Saturday, December 15, 2012

Low stress and thankfulness

So much of my life has been backwards, upside-down, inside-out and out of order this year that it seems almost natural that I should wait until after the fourth Thursday of November to write about thankfulness.

I was under the weather on Thanksgiving and on Black Friday. I felt a lot better on Saturday, and even though as a writer I’m supposed to be able to describe things clearly in written words, I can’t begin to tell you how good feeling better felt.

I was able to spend some feet-in-the-manure time with my cows.

A pen of well conditioned cows calmly await sorting on a ranch south of Kimball. Click for a larger image.

Three weaned spring calves had escaped the confines of their winter pasture gone home to mama. I needed to sort them off and get them back with their peers. I also had a fall calf that had developed a spectacular case of bacterial scours. After the battering near-train wreck we took from bacterial scours this spring, there was no hesitation in my mind. This heifer needed treatment.

Saturday was – for November – warm. It was breezy, too. No, strike that. It was windy. Blowing out of the west at 35 mph, gusting to 50 mph, the wind pummeled me, sucked the air out of my lungs, and lashed out with great clouds of dirt.

But I felt good, and when the temperature is 66 degrees, a little bit of wind isn’t much of a bother.

I brought the cows in on foot. It wasn’t much of a trick; their winter pasture is adjacent to the barn and corrals. I thoroughly enjoyed moving and working the cows using low-stress handling techniques.

Learning those low-stress techniques is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’m still surprised that my mind was open enough to see the merit of the idea and to give it a try. More than a few skeptics told me I was wasting my time. I took a lot of ribbing from neighbors who’d seen me laying supine in the middle of the pasture, hat shading my eyes, surrounded by curious cattle who, singly or in pairs, would approach and gave me a good sniff. Those cattle became familiar with my presence and my smell, and I came to recognize them individuals. Individual cattle who are not people.

A pair of calm, well conditiond four year-old cows in a pen south of Kimball. Click for a larger image.

I’ve come to realize that low-stress cattle handling is grown-up cattle handling.

I’ve called the application of these techniques pressure dancing, and after so many years of shouting and waving and zipping back and forth all over the place, I’m still amazed at how well it works.

Saturday’s small chore, a job that would have previously taken the three-hour efforts of five hands,  four dogs, two pickups, three four-wheelers, a rented goat and a month’s worth of cussing took me 45 minutes, start to finish.

Watching those cattle calmly stroll through gates and into corrals was a soothing, satisfying experience. Sorting off four calves was simplicity itself. Treating the sick calf was a non-event, even though she liberally splattered me with evil-smelling feces.

Please don’t take my message the wrong way. There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of working cattle. The job gets done, the hands enjoy their work, and the cattle don’t suffer at all. Different doesn’t have to be better or worse. Most often, different is just different.

It was a good day. A day spent in the real world, and away from the insanity of our drunkenly-stumbling artificial society.

I received a number of e-mails last Thursday which said “Happy Thanksgiving!” While I appreciate the time and effort expended in these missives, none of them cited reasons to be thankful or to (perish the thought!) give thanks. If there had been a “like” button programmed to send out the e-mails, most would have clicked it and moved on to something important. I feel a bit bad about that.

I’d wager that if asked, the vast majority of Americans could only regurgitate pre-programmed platitudes of thankfulness. What do they have to be thankful for? Food? There’s always food at the grocery store. Clothing? There’s always clothing at the department store. Health? There’s always medicine at the medicine store.Warmth? There’s always warmth from the heating system. Light? There’s always light with the flip of a switch. Transportation? Right outside on the driveway. The ability to pay for these things? You either have a job or the government gives you money. Security, roads, school, clean water, climate? Somebody else does that. Few people know who.

In 1863, in the depths of the Civil War, the President of the United States wrote a Proclamation of Thanksgiving to the nation. If you’d like to read the entire proclamation, click here or use a search engine to look it up.

In the midst of a war so terrible that few alive today can even begin to imagine the suffering, grief, carnage and desolation that ravaged our country, the President noted that:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God…

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe…a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

I am thankful that at so desperate a time, America had a leader of utmost honor; a man who could pen such thoughtful and healing words.

The world inhabited by most Americans, and by most citizens of the so-called developed world, is not the entirety of experience.

As history and objective observation tell us, it’s simply what it is.

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