Saturday, August 1, 2009


After reading the killer cattle post and seeing that I still dream of cows, the Younger Daughter called to ask if I was serious about getting cattle after I retire.

Well, to be honest, no. I love Ayrshires -- they're a very elegant cow, as dairy cattle go, and they are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy watch list, but when I'm being realistic I know there's no way I want to be interacting with them on a daily basis. We hobby farmed in the '70s. I've known the joys of being cow-kicked while sitting on a milking stool, getting slapped in the face with a urine soaked tail, and having a case of contact dermatitis that had my hands itching for months on end. One of life's little ironies is that much as I love cows, I'm allergic to them. Besides, as the MMWR article made clear, a full-grown cow can kill a person without even meaning to. A mature Ayrshire can weigh 1100 pounds. All she has to do is sidestep unexpectedly, shove you up against a barn wall, and you've got cracked ribs or worse.

I would, however, like to treat the farm, the retirement bunker in Michigan's upper peninsula, as an actual farm. I like the idea of having some chickens wandering around, maybe some geese, and perhaps a few goats. And whatever we get, I'll try to pick it from the endangered livestock breeds lists, which is what a person who hobby farms should be doing anyway. The heritage breeds can tolerate the unpredictable conditions of a hobby farm where the breeds used for modern industrialized agriculture cannot.

When most people think of endangered species, they don't think of Pineywood cattle or Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs, but, thanks to industrialized agriculture, quite a few livestock breeds have either gone extinct or are close to it. Most dairy operations are 100% Holstein (the classic black-and-white cows in the Chik-Fil-A ads; which is another irony, using dairy cattle instead of beef to encourage people to eat chicken). Many of the other dairy breeds -- Ayrshires, Guernseys, brown Swiss, milking shorthorns, even Jerseys (Elsie the Borden cow is a Jersey) -- are harder and harder to find.

Same thing is happening with poultry -- Tyson and the other industrialized operations have bred varieties of chickens and turkeys that could not possibly survive on a traditional "family" farm. The emphasis on breast development in turkeys has meant that for many years the birds sold by Jenny O and the other big companies have had to be artificially inseminated -- the birds lost the ability to reproduce without help several decades ago. Ditto chickens -- breeding for lots of breast meat results in birds that can't mate naturally.

So I'll get a few chickens, some white Chinese geese (tempting though it is to get the gray Africans instead -- the Africans we had back in the '70s were the only "watchdogs" we've ever had that prevented Jehovah's Witnesses from getting out of their cars), and some goats to serve as brush cutters. Life will be good, albeit regretfully cow-free.

No comments:

Post a Comment

My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.