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Across the fence: Siri or Alexa for Christmas?

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 November 2020

In Montana, there is almost always an abundance of snow at Christmastime. Our cows know how to find feed in the snow, though. We leave feed in the fields for them because we don’t have farm equipment and leaving grass for grazing is a better use of resources for us.

Cows are great at foraging, even in snow. Of course, we supplement with protein blocks and some feed, especially during extreme temps or crusty snow.

One Christmas break, the temperatures were low. We stay below freezing for months at a time during the winter, but we will also get cold snaps where it stays below zero for days or sometimes weeks. This is when we supplement with alfalfa. If we supplement with alfalfa hay twice a week, our cows keep healthy body condition scores.

One day, we were forking off some alfalfa. My husband got back in the truck, and we headed home. At home, we realized his wallet was missing and that it had been in the pocket of one of our jackets.

We searched the truck and, when that proved empty, we headed back to the field. Montana winters have snow, but they also tend to have a lot of brown, which hides a wallet. We searched and searched but never found his wallet. We wonder if one of the cows ate the bills he had – talk about a reverse definition of a cash cow.

This frustrating encounter made us realize how many different directions we were going. Other jobs, remodeling a house, kids in multiple activities … the list goes on and on. I’m sure you all understand, as most of us are in the same boat – multitasking. We also realized that sometimes because of our scatterbrained schedule, we were doing ridiculous things. Have you ever tried to do so much in one day you forgot where you put stuff or you do something “not smart?”

We definitely have “pre smart” moments.

With all the advancements in technology, I’ve wondered if there might be tools that could help us cattle producers. To be honest, I don’t actually use Siri or Alexa; the thought of talking to a machine to get answers to questions kind of creeps me out. However, I’ve been thinking, what if there was a cattle producer version?

As in, Cowboy/Cowgirl Siri and Cowboy/Cowgirl Alexa?

If it worked, it could be awful handy. Think of it:

Siri, how long is this vaccine good once it is opened?

Siri, where did I leave my favorite pocket knife?

Alexa, turn on my boot warmer. I’m almost to the house.

Alexa, what’s the weather like in Pasture 12? High winds?

Alexa, is my horse still tied in the barn?

Siri, take notes on which cows are bred. Specify which cows have late due dates.

Siri, cull the open cows.

Alexa, what is the temperature outside? -30º?

OK, Alexa, open the gate between Pastures 1 and 2.

Alexa, please create a list of cows’ body condition scores in numerical order.

Alexa, are there any calves showing signs of scours?

Having an artificial helper might come in handy when we really need to find something. “Siri!! Where are those six pairs that are missing in the lower pasture?”

It’d be great if she could respond with, “Those six pair are behind the willow trees on the south side.”

Or “Those six pair got mixed in with your neighbor’s cattle when they came off the summer grazing range. Give Chuck a call and tell him you need to grab them out of his fall pasture.” Pause. “Oh wait. You have four pair of his. Sort each other’s pairs out and swap.”

Forget that. “Alexa? Sort out Chuck’s four pair and bring them into the loading pen.”

Some days, the idea of having that kind of convenience sounds nice. Although if we could all yell at Siri or Alexa in the branding pen or when tension starts rising working cattle, that could be nice. But I really don’t want a computer taking over our business, especially ones named Siri and Alexa. Maybe it’d help if they were named Lone Ranger and John Wayne. Annie and Oakley.

The reality is: Nothing replaces seeing the cows on a regular basis and getting to know them. The idea might sound like a great Christmas present but, to me, nothing beats human interaction. However, that is a huge part of what makes people authentic – having emotions, learning, growing, talking, hugging, crying, laughing and saying sorry. All of these things are related to grace. Life isn’t perfect, but Christmas is about the perfect One who came to give the best gift of all – whereby we receive mercy and grace.

Sometimes, giving ourselves grace for those darn things we do is toughest of all. We think we should be able to do it better, faster, easier … but overall, as we learn and grow, grace really is the best gift … something neither Siri nor Alexa will ever understand.

Merry Christmas, all.  end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife).

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