing . . .

Elsie Edna and Clementine, April 2012
I recently sent Elsie Edna and Clementine on to their new home in Oklahoma.  These two heifers are really bonded, more often than not found together, and I think would really have been traumatized to have been shipped off to separate pastures.  Eventually that strong tie they have now won't be so important, but at 2 years old the bond is still very strong.  Clearly, these two demonstrate that cattle are indeed 'sentient' creatures, as they have 'feelings' toward one another.

'had' two other heifers who were very much pasture buddies, born 7 days apart - J.West's Boopsie and J.West's Lassie.  Unfortunately, I never took a photo of the two of them together, but I do have a 'picture memory' of the two of them from last Sunday.  They both walked up to the cattle guard by the house, checked it out, looked at me, and presumably listened to me (okay probably not) when I told them not to walk that cattle guard.  But, they did promptly turn around and prance off together . . . and that's the last time I saw them alive and well.

Sunday night we were hit by the worst of thunderstorms and the lightning was very bad.  Boopsie and Lassie died under a grove of hickory trees, lying about a foot apart.  Fortunately, the rest of the cattle in that group were all fine, and so was every other pasture group.  I had moved this group in to the pasture by the house on Sunday so they could get shelter under the barn's big tractor shed, which they generally immediately do when the rain gets hard.  For some unknown reason they didn't this time.  The ground outside the shed was smooth and slicked off from the massive flow of water run-off from the barn roof (we had probably 11 inches or more of rain), so clearly the cows didn't exit the shed after the storm, they simply weren't there.

J.West's Boopsie in August 2011
Boopsie was Carter sired out of a Popeye daughter, bw 66 lbs.
Could it be something wasn't safe that night about the shed?  Oddly, when we finally got power back on Monday, all the power to the barns was still out, and that's never happened before.  Something caused the main breaker to all the barns to trip, and I have to wonder if it was a lightning strike directly to the barns or a hit to the ground around the barns.  They are metal pole barns, with tin roofs and walls of course, and I've not ever considered the possible danger to the cattle from being under a metal structure during severe lightning.  So far we haven't found a thing to indicate a strike on or around the barns, so it will remain a mystery.

J.West's Lassie as a newborn, her dam is J.West's Taylor Maid
Lassie was Carter sired with a bw of 37 lbs.
The sight of those two heifers lying dead and bloated under the hickory grove was a shocking sight.  Their walk to the cattle guard, their quizzical looks at me and down at the rails of the cattle guard, and that quite prancing turn and exit off to the pasture was all I could see in my mind, the contrast startling, the end of that life lying in the mud.  Rational or not, this became one of those moments when I question what I do, and think of the 'sentient' creature argument of vegans against eating meat.

But, even so, as the days have passed and I've thought about my own personal reaction to the loss of the heifers, I suspect it is me being too sentient of a human creature about my cows, or at least about some of them.  Yes, I do think cattle are 'sentient' creatures, many seem to make eye contact with us humans with something ticking in their brains and coming through their eyes that makes a total lie of the 'dumb cow' phrase for sure, could be their eyes are just so pretty I imagine it though.  Look at little Lassie pictured below - she had the sweetest eyes ever.  But sentient creatures or not, beef has been critical to the human diet since time out of mind.

J.West's Lassie, June 2011
So, I'll not be tossing out all the grassfed beef in the freezers, or turning the ranch in to a petting zoo, and for sure I also won't stop caring about the well being of my cows and trying to tune in to what they need in a 'sentient' way.  I'm glad I had that odd last encounter with Boopsie and Lassie; you have to wonder, or at least I have to wonder, about the timing of that and their death mere hours later.  I couldn't tell you one thing about any other cow or calf in that group from the afternoon before - just that picture memory in my brain of Boopsie and Lassie . . .

Yes, cattle are quite the sentient creatures, but I wouldn't have it any other way.