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The Crowded Acre: The End of an Era

By Jennifer Welch

Typically, when something ends or come to a close, something new takes its place. Usually that thing has some similarities to the thing it is replacing. And most often, the change can feel seamless, as if you’d never actually experienced a change at all. But that is not the case here. Today we are making a change that has no comparable replacement to follow it—no replacement that could follow it. It is the end of an era.

Selling an entire herd of cattle sounds like a huge undertaking—and that’s because it is. Yuge undertaking. We had already planned on thinning the herd due to its growing numbers, but we hadn’t planned on going into the winter with zero cattle. Zero. That’s an ominous number. Especially at a time when our food supply seems to be teetering on the edge of disaster, as does the rest of the world if I’m being honest. Yet here we are, posting cattle on Craigslist instead of looking for several grand worth of hay bales and I don’t like it one bit. In fact, I hate it.

The truth is that I don’t have a choice. The lease on our grazing pasture is up and the landowner wants his own cattle—which is smart on his part— and we can’t find another lease that is suitable. We have the option of dry-lotting on our property but that is cost prohibitive and doesn’t make a lot of sense anyhow. At that point it doesn’t make sense to have any size of a cow/calf operation. The only real solution is to buy dairy calves to raise as steers and find a small pasture for them to graze during the warm months, then bring them home to hay in the winter. But it’s not the same as what we have now. Not even close.

I remember each cow, each calf, and especially the bull when they were born. Each one a learning moment. Each one a miracle to behold. In just under a decade we grew our herd to a respectable size for such a small investment, though still tiny compared to the larger ranches in our area. I remember fretting over calving until I learned to trust the cows to do their work. I remember bottle babies on the living room floor in front of the fireplace. I remember my dairy cows always having bull calves. I remember what it felt like when we butchered our first steer two years after I watched his mother give birth to him by the creek bed. I remember the bull, always, he will remain my favorite. I remember that I knew nothing when I started. I like to think I know something now, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that something is.

We haven’t sold them yet. We have been doing all of the leg work required to list them and show them before we can send them to their new homes. It seems that we are close to selling several head this week and likely to sell several head the next, until they are all gone. It makes me sad to think of watching them get hauled away. But it also makes me happy to know that they don’t give a shit about any of my concerns or feelings. They are just cattle and I was just a means to their food. But it feels hard that there will be no replacement, no thing that can ever compare to what we are giving up. No herd to check on. No calving to attend. No hay to feed out in the winter. No bull. I’m really going to miss that bull. It truly is the end of an era.

Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and she would like to sell you a cow, if you’re into that sort of thing …