We've had the land now for almost two years and the animals for one and a half. That equals something like 25 round bales, 30 bags of range cubes, 10 salt and mineral blocks, and countless hours worrying. Day to day I forget why we purchased the animals. I forget about ag exemptions and all the rules that go along with them. I forget that they are cattle; not pets. I forget on purpose.
Tonight Jeremy brought up the inevitable discussion that I had forgotten was coming. Or, rather, I hoped he would forget. We talked about selling Rooney for beef. Maybe you're already familiar with the ins and outs of livestock; those that are worth a lot for many reasons, and those that are worth a little for only one. The steers are worth a little for meat and only meat. They were castrated at a young age and cannot be used for breeding. They were born and bred for food.
And yes I knew this jumping in. Intellectually, I understood where steers fit into the food chain. Emotionally, I was hooked as soon as they had names and let me scratch their ears. Naming livestock is a tricky business. Our new country friends advised that the only names a steer should have are of your favorite cut. For example: Dwayne's little steer is Porterhouse and Keith's is T-bone. This was among the stupidest concepts suggested for breaking the natural inclination to love the animal. Now I understand that it defines them as food from the beginning. Pet them all you want - they still have but one purpose.
For many, this is an incredibly sensitive subject, especially the notion that a castrated animal serves only the purpose of food. I wholeheartedly understand this sentiment, and I used to agree. But also like many I choose to eat meat, and because I love animals, I want my food dollars to support humanely raised, healthy meat. Food contributions we make with our beef, albeit small, keeps one other family's food dollars out of feed lots. I can support that.
Rooney has, by all accounts, lived one hell of a lovely life. He has had all of the sweet grass, fresh hay, clean water, and space to roam that a tiny cow could want. And after spending time with cows I am certain that this is all they want. I am on the fence about the whole thing, but the fence is leaning, and I know what we must do. It's one thing to quote The Omnivore's Dilemma from my soap box but it's a rare chance to, well, put my money where my mouth is. As a practicing omnivore, this is my personal opportunity to get behind what I support and encourage friends and family to spend their food dollars on local, healthy beef from an animal raised with care and appreciation. Maybe not such a dilemma after all.
(I'm sorry if this was offensive. It's not a decision we take lightly, and it's not a decision that's been made.)