I am often described as an intense person. Part of it stems from my natural personality, but a portion of it also comes from my life experiences. I spent my formative years as a serious competitive athlete — trading Prom for national swimming championships and learning from a young age that success comes to those who work the hardest. Although I retired from competitive swimming before I started my life on the farm, many of the chores that I do at the feed yard often inspire that same intense Anne.
Our retired feed yard manager taught me how to herd, sort, and cowboy. While it took a while to desensitize myself to the LARGENESS of the animals, the bovine mind intrigued me enough to take me past that initial fear.
Working with prey animals requires an intense concentration. Getting distracted not only erodes your effectiveness as the herd leader, but it can also be very dangerous. Not too long after I started working at the feed yard, I began participating on the ship out crew. This provided one of my greatest moments of truth.
The amount of power that a herd of 1500# animals exudes is nothing short of awesome. A savvy and seasoned cowboy works effectively to ensure that all that powerful animal energy moves harmoniously in the correct direction. Moving those giant animals through the corral for the last time always offers me a moment of humility.
My foreman and I greeted last Friday morning early to ship cattle to Tyson. Although the sky was clear, the crescent moon provided little light as we moved through the darkness to herd the animals from the home pen down to the corral. The 18 degree temperature provided for both a cool experience and poor visibility with steam rising off the animals as well as from our own breaths. The ground was frozen unevenly due to a recent rain storm and the cold temperatures.
I felt both intensely human as well as intensely vulnerable as the animals moved through the corral and up onto the semi-truck. Each time that we ship cattle, I accept the personal risk that exists when working with animals almost 15X your size. I can control my own actions and use my skills to create positive herd movement. However, there are no guarantees. In a purely physical match, I would lose every time. This creates a moment of truth.
We ship our cattle without the use of any large equipment: simply a cowboy on foot or on horseback. The art of moving the large animals safely from the home pen up into the semi-truck lies in the hands of a small cowboy crew. Success requires a blend of intuition and skill, and putting the big ones on the bus provides the most challenging task performed at the feed yard.
In just over two months, I will ship my last pen of cattle to slaughter. Even though I close that chapter of my life, I will forever carry with me a deep appreciation for all of the cowboys that continue to perform this task on farms all across the Midwest.
The blend of vulnerability and intense strength in the action creates a memory that lasts a lifetime.