Here I am; pasture empty, pants dotted with cow manure and a hoof imprint on my calf, standing in an empty pen wondering about my life’s effort as a grass farmer nourishing the land and people. My work seems to be under attack from contributing to climate change to animal welfare issues. It’s an emotional time pondering whether there is a genuine appreciation for the hours of work caring for animals that will someday provide organic milk or grass-fed beef to families.
Loading out is an agricultural term used to describe moving whole sets of animals to another location or to a processing facility. For over 30 years working as a custom grazier, I have nurtured countless generations of cows on pristine pastures giving them the best life possible while also making personal sacrifices for them. I’ve also worked with many families to provide a service in which they can prosper too.
For me, there is symbolism in load-out day that gives me pause to look at the bigger picture of life as the truck rolls out of site. How will my holistic work be perceived? How many more load-outs do I have left? What will be my legacy? I wonder how Mother Nature will perceive my stewardship; for someday I will be loaded out, returned to the earth and put to rest in green pastures.
I wanna know it matters. I gotta believe it matters what I do and that my community cares what myself and farmers do 24/7. I/we owe these animals a tremendous amount of respect and sheer gratitude for turning sunshine, soil, water and grass into milk and meat to feed hungry microbes and a planet.
This year’s load-out seems especially poignant as I am the “walking wounded” and continue to be haunted by my brother’s untimely death even though it was 2 years ago. On these types of days, I contemplate the future. Should I just quit or should I persevere? I dislike the vulnerability of being weak but I’m at a low point. Then I think of my brother who never quit, I think of my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, wife, children and grandchildren who all grew up in the farming life and I think how much I’ve done to improve our sacred land.
As I dismantle the portable catch pen once again, it reminds me of resilience with the ability to recover, change and keep moving forward despite the physical and emotional obstacles. I still believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds.