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Irons in the fire: Understanding comes through education

Paul Marchant Published on 23 April 2015

I spent a few days in March in Fort Worth, attending the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association annual convention. My traveling partner had an old friend who makes his home in Sunset, just outside of Decatur.

We figured we ought to make a little road trip out to see him.

Kenny usually keeps a few cows around, mostly so he has something to do with the herd of horses at his place. The horses are his passion, and there is always a colt or two and the requisite idiot horse that he’s riding for one of his training clients.

He can entertain an audience for hours with yarns about knotheaded horses and clueless clients. In the heart of cutting horse country, there is no shortage of both.

Every transplanted city dweller and half-acre goat farmer has a horse that is royally bred, spoiled rotten, barn sour – and the best friend its owner ever had. They’ve usually watched a Pat Parelli clinic on RFD TV, and they just need a trainer to spend a month with their beautiful Pegasus so his true greatness can be unleashed.

Without many exceptions, these people cause more problems than they solve with their presence around livestock. Kenny has about decided to take down his trainer’s shingle. Over the years, his patience has grown thin with those well-intentioned yet always annoying people he knows as “cityots.”

City Slicker

I’ve always been a proponent of educating our urban neighbors as to our true identity and what we really do out in the sticks. Obviously, it’s in our best interest to have the consumers of our toil as our friends rather than our adversaries.

The educating of urban-raised consumers is a long, never-ending road, with no final destination in sight. It truly is all about the journey.

My wife’s sister and her family live a few miles from Tremonton, Utah. Box Elder County is certainly a rural county, but the “cityots” are increasing in numbers. Some friends of my sister-in-law, who run a few hundred cows, had a stifled calf when they weaned last fall. They gave the calf to my relatives, who keep it in a 2-acre pasture outside of town.

Their intent was to take the calf up to about 900 pounds and butcher it. After three visits from the sheriff, who received several calls from an anonymous caller reporting animal abuse, my in-laws finally obtained an affidavit from a veterinarian who convinced the sheriff’s office that the calf was not being abused and that it would be perfectly fine until it could be humanely killed and butchered.

My sister and her husband and three daughters live on a couple of acres just outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. Their place is surrounded by farmland. A fair-sized feedlot is 3 miles from their house.

The entire economy of Twin Falls County, indeed, all of south-central Idaho, is based on agriculture. Surely, one would think, everyone has a fairly firm grip on the realities of production agriculture. If that’s what one thinks, one should think again.

In a pen near the house, my niece keeps her two 4-H steers. Just outside the steer pen, Lily spends her days in blissful contentment, staked along the ditch bank. Lily is a yearling heifer. She was a twin, born late at night during a late-spring blizzard.

I rescued her when her mother showed no interest in her. My sister’s three little daughters raised Lily on a bottle. She’s more like a big Black Lab than a bovine. She follows the girls around and loves to have her head scratched. Lily’s got it made.

Never fear, however. There are “cityots” aplenty who are truly watching out for the welfare of God’s abused creatures. My brother-in-law has had to contend with the same well-meaning passerby on three different occasions, who informed him that Lily had tipped over her water bucket and that he should beware.

Didn’t he know that cows, like dogs, get mean and aggressive when they are tied up? It is simply cruel to keep that poor cow staked out in the elements with no shelter. Lily is about as aggressive as Barney, the purple dinosaur. The harshest cruelty she’ll ever have to face is when she gets turned out with the other heifers this fall.

Another experience that my Twin Falls sister and her family had has inspired me to search for an effective agricultural education plan for some of the dimmer lights among our urban neighbors, the ones who should stay home and mind their own business. I’m talking about the ones who just can’t seem to grasp how to peacefully exist in the rural-urban interface.

My little nieces like cats. They love to have a cat or two around the yard and in the shop. The trouble is that cats don’t seem to last too long around their place. A couple cats have met their demise in the middle of the road.

One kitten was snatched up by an owl as the family ate a picnic lunch in the backyard. Still another one was absconded by an old lady in a Cadillac who stopped in front of the house and picked up the kitten as two little girls watched from the kitchen window.

Cosmo, the big gray tomcat, has been around for a while, though. He’ll disappear for a couple of weeks, doing whatever it is tomcats do, but he always returns, looking like a roughed-up San Diego sailor after a two-week binge.

Cosmo’s latest adventure lasted a bit longer than usual. The girls had about given up on his return. After about a month, he showed up on the back porch. He was fat and slick. It looked like he’d fared pretty well.

When Cosmo hung around for several weeks without leaving, my sister began to wonder where he’d found his common sense. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that Cosmo found his brains and gained an education when he lost something else.

It turns out that he had been neutered on his last adventure. Now he’s much more apt to stay home and mind his own business. Like I said, education is the key.  end mark

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