I’ve had steers killed and butchered on the farm before, but today marked the first time for a calf I had observed being born.
Here is the calf in question, just new to the world, with his momma in July 2009.
It’s a bittersweet milestone. This is what I had set out to do, and three years later I am still at it with the cows. They are gentle, and tame, and I have gotten more than a few compliments from neighbors on the temperament and condition of my herd.
They are so tame, in fact, that when Dicky the butcher drove up, the entire herd ran towards him and lined up at the fence, curious about the stranger’s truck. I had only to point out the animal in question, which made me feel a little weird. Dicky said, “I’ll just drop him right here, then,” and so he did, from four feet away.
“That better be the one,” he chuckled, as the steer went to its knees, then rolled over.
Today, the herd behaved fairly strangely compared to previous visits from Dicky. Last year, I had one done in a pen, away from the others.
It was going to be two at once, but the second one literally jumped out of the pen. As it happened, steer #2 still needed a little filling out. When steer #2’s time came, he was dropped in the pasture, and the other cows just went about their business after the initial ruckus caused by the rifle report.
This time they were curious to the point of nearly interfering with the skinning and gutting.
I honestly have no idea what kind of bond remains between mother and calf nearly two years old, but I thought I sensed a special unease or melancholy on the part of the momma. That might just be me. Suddenly (perhaps guiltily?), I found myself motivated to do a lot of field work, mostly involving enlarging marginal grazing areas. The herd followed me everywhere. They were almost … clingy. And they didn’t seem to associate me with what had just happened, or maybe they didn’t understand it.
I don’t entirely understand it either. It all makes sense on paper. Take grass, rain, sunlight. Add cattle. A sustainable system. The pastures get taken care of by the cows, and you get thousands of pounds of protein as a happy side result. But it’s still heartbreaking for me when the day comes, and Dicky drives up with his .22 magnum and his winch.