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Show animals have their place -- and it's not as petsPosted Tuesday, July 14, 2009, at 3:29 PM
"The purpose of life is a life of purpose."
-- Robert Byrne
It's fair time! The Saline County Fair is going on today, July 13-18. If you've never been, well, you won't start any younger, so I hope you come out to see the wonderful exhibits, livestock or evening events.
For my family, fair time means packing the livestock trailer, clipping calves and making sure we get to the fair with all the right "stuff."
For me, it means soon I'll have to say goodbye to two more 1,000-pound "pets."
Many times I've heard people ask children who show animals at fairs, how they can sell them -- especially knowing that they will end up as hamburger, pork chops or a chicken leg.
I used to wonder that, too.
People who grow up in agriculture learn about the "circle of life" early and seem to innately understand that livestock are raised ultimately for meat or milk.
But, like the millions who don't grow up on a farm, I'd always assumed that farm animals were like dogs, cats or the animated Disney animals on television. Like many of the majority not raised in agriculture, I thought, given a chance, they'd enjoy being fussed over by humans -- that they would want to be a pet.
But through the years on the farm -- and especially watching the show animals, I have learned that they seem to know they have a "higher calling," that they are but one cog in the circle of life.
Let me explain.
Our show calves are given a good life. They are fed as much as they will eat. They are taken in each day and kept under a roof, where they can lay or stand as they please. During the hot summer, after a cool "bath" each day, they spend the rest of their time under a fan. They are let outside in a pasture each evening after the sun has gone down, where they can eat grass or hay.
They take to the life quickly it seems. After being broke to lead, they'll soon be waiting by the gate each morning, awaiting their halter so they can again get out of the heat, get to their food and lay under their fans.
You would think they would never want to leave.
The first few years my son showed animals, I admit, I shed more than a few tears. As I watched his first steer, Whitey, leave in a trailer in August after the county sale, I wondered a lot about making an animal a "pet" and then selling him to be steak and hamburger on another's plate
I would explain to my young son and others who asked that the steers had a good life as our show calves. One could even consider it a pampered life.
Those thoughts, my son's look when money was deposited in his account and of course the fact that soon we'd have another steer, seemed to console both of us. After all it was the truth, but I still had a hard time, as a city girl, putting it all in perspective.
After a few years, my son showed "Miss Ferrari," his first heifer. I was secretly happy we wouldn't have to say goodbye to her in August at the annual sale. Instead she would be in our pasture -- as a cow -- for years to come, raising her babies.
I imagined she'd always let us come up to her in the pasture, rubbing her on her back or behind the ears. After all, she was extremely tame -- she was our "pet".
The only problem: She wasn't a "pet." She wasn't a dog and she wasn't a storybook or Disney animal.
She was a cow.
She knew it -- instinctively -- even if I didn't. After less than one day watching at the gate, she quickly took to pasture life. She would run if we got within a few feet of her and that was just days after being led in a ring at the Missouri State Fair.
It wasn't the reaction I had expected.
If I ever fed a stray dog and treated it to a dry, warm place in the winter or cool place in the summer, it would be my pet for life -- I'm certain of that.
Many other show heifers have followed and are still in our pasture with Miss Ferrari: Pink, M.J., Ginger, Sam and Betty. They are all the same. They look at us with a recognition not known by the other cows. There is even a trust there. But they don't want to be a pet; they want to be our cows. They want to live in the pasture, eat the grass and do their job -- the job I believe, and I think they know, God intended them to do.
Besides, when the cows go into the pasture, Flash, our border collie, will be happy. She hates it when we fuss over the show animals.
Apparently she knows the truth too.
See you at the fair.
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