Teetering on the vegetarian fence.

I must say that when my family heard I was dating a cattle rancher and was coming to Saskatchewan to help him, they were worried.  Why?   It’s because if there was ever a person who could be vegetarian or even a vegan, it was me and I was dating a man who raised cattle.

When I was little we had some chickens. They scare me. Well at least they did back then. I am taller now so maybe a flapping, pecking, squawking bird wouldn’t be as frightening at knee level as it was at face height.  We had them for eggs, or so I thought.

I arrived home after school and got off the bus. I heard voices in the back yard and went around the house. There in the back yard was a makeshift slaughter house. Dead chickens, blood, feathers, and my mom, grandmother, and aunt.  I went into the house and stayed there.  I hated the chickens but they didn’t need to kill them!  I was sickened. My dad told me when he was little he would have to go out in the morning and put a chicken under a pot for the day, so his mom could ring it’s neck that night for supper. It is just how it is.

From then on, I did not eat chicken if it came wrapped in brown paper.  Once our supply ran out and mom bought it from the store I was all over it. Something about the pink foam tray and grocery store sticker made it ok. It doesn’t seem logical, but in my mind it wasn’t a bird that had lived here, it was just meat.  The same thing happened when I came home and saw a deer hanging from the clothes line pole. Nothing wrapped in brown paper for me, Thank you!  That was the last time my dad ever hunted.

I even stopped eating KFC after finding veins in the legs too many times. The first time I had to stuff a turkey for a family dinner I wouldn’t eat it. Apparently it was very good and moist, but I just couldn’t do it. That was probably because I saw my grandmother in her house dress and rubber boots, wielding an axe, chasing after a headless turkey and then hanging it from my swing-set. If something made me feel too close to being a carnivore (animal) I didn’t like it.

So, as you can see, they did not know how I would ever handle being around the cattle.  I will confess that I did grill hubby about exactly what happens to the animals he sells. Did he actually send the animals to slaughter? Would I see anything like that?  Thankfully he said no.  He runs a cow/calf operation and he sells the calf after it is weaned to other people. That is all I needed to know. I didn’t want to hear anything after that point.

What I found at the ranch was not at all what you would expect if you listened to all the very vocal opinions of the animal rights groups.

I did not see animals stuffed so tightly into pens they could not move.

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The cattle in the distance are in one of the “pens”

I did see during the winter and spring, the cows in pens to keep them separate based on their feeding needs. They had enough room that all could lay out on fresh bedding, plus room to roam around, and a feed bunk big enough to all eat at the same time.  Was there manure in the pen?  Well of course.  Did the cows stand in it?  Yes, and they even poop on each other and poop while laying down. I think it keeps their butts warm in the winter.  Just my opinion.  Is all that gross?  Yes, until you realise that that is how it is even when they have acres to roam.  In the summer they are roaming thousands of acres of native prairie grass, trees, and streams along with the deer and moose.

I did not see animals suffering or malnourished.

I did see during calving season, a man wake every 4 hours after working all day, to jump on a quad no matter what the weather, travel about 1/2 km to check on his heifers. These first time moms need help sometimes or they will loose their babies and sometimes they will die.  No matter what needed to be done, how little sleep he had, or what the weather was like, hubby was there for that mama and calf.

I did see during bad weather when the rest of us would be curled up on the couch for the weekend, he was outside spreading straw and setting up shelters. Lunch time would pass and sometimes even dinner because the animals always come first.

I did see a man who in snow storms would bring new calves into the house to be wrapped and warmed so they would not freeze. A man who could tell you the history of his cows and could tell them apart.  A man who has cried when a calf has died and felt guilty because if only he had…

I did see  a man who vaccinates his cattle so they don’t fall ill. A man who uses antibiotics to treat his animals so that they do not suffer with an infection and recover instead of just killing them.

I did see that although these animals were being bred and their offspring were raised to be consumed, they were very well taken care of and loved.

Even now, raising the cattle myself, I still do not like being a carnivore sometimes, but I realise that it is life.  I know times are different now, but we started out eating meat and I believe that is something that is going to continue.  Wildlife could not sustain the population growth so we had to start raising our own meat, the same as we could not rely on mother nature to grow our wild fruits and greens and farming began.  I think of the stories of people who where lost and how they say they survived and it wasn’t from gathering. It was from hunting and eating meat from what ever they could catch.

I will say that I still do not think at this time in my life I could be the one to kill and process the animal, but thankfully there are other people who are able to do that.  When I do take an animal to the abattoir, I am thankful for the nourishment it will give me in exchange for the nourishment I gave it.  It is the circle of life.

I do understand those who do not want to eat meat. What I don’t understand is those that bash, condemn, ridicule, spread lies and try to undermine those that do.  Everyone has a choice and that should be enough.  Let your opinion or choice be known, but do not try and force or scare others into believing lies.

I am proud of our ranch. I see a place where the animals are raised with care, respect, and love to provide the best nourishment they can for people.  The land we use is also respected, loved and cared for. Without our animals or land, we would have nothing. So why would you believe we would do anything to harm either one?

 

Splint on Angus calf.

Mom stepped on her leg. 6 weeks of a splint and helping her stand to eat a few times per day, a year later she is out with the rest of our girls.

 

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Ox are real!

Being new to ranching, I am always learning something. Like not every calf is a boy just because they have something hanging down under their belly.  New calves all have something and it is their umbilicus.  I was no help that first year tagging calves.

Some things you learn as a child, and that belief stays with you. As a child I watched Sesame Street. The show helped me learn many things. How to sing my A,B,C’s, count in other languages (still can to 10 in Spanish), and all about different animals.  Besides the animals you see in zoo’s and on t.v there was Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Ox, and the Yak.  I knew I would never see the first two, they didn’t leave Sesame Street and the last two I thought were “old fashioned” like dinosaurs.  My reasoning was that I have never encountered an ox or a yak in any of the wildlife parks or zoos that I have been to.

So I was very amazed to find out that I actually own an ox!  How crazy is that!

The only reason I found this out is because I happen to see a package of meat in a store labelled “Oxtail”.  First thing out of my mouth was “Is that really part of a tail?” to hubby, who said “Yes”  Well then my mind went to … is that all they use from an ox is the tail …. what about the rest of the animal …. where do they get the ox from … I thought they were extinct…    At some point I think I verbalised this to hubby who then explained what exactly an ox is and that we could potentially have one.

Well I was shocked!  So for those of you who, like me, grew up in the city watching Sesame Street and think ox are no more I am here to tell you they are still around. Kind of….

An ox or oxen for more than one, are actually cattle that are tamed, trained and used for labour. They were used to plow the fields, pull wagons and carts and for whatever else required lots of muscle. Most of the time they used castrated males (steers) for this job because they were easier to handle then bulls. The females were used for milk or they were either pregnant or nursing a calf and you wouldn’t want to use them for hard labour.

So in a way I guess they are extinct or endangered, at least in Canada. I don’t think many people use cattle that way anymore.  Maybe we should go back to using oxen. Just think, it would cut down on C02 emissions from the trucks and tractors involved in farming and there would be an increase in employment because you would need people to work with the animals. Just a thought…

As for our potential oxen, they are quite handsome boys but not exactly tame and very far from trained. What could I get them to do, hmm… well if I could just pet them that would be awesome!  How did we end up with them?  Well that is a very interesting story and I am glad you asked.

Our black boy “M04C” was born January 3, 2015 and was a surprise baby. His mother had been hit on the road and her leg was broken. Hubby brought her into the yard and we put her in a corral where she could be close to food and water and heal up. She couldn’t keep up with the rest of the herd and we didn’t want to just dispose of her so we kept her to fatten and then slaughter for our own use.  She was not out with the bulls so we did not think she was pregnant.  A few weeks before we were scheduled to take her in, out popped baby boy. Surprise!  Someone snuck out of the pen. 20150106_114351.jpg

When it came time to sell the calves, M04 was head and shoulders bigger than the rest of them that were born in late April and May. You would think that would be good, we would get more money for him or something. NO  That is not how it works. No one would buy him. He did not fit in with the rest.  So we kept him. I even tried to sell him as a yearling but because he is just one, again no one wanted him and if we just took him to auction we would get half of what he should be worth because he is alone.  It doesn’t make sense to me so I can’t explain it. One day I will have to pick someone’s brain as to what goes on after I sell the calves and then maybe I will understand.

Our red boy was born in 2013 and he spent that summer at our ranch away from the home ranch. He did not make it back to us with his mother in the fall. Then a few weeks ago we received a call from the auction market in the area of our other ranch saying they had a steer of ours. He just “showed up” at someone’s field.  Hmmm…

So now we have two big boys. Anyone wanting some oxen or really good beef?DSC_0469.JPGDSC_0468.JPG

Oh, and I looked up Yak…. you have to go to the Himalaya region of Asia to see them and they are also a bovine. Still very much in existence. Maybe one day I will see one.

 

 

Dealing with Mothers

 

Every Spring, when the calves are being born, it gets very busy around here. Hubby and I are the only ones here and with about 600 babies expected we are run off our feet.

Along with the normal day’s work of feeding and bedding and checking on everyone we also have to tend to the babies.  We usually split up so that while he is feeding, I check on the new babies. If we are able to get to them right after they are born we are very happy because they are much easier to catch and handle. It is quite amazing how at only minutes old they are able to get up and run, and very fast. Everyone is tagged and their number, mom’s number, date, and sex is recorded in a book.  Sounds easy enough. So I thought.

My first time out Hubby told me to be careful, keep my head up, watch the mamma, and be ready to run. What!?

Our cows are ranch cattle which means we do not have a lot of hands on interaction with them.  We can walk amongst them but don’t expect to be able to pet them or catch them (unfortunately, because I would love to be able to pet and hug them all!).

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Just like human mothers, there are many different kinds. Some moms will back off and just stand and bawl (moo) at us or walk away and continue eating. Others will actually run away like they are on fire or something and we have to either chase her back to her baby or load it up and take it to her. There are also the “Babysitters” as I call them. They are the other moms who come running at any calf’s cry or the one lone cow left with 4, 5 or even 10 calves. We even have delinquent mothers and it seems they don’t care where their calf is or if it cries and sometimes they will actually loose them. We usually sell those ones. Then there is the one who tries to kill you.

Hubby knows who some of these are and their babies never get tagged, which is ok because I pitty the one who tries to take her baby.  The bad thing though is that I am not that familliar with the herd yet, so sometimes I encounter these moms.  On one such occasion I pulled the quad up to a calf, got the rope on it’s hind leg so that stayed put for me and then I started writing on the tag and in the book. Suddenly there is a cow bellering and charging at me. I jumped over the quad to the other side and she came around, I jumped over again and here she comes again. This time she head buts the side of the quad and it rocks up on two wheels. I untied the rope from the quad, threw everything into the bin and managed to get out of there.

Hubby has had a situation like that, but unfortunately he didn’t get away like I did.  He was rammed into the side of the quad by the cow while bent over tagging her baby. His warnings come from experience and I try very hard to listen and remember.

Although very scary, I can’t help but admire these moms. I would like to think I would do the same if someone was after my kids.