Earring Cattle: And the Sin of This Generation(s)?

15.11.15aa

November 15, 2015

The calves were weaned two three months ago. Standing on a fence rail, looking at calves, I know weaning is never an easy time—for anyone. The calf is on the teat and the next day not. That makes for an upset mama and calf, which can lead to steady bawling for a day or two. When you have fifty cows and fifty calves in the corrals and those corrals are located next to home, like our closest neighbor, no one sleeps well for those couple of days. No, weaning is not easy for anyone. Standing on the rail, I know another stressful event for these calves lies ahead.

Yellowing leaves of autumn trees is the signage of fall roundups and selling of spring calves. Leaves falling from trees mean it is time for me to buy spring calves. Calves will spend twelve to fourteen months on the farm, so I look for weaned calves weighing between 400 and 550 pounds. Weaned because calves gain little, maybe lose, weight during those first days after separation from mama. After weaning though, they come into their own teenage identity and become capable of dealing with the stress that comes with a change of place. (Isn’t moving hard on all of us? Little matter if it is for a great job or family, moving to a new place—even a few blocks away—always gives us apprehension and stress).

The perfect change of place for calves means I choose them from the rail, load them at the neighbor’s ranch, trailer them to JustLiving Farm, and unloading into the corral. Seldom is that the case. More often than not, the calves are trailered from the ranch to the auction barn where I bid and buy. They are then loaded and trailered to the farm. Because life is seldom perfect, we do what we can to minimize stress. Therefore, we make sure the feeder is full of hay and the trough full of water when they unload off the trailer. Once calves make their way around the corral once, and know where the food and water are, we walk away. Belinda and I figure, at that moment, they are not looking favorably upon the two-legged animals who have taken them away from the landscape of birth to who knows where—best to let them alone.

Over the next two weeks calves will eat, drink, chew cud, and sleep in the corral. I move in and out during that time filling the feeder with hay, filling the water trough, and having short conversations. My work during those weeks is to watch their movement, their noses and eyes, and anything else that might indicate a need for doctoring or special care. Mid-way during their corral stay, their right ear gets a numbered JLF ear tag—Some folk wonder about piercing the ear with a tag, but if ear piercings and earrings are good enough for all the women in my life and many of my male friends, they are good enough for cattle. Finally, after the stress of moving has resided and everyone is healthy, physically and emotionally, they are turned out with the other cattle wandering the farm.

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I have morning coffee a day or two each week at the Cougar Den in White Swan. I arrive around 6am, settle into a corner booth to read and write. School begins at 8am, so about an hour later, students arrive, shoot the bull, and walk across the street around five till.

Not long after I sit, a young man often arrives. He takes the booth directly across from me, places his backpack against the wall, and goes to sleep until five till or a friend wakes him. Two and a half months have pass since school began and I have yet to know his story.

While there is a story to learn, the broad brushstroke is likely not unique. Like the ten year-old who sleeps with her head on table, and the twelve-year-old who mothers her three younger siblings waiting for the elementary school bus, he is one of many whose young life is unreasonably complicated and stressful. On any one morning, sitting comfortably in the corner booth of this rural town, it is clear too many have their head on a table, sleeping. Too many are hungry. Too many have a twelve-year-old sister as parent. I find many folk prefer to think this is simply rural reservation life. However, a friend who lives in Oakland, another in south-central Los Angeles, one in Louisville, and another still in Flint, Michigan, tell the same story.

15.11.15a

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I am nearly upside down as the dental hygienist talks to me. Over the years we have mutually learned our two brands of Christianity are different, but she asks questions just the same. “My daughter (she is 30-years-old) is living with her boyfriend. My husband and I are upset because they are living in sin. What do you think?” She has packed a lot into that question, so I figured to take on the obvious when her hand gets out of my mouth. Once out, we had three or four minutes before she was back in there working with some utensil handed down from the Middle Ages. (Dental appointment conversations, a little weird, one-sided, disjointed, and often last for years.) “We use that word sin too freely.” I said. “Sin matters, but two adults living with one another without the benefit of marriage is not sin, for me. Rather, putting our energy into how our and our neighbor’s adult children—who are happy—live their lives takes our attention away from true sin. And maybe that is sin itself? For me, we can reserve that word, sin, for acts that matter, that hurt and damage creation.” No solutions that day, but maybe the hand in mouth conversation continue during the visit.

****

Christianity gets played out in a number of ways and we all need to find a little more slack for those who do it different than ourselves. Yet, I tire of preachers who promote theology that has made little sense for a number of generations and strives to damage the lives of healthy consenting adults. Such sin theology, which is more about them than I, is easy on the congregants and safe for the preacher. Good sin theology is not easy and calls everyone to know, own, and act against the hurt and damage inflected in our generation(s), and learn sin is not theirs but mine.

Sin, for me, is when cattle on the Farm have better housing, food, water, and rest than reservation and inner-city children and youth. Sin is when I worry more about middle-class adults living together outside of marriage, who folk have sex with, and if someone fits the legal framework of US residency, than I do about the anxiety that is the norm for poor and abused children. Sin is when I do not provide all of the resources needed for better parenting, better housing, and better health. Sin is when my neighbor’s child goes to sleep without a kiss and a full belly. Sin is when I, personally, do not know one child who lives a worrisome life and have made their life my own.

Elk Parts

15.10.04

October 4, 2015

Elk parts. They come once a year. Archery season opened a few weeks ago and rifle season follows it up. My bow hunting friends are saying this is a season unlike any other. The elk are not traveling normal trails or hanging in their normal high country valleys. Maybe there will be few elk parts this year.

I never imagined elk parts growing up in the rural canyons of southern California. Our deer are small in stature and when it comes to meat, they are little more than a big rabbit compared to an elk. Though small is size, being of a landscape of canyon sage, the flavor of their meat rivaled any Cascade elk. The black-tailed deer of sage country may not be the biggest of deer, but they are right up there with the smartest of deer—and a hair coat the blends beautifully with the sage landscape. The cageyness of these deer meant many hunters spent their time enjoying the landscape and returning home to eat beef. That might be why I never saw another hunter in the ridges and canyons around home, and why “I’m going up north to hunt, these deer are to small and not worth the time,” was often heard leading up to hunting season.

I knew I was not in the landscape of my youth when hunting season rolled around my first fall in White Swan. Growing up rural, forty minutes from town is one thing, living in a rural town is something different. The proximity of folk to one another in town (even a town of 500) leads to a different way of thinking than the open country. The old adage that everyone knows everyone in a small town carries a bit of truth. One of those truths is folk have a very good idea of which neighbor struggles economically and who does not—including their dogs.

When the first elk came out of the hills, that first fall, and after they were quartered and cut into steaks, roasts, and jerky, many hunters went about town giving their meat to the elderly and families who struggled. The knowledge being, the hunter is capable of hunting again and many others are not.

Two events made me notice how this new place was different from back home. One, two hunters showed up at the parsonage and offered us meat for no other reason than placing value on the community’s spiritual leaders. Place matters. When two elk roasts were lifted out of the back of the pickup, there was more meat than any one deer I hunted as a youth. My place was no longer the landscape of canyons and sage. Continue reading “Elk Parts”

Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life

15.09.20

September 20, 2015

Wide shadows fell off the windrows in the early morning. The morning after the season’s last cutting of hay, I walked the field. A heavier dew than I like gathered across my boots and the pant leg that gathered at the laces. As I wondered how long it would take the cutting to dry, a coyote limped down a windrow along the eastern edge. With the right hind leg in the air, the coyote hunted one windrow after another hoping to rouse an unobservant vole or a slow gopher pushing up dirt. I wondered how the leg got hurt. The coyote looked young, so maybe he had made one of those teenage moves that twist an ankle. Then again, he may have wondered into the wrong field at the wrong time and ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun shell. Whatever the case, I went on about my business.

Two days later, one of the chickens thought little of my decision. In fifteen years we have lost only one chicken and one lamb to predation, that is, until that day. Losing another on the backend of seeing a limping coyote is normal enough. If we are going to manage the farm with an eye toward maintaining balance between wild and domestic animals, it is inevitable something is going to lean the scale to one side or another eventually (Like a hurt leg.). I don’t imagine the missing chicken nor the non-missing chickens agree with such an analytical assessment. When another hen went missing a week later, I also questioned my management practices.

A few days after losing the second hen, I was driving across the field in the balewagon and picking up hay bales. As I round the southwest corner, the coyote came out of the brush. No longer limping, he watched as I drove by. I wondered if I should pick up the rifle when I got to the end of the field nearest the house. Call it laziness or cutting the coyote slack one more time, I left the gun in the house and continued clearing the field of bales. A week later, the 22 rifle leaned against the wall near the back door. A third chicken was missing.

The decision to kill an animal is always difficult, more so when the kill is not for food. You might say killing the coyote is a food kill when the third hen is lost. After all the hens provide daily eggs (food), and when they stop laying eggs they provide for a wonderful winter chicken stew (food). Nevertheless, the killing of the coyote, itself, is not going to provide an evening meal. Since I also have no desire to skin the coyote, tan the hide, and use it for something or another, the killing of the coyote is only to try to reestablish balance and end the loss of chickens. Continue reading “Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life”

Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek

15.08.30

August 30, 2015

Riding in the back of the pickup was normal in the sage canyons east of Saugus. Though not common, the seat of a 1956 Ford pickup holds only so many people, so when the family went to town in the pickup you’d find my younger brother, sister, and I arguing, singing, or yelling those all-important conversations back in the pickup bed. During baseball season, daddy would have half a dozen boys in the back heading home after a ballgame. Town being thirty to forty minutes from the house, meant a fair number of memories were made in the back of that pickup.

Then daddy and mamma bought a 1969 Ford three-quarter ton Camper Special—with seatbelts. There began a change in the way mamma and daddy thought about pickup bed traveling and other than the local gravel road, a pasture, or the stockyard in town, the seat belted three-quarter ton ended back of the truck forty-five mile-per-hour conversations.

Thirty years later Belinda and I were driving down Fort Road on the reservation. We were following a pickup full of kids, doing forty-five maybe fifty miles-per-hour. By then we were fairly sure of our good opinion thinking something along the lines of, “What are they thinking?” Thirty years of seatbelts had something to do with our thoughts, but also being from California had something to do with it as well.

Years earlier Californians passed a law keeping dogs from riding in the pickup bed. After it passed, you could not have a morning coffee at the local café in rural California, where working dogs in the bed were common, and not have a conversation about the dog law. Statements were often rural verses urban, along the lines, “Yep, isn’t it just like those folk who don’t live where men, women, and dogs work together would pass a law against dogs in the back of the truck…and never give any thought to a law keeping children out of the back of pickups first.” Well, enough years of such conversations made us pretty sure those kids in the back of the pickup shouldn’t be, and dogs should be cut more slack.

It so happens that while California has its who-cannot-ride-in-the-back-of-pickup law, Washington State code sees it a little different,

This section only applies to motor vehicles that meet the manual seat belt safety standards as set forth in federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 and to neighborhood electric vehicles and medium-speed electric vehicles. This section does not apply to a vehicle occupant for whom no safety belt is available when all designated seating positions as required by federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 are occupied. (RCW 46.61.688, Sec.2—as of 2008)

Continue reading “Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek”

Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment

15.08.23

August 23, 2015

Last week federal Judge Lynn Winmill ruled the Idaho Ag Security Act law unconstitutional. The “ag gag” law made it a crime to make undercover recordings or gain employment at a farm under false pretenses. Idaho legislators developed the law after an activist filmed and posted a video online showing cow mistreatment at an Idaho dairy, which led to death threats toward the farmer.

In his ruling, Winmill considered Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle. Winmill noted, “Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, ‘The Jungle,’ misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago.” While focusing on immigrant exploitation, the novel heavily dealt with the treatment and conditions of livestock found in early 20th century packinghouses. The Jungle so impacted American society it lead to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. The kicker for Winmill is, “Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under” the Idaho law.

The Winmill decision does not enhance the existing lives of animals, humans, or plants within today’s agricultural industry as much as it maintains a modicum of animal wellbeing. Enhanced wellbeing may come, but not before people begin to learn their own wellbeing is tied to that of animals, plants, soil, and water. For that to occur, grandparents, parents, and children must begin to understand where their food comes from and how it gets to their table.

The public’s engagement in understanding food is critical because the Winmill decision can also have a down side. Today, the disengagement of people from their food is so great they cannot distinguish between good animal treatment and bad. Awful or horrendous is easy enough to differentiate, but because of the gulf between people and their food, too many folk experience good animal treatment as bad. Lack of knowledge on the public’s part can only lead to mistreatment of farmers and ranchers who are treating their animals well.

Thirty some years ago we had the county veterinarian come by our place. Someone had driven by and reported one of our horses as mistreated. We took the vet out to the horses and introduced him to Barney, a 27 year-old quarter horse. Barney was as skinny as an old horse gets, ribby and hippy. After a bit we all headed up to the house, sat down, and had a cup of coffee. The Vet observed horses are no longer a part of peoples live. Continue reading “Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment”

Considering the Purple Cow Pill

15.08.09b

August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption. Continue reading “Considering the Purple Cow Pill”

Generational Food Justice

15.08.02

 August 02, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

This is supposed to be humane? I thought to myself when David Bell took me to the cattle auction for the first time. He wanted to take me the first week I arrived so I could handle it better once we brought workgroups. I’m glad he did so too because I was on the point of tears.

Cows, bulls, steers, heifers, all corralled into small spaces, running into each other, stumbling over one another. The cowboys and girls on their horses chased after them with paddles, flags, and whips to move the animals along. One cowboy even yelled, “Hey! You son of a bitch. Hey!” over the desperate mooing as he tried to force an extremely frightened steer into a corral.

One beautiful, brown steer with a white face met my gaze with tired eyes as he struggled to maintain his footing against the many other, larger cattle around him. He didn’t fight back or try to escape. He had clearly been there all day and gotten used to the circumstances. Perhaps he had even been there before. His calmness told me it was indeed humane.

The paddles, whips, or flags weren’t hitting them; instead, they were only surprised by the sound made by the instruments. They had some space to move. They were fed and kept healthy until they were sold. The animals freaking out the most were the ones who probably hadn’t had a day of stress in their lives, who were raised on pastures with their families. Plus, it’s understandable for the cowboys and girls to get frustrated every once in a while, but most of them were patient with the animals. The place really could have been a lot worse. In fact, many of cattle would later go to worse places, to factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they would spend the rest of their lives standing in a pile of their own shit. They would get even less exercise, they would get fatter, and they would sell for more.

Suddenly, I cried the tears I had been fighting, feeling helpless. As a vegetarian, I know I don’t support the CAFOs or factory farms, but people who do surround me. Plus it’s more than just cows, or even pigs and chickens. It’s all food. Continue reading “Generational Food Justice”