Caring for Cattle

🕔Jan 31, 2011

My neighbour recently asked me to tend his cattle while he was away, and left a note with these basic instructions for me to follow:
“Cow herd needs to be fed 3 bales every 2-3 days. I try to have them clean up the previous feeding but try not to let them fast for more than 8 hours. Generally they are eating 8 or 9 bales every 7 days.”

As I did the chores as prescribed, I got to wondering how these simple words might be expressed by various writers we are familiar with.

In the Style of Rex Murphy.
Cattle. A hefty topic, full of bovine implications. Since the time-bound days of Joey Smallwood, fickle premier of what was then a sovereign state, bos bos forage consumption has been the topic of vast obfuscatory parliamentary perambulations through fens of faux-fauna discussions. Let me hasten to say that, like the now-defunct cod fishery, processing is key and for the hordes of bovines at Lemieux Creek, not to mention the thousands—nay millions—of methane-belching cattle across the prairies—that part of Canada that complained of alienation, but what do they know of alienation compared to a people who misapprehended the implications of their post-war decision. I repeat with redundancy a truism: cows need food. Put simply they need calendarly calculated cylindrical packages at the rate of one score minus six couples every time the sun makes its orbit two or three times. Cattle, being of a contemplative nature, are not averse to meditation, fasting, and rumination, but are not spiritually advanced to the point of foregoing sustenance much longer than one third of a sun’s circuit, or—as the pseudo-intellectual EU elite might have it— .33 of a jour. Cattle. Cod. Lemieux, like Miquelon, a French name may indicate the deeper transcendental relationship of mammal and pisces.

In the Style of Robert Frost.
Whose cattle these, I think I know
A haven there from rain or snow.
He will not mind me stopping here
While feeding cattle, moose, and deer.

My big black dog is puzzled now
A tractor—blue—and many cows?
He finds the corner, lifts a leg
The cows now bellow, calves will beg.

So bales I gather, two or three,
The cows, now fasting, rush to see.
They gather round the remnants left
On which they belch, and poop and pee.

The fields are lovely, white and clear
But I must hurry home with cheer
To Betsey, and to drink some beer;
To Betsey, and to drink some beer.

In the Style of Dylan Thomas
Lovely, long-lichen covered spruce sprays greet the dawn of Yates’ domain and I, I a peasant poor, with rag upon rumpled rag move forward down the curving drive, sensing rabbits running, grouse grumbling about the lack of buds, buds of birch and aspen, moose browsing—they not fussy, choosing fusty hay to feed their bumpy bodies which lurch like liners must seem to a small child. And bales of hay, green hay, sweet with silage smells, and sometimes tobacco, I gather them up, not like as in days of childhood, when sleds slid the food to hordes of hungry Welsh ponies, but with tractors, dragons in disguise, that bring the feed to fickle cows, who break their fast with belching, warm and sweet, and bellows of hunger. Twice or thrice I make the small journey, with magpies quarrelling, ravens talking ravenese, chickadees stuck in their intimate rut of sound, twice or thrice a week, entering the silent still world of the rural countryside in a haze of happiness. And then home, home in a trice, to wood-stove warmth, smooth words flowing from the paper and caressing my ear, my eye, my very self…all in the glow of a joy not found much anymore, anywhere.

In the Style of Ernest Hemingway
If you want to enjoy life, feed cows. Drive the car, the 1992 Cavalier. Hit the bump at the end of the driveway. The snow is dirty there. Dirty and stiff. The driveway winds, the spruces loom, then disappear. The banks of snow are low. Not much this year. Start the tractor. Turn the key. Wait. Start. Pick up the green bale. The white-plastic-covered bale. The bale from the hayshed. Feed the cows. Every two days or every three days. The cows, black, dun, smooth and curly will like the fast. You will like the job. It’s a pleasure not many enjoy.

In the Style of T.S. Eliot
Cows, cattle, in time
time of cattle, kine
black, black , no bright
dun, pale, winter’s gloom

Cows fast, no feasting
here, in time’s kingdom,
certain end comes
but for the time being
feed the few
bound-bales in
twos and threes
forcing fasts
for bovine doomed

Oh, for Zeus,
or Persephone
or even Io: a world
of Bosphorus and unseen
gods in the ordinary

Cows, cattle, in time
time short, days short
life left with
only glimmers
of glory