Sunday, August 24, 2008

To Be Born a Cow



Two blackbirds are walking down the road. I’ve watched them go from Katie’s house, all the way down to Pearl and Eldon’s. They are walking right down the middle of the road like they own the place. Not one car has come. I don’t get a lot of traffic on this road. Two birds couldn’t have walked far down the road in New Jersey without a car coming, not even on my little country lane.

Behind them, cows are crying. They are penned up in the back of Eldon’s barn, having just been weaned from their mothers. They didn’t cry all night long but this morning they started up. It just hit them. Their mothers are not coming back. Maybe they can hear their mothers calling them from the pasture down the road. It sounds like my metal garage door scraping on the asphalt driveway when you open it. I bet they are getting hungry. Eldon is not going to rush out there and give them some grain like a human would soothe a human baby with a bottle or a pacifier. He’ll feed them when it’s time. He takes good care of them. But still. They’re cows. When they go to the livestock sale, they might not eat all day. There will be long periods when no one will feed them. When they get loaded onto metal tractor trailers and taken across country to the slaughter house, crowded with other calves they don’t know, stepping on each other, peeing on each other, they won’t eat. The killer buyer is not going to pull over into some truck stop to feed and water all the crying cows. What’s the point? He is taking them to be slaughtered. I imagine we have laws about it, about how long a cow can go before he has to be fed and watered but I don’t know.

This is the part where if I was telling this story out loud to someone, they would make a joke about steak. They put on a good front. But the truth is, they are uncomfortable hearing my tale of peed-on sobbing baby cows but they won’t admit it for fear they’d have to stop eating meat if they showed any feelings.

The boy cows are the saddest. They get killed sooner. You can’t keep a bunch of bulls around. The girls, called heifers, are sometimes kept to have more babies. They will live for a few years. But not very long. I asked Pearl how long she keeps the girls and was surprised and disappointed that it was not very long. About as long as the life of a plastic lawn chair or a pair of Sunday shoes. But before that, they will cry for their own babies when they are taken away. I think, how unlucky, to be born a cow. How unfair. Just because you are a cow, you have to go through all this sadness.



In the old days, when I heard mooing, I would think, oh, how nice. Now I know what they are crying about. I hear screeching metal doors and terrible heartbreak when Eldon moves the cows around.

I feel like a traitor with these cows. I can’t complain. I am the reason they suffer like this. I eat them. I can hardly look them in the face anymore, I feel so guilty. I send Kelly over with bread, heels leftover in the plastic bags, stale hamburger buns. She feeds the mother cow who just had twins and is penned up right next to our garage. The mother cow has a tongue that is long and purple. It is the color of a Chow’s tongue. Real pretty. It hooks the bread and she pulls it into her mouth and licks her lips. The purple tongue touched Kelly’s hand. She said, “It’s soft Mama.”

I can’t think too much about the cows. I didn’t realize how sad it was.

The blackbirds fly up onto the top of Eldon’s split-rail fence and then they jump down into the field for something interesting in the grass. They don’t know how lucky they are, born a blackbird.

15 comments:

gingerhillery@mac.com said...

There are definitely different varieties of mooing, I have discovered. There is the gentle lowing of the cow, happy to see the herd, or happy to see me when it is time to head to the barn for milking. The obnoxious mooing of the year and a half old heifer who wants her mother with her NOW, not in a few minutes after milking, but right now, gosh darn it and hurry up. The worried moo of the steer or heifer who grazed off out of sight of the herd and wants to rejoin quickly, the whiny moo of our almost 9 month old steer who has 15 acres and friends to play with, but really wants his mom to lick him and feed him cream NOOOOOOW!

Of course we have a small, humane operation, nobody headed to feed lots. Pasture raised is a more pleasant version, but not many mamas or babies(even the big fat ones too old to be babies!) like to be separated. But boy am I happy for all the cream that we get to separate now that they are separated!!! Oh the life of the bovine.....

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

I thought about trying to find one of those small, family owned and operated farms to buy my meat. I think the bigger the operation is, the more cruel and the more unhealthy it gets. Down to factory farming.

Amy Hanek said...

Oh Debi - what fantastic writing! I loved it. You really painted a picture.

Jamie Ferraioli said...

So sad. The tacos I just made are suddenly not sitting well in my stomach.

I love this line: This is the part where if I was telling this story out loud to someone, they would make a joke about steak.

I totally agree. You hit the nail on the head with that one. I think people make jokes and claim ignorance to keep themselves from feeling bad.

Amy Tate said...

Ugh...Debi! That's horrible, I never thought about it before I read this!!!! I just enjoyed a Sunday lunch at Outback. I'm not sure I can look at a cow after reading this. Suddenly those cows at Chic-Fil-A make more sense.

Sloan said...

What a story, seeing the other side of it like that!! It really makes you think. And you painted such a picture!

Becky Mushko said...

Country living does have its downside. But at least the cows get to live outside for a few years, unlike the chickens and turkeys that are kept in cages all their short lives.

sweetflutterbys3 said...

I thought I didn't like meat that much before, but now ugh! I'm just going to feel too sad eating any beef. I think Amy Tate is right, let's go to Chick-Fil-A!

Giulia said...

Life on a farm. It's tough. For all concerned.

CountryDew said...

Farm life is not easy. Even on organic or family farms, the chickens are killed for meat, the pigs are slaughtered, the cows die. It's all part of the food chain.

Some nice evocative writing.

colleen said...

I feel sad for the cows too. I prefer hunted venison because they live a wild life, the shooting is over quick, and we are told we are helping keep down the number of deer that can't be sustained otherwise.

Pony Girl said...

Nicely written post. I don't really eat steak. I will eat it if someone in the family prepares it, and I like hamburgers....but I won't cook or prepare meat. I'm not a vegetarian, meat just kind of disgusts me. And thinking of where it came from....well, I can't even go there or I probably would be a vegetarian! ;)

Claudia Condiff said...

What a beautiful piece!!!!!
I love cows. I love their soft eyes, and their long lashes...While walking out the end of my dirt road, I stopped by the cows and I decided to sing to them. After a few seconds of curiosity, they all ran over the hill!!Must have been the wrong tune...
I also eat meat, and that is why I don't have beef critters, because I could not kill one, and I would have more pets to care for..I wonder how long they would live just hanging around, eating?
Guess I'm doomed to having critters as pets...I won't even let people hunt my acres!!!

Sky said...

oh, dear, i don't know how you can live next to this terribly painful scene or listen day after day to the cries and know what causes them. it would drive me insane - the noise, the knowledge, the energy that emanates from a death mill. thankfully i stopped eating beef in 1994. this post has made me feel sick inside, body and spirit. i am so sorry that you are exposed to this. :((

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. Sky, yes it is disturbing. I learned not everything is wonderful and peaceful in the country.

Ponygirl, I'm like you. I eat meat but it disgusts me. It can't have a drop of fat on it. I'd order pasta before a steak any day. So when I got the idea to become a vegetarian after learning about the cows, I thought it would be easy. Not. I always describe myself as "not a big meat-eater" but even for me, it was too hard. Someday I might try again.