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To those who feed the herd at Christmas

Heather Smith Thomas for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 November 2018
Feeding cattle on Christmas

Christmas is a special time because this is when we pause in our daily busyness to remember God’s greatest gift to us – in the birth of his Son, who showed us that we are all children of God and that we are loved by our Father.

We celebrate God’s gift by giving gifts to friends and loved ones. The Christmas season is also filled with many activities like singing carols, attending Christmas parties, church services, Christmas Eve services, doing charitable acts and acknowledging or participating in many outreach programs that help others less fortunate than we are.

Christmas has become very commercialized, like many other holidays and special events, but the “reason for the season” can always be found.

The hard part for most of us is finding time to do all the Christmas things we want to do – such as sending cards and letters to friends we haven’t been in touch with for a while, finding the perfect gifts for the special people in our lives, attending or helping with all the Christmas programs that people want us to attend or help with.

As ranchers, it’s even harder to find the time to be involved in so many Christmas projects, activities and programs.

Ranch life is always busy and we have a responsibility to the animals we care for. Often by Christmastime, we are feeding hay to the cattle and maybe taking care of some weaned calves.

The livestock’s needs often have to come ahead of ours, and sometimes we can’t make or predict our own schedules. This commitment to our livestock is a sacred trust that we try to honor as faithful stewards of God’s creatures. We chose to own them, and He entrusted them to our care, and it’s a responsibility we take seriously.

I have always appreciated a poem that my father, Don Ian Smith, wrote many years ago, titled “Ranch Christmas”:

Tomorrow will be Christmas day
And here I am out forking hay.
Cows must be fed on Christmas Eve;
A holy day brings no reprieve
To one who feeds and cares for stock –
A herd of cows or hungry flock.

My cows depend on me each day
To give them care and bring them hay.
And when I’m out here feeding stock
It gives me time to think a lot.

Tonight, with wife and kids, I’ll go
To church and with the folks we know
We’ll sing, and hear with friends in town
The way the Good Lord’s Son came down,
To share with us the things of earth
And be as common as his birth.

I’m glad to hear the scriptures say
Our Lord’s first bed was meadow hay.
And when he woke I reckon how
He smiled to see a friendly cow,
And meet the men who had to keep
A constant watch on flocks of sheep.

It brings Christ close on Christmas morn
To know the way that he was born,
The Son of God who came to be
With country people just like me.

—Don Ian Smith

I’ve always liked that poem because it puts so many things into proper perspective – the fact that God chose to send His Son to earth in a way that common folks could relate to Him and understand His message, and that shepherds were among the first to welcome the Holy Child.

It also touches on the fact that as caretakers of livestock, we have a God-given job to care for these animals to the best of our ability with no days off, no excuses. We honor God by being good stewards of these creatures He has put into our care.

So as Christmas day approaches, we don’t neglect our “critters” even when we are busy with all the plans, projects, festivities and worship services.

We rejoice in God’s wonderful gift to us and the love that came down to earth at Christmas, and honor that gift by our devotion to family, loved ones, neighbors and God’s own creatures that we are privileged to care for. We are expected to take good care of them, just as our Father takes care of us.  end mark

PHOTO: Members of the Thomas family start spreading hay to cows at the Sky Range Ranch in Salmon, Idaho. Photo by Heather Thomas.

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

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