Friday, December 9, 2011

Cattle Country

This is cattle country. There is still enough of the tall grass left in the Flint Hills to graze many thousands of cattle. Some of my neighbors have herds of the finest beef cattle I have ever seen. One family owns a herd containing about fifteen or twenty bulls, and at certain times of the year, The Boys will be pastured together. They are huge beasts, calm and slow, taking it easy, and seemingly enjoying exclusive male companionship. Each bull had to have shown special promise and extreme beauty as a calf to be spared the fate of steers. But, every cow eventually comes to the same fate: the slaughter house.

It is common at certain times in any given year to see real cowboys on horseback moving herds from one pasture to another. I have always wondered if nostalgia causes the bigger ranches to keep horses. All terrain vehicles can easily travel the pastures. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized nothing could take the place of horses. An ATV cannot squeeze between the trees in a stand of timber, or climb out of a steep ravine, or safely turn on a dime.

There is a lot of negativity against the cattle industry, some of it for good reason. The huge feedlots are an abomination. Anything that smells so bad you can smell it twenty miles (or more) away is not healthy for man nor beast. The disgusting concoction fed to cattle in the big lots should be outlawed. Some of it is chicken manure. (Research it.)

PETA and other animal rights groups have been unfortunately branded by their most extreme actions, yet without the work of such groups, the immense suffering of all animals who give their lives so we may live would be even greater. At the least, the transport and slaughter of the animals should be as humane as we can possibly make it.

There is not enough grassland left to raise enough beef to fuel the fast food industry of the western world. The cattle who are fortunate enough to live in the Flint Hills, no matter how brief their lives may be, are lucky - if anything is considered lucky in the life of an animal raised for food. But my heart still goes out to the cows and the calves when the babies are taken from their mothers to be fed and fattened for market.

Though I always wish I had grown up to be a cattle rancher, I know in my heart I could never abide the guilt of making my living by selling the animals to their deaths. Human beings have made their living at the expense of animals since we emerged from the slime and grew hands. I am casting no judgement against those who raise cattle - it is an honorable profession. I enjoy my steak as heartily as the next person. I am just thinking this morning about the way nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

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