“By the time you read this, they will be dead”.
Or at least, they should have been. Except that it turns out I am not a hardened woman-of-the-land after all.
I am referring, of course, to my cows. Actually, they’re not cows – they’re bullocks (note the use of the present tense). A bullock, for those not in the know, may look like a cow except that a cow is female and has had a calf, whilst a bullock is male. He would have been a bull except that his balls were cut off. Before bullocks, they’re steers, before that – yearlings, before that – weaners, before that – calves. Herewith ends the lesson.
So back to the topic. Ever since making the decision to sell them, I had opted to send them to the local abattoir instead of to the market. Why take this all-so-final option? Well – bizarrely – ethically it seemed the right thing to do. I didn’t want to have them ending up in some grain-fed muddy feedlot out west somewhere after having known nothing but green pastures (mine, and a neighbours… well, actually a few neighbours but they shouldn’t have known those ones), ending their lives in squashed misery. In terminating their lives at the local abattoir, I reasoned, I could feel satisfied knowing they had had a good life and their ecological footprint wasn’t too damning from excessive travelling and consumption. As a meat eater (I further convinced myself), I needed to feel comfortable about their cycle of life, and do what I could to ensure that while they are here they are happy, to justify the fact that in the end they will be eaten.
I even tossed up accompanying them to the abattoir, to ensure I was doing the right thing (this came after hearing about Patrice Newell, a high profile tree-change farmer, who apparently watched her cattle be slaughtered at her local abattoir to ensure they met a humane end). I soon abandoned this idea, as I suspected it would be the end of me and cattle.
Because life, as it turns out, is not that simple. I have had these bullocks for 3 years, since they were out of nappies. There are 10 of them, and some – eek – have names, albeit not very imaginative ones – the brown one was ‘Brownie’, the one who chased me was ‘#8515’ as per his ear tag, etc… Yes, we all became attached – try being licked by a cow bullock (think ‘wet and sticky sandpaper’). At one point I thought I might even keep Brownie and the calming influence of ‘#824’ forever. But then they grew, and grew… and I became more fearful. I started patting them over the fence, instead of going up amongst them; I threw them their hay, instead of hand feeding it to them.
And then one of them chased one person too many – my mother in law (I suspect #8515, but can’t be sure as his ear tag had fallen out by then). It was time for them to go. I began training them to go into the yards, to ensure a smooth transition from paddock to truck. But thankfully I didn’t do it well enough, because by the time the truck turned up, 3 had guessed what was coming, and it was all over. They were off – in the opposite direction. They had just saved their lives. Hooray! Run faster!
To seal the deal, Steve and Webby, the two seasoned cattlemen in charge of the truck, gave a convincing argument for sending them to the sale yards instead. Never have I felt more like a city chick, than when I went through my concerns… ‘Nah – they won’t go to a feedlot! They’re too old!’; and ‘its a waste to send them to the abattoir! They look good, but there’s not enough fat on them!’; and finally, ‘You’ll probably get $1000 or more for them at the sale-yards!’.
So like a well cooked steak, several reasons not to carry out my plan were handed to me on a plate. I needed no more prompting. Dougall and I almost danced for joy. Our relief at not being the hand to send them to their death was immense. Do not underestimate the burden that we had been carrying for several weeks, causing nausea and stomach knots.
3 weeks later we tried again – loaded onto the back of a truck but this time off to the sales. As I called out ‘C’mon cows! C’mon Cows!’ across the paddock to entice them into the yards, I couldn’t help but feel I had done the right thing. They were racing towards me – OK – they were racing towards the hay they knew was behind me, but this time my guileless treachery wasn’t leading them to their death.
After much thought, I did decide to go to the sale yards. I needed the closure, to find out if I’d done the right thing. So what happened? Did the abattoir buy them there instead? Happily, no. Six of them ended up in paddocks a 5 minute drive from here, and the other four (including Brownie) went off with a gentle looking farmer 20 minute north.
As for earning more for them at the sale yards – I’m not sure about that. I got less than I expected, but apparently “I did good”. And with the peace of mind that I now have when I think of them grazing away somewhere else, I’ve definitely happy with that.