let's visit · On The Ranch · Personal

Questions From Suburban Middle-Schoolers

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It’s National Ag Week! A lot of this week is sharing more about what we do, and answering questions (even more than usual) and really spotlighting agriculture in the US. I’ve been majorly under the weather for a couple of weeks, but I’m glad to say that I’m starting to feel a bit better and so I wanted to share something really fun I got to be a part of!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to Skype in with two classes of middle school students who are taught by my 7th grade science teacher. One class was even in the same classroom where I learned about science in 7th grade! They are learning about the environment and photosynthesis and genes, and my teacher asked if I would talk a little bit about cows and the environment, and it was SO fun.

For those of you who don’t know, I grew up smack in the middle of suburban Denver. I could see a mall from my bedroom window (specifically Sears at Park Meadows Mall, if you’re familiar with Colorado.) I didn’t really see many cows until I was 21–other than weekends on a family friend’s ranch when I was young–and have no family members involved in agriculture. Whenever I get a chance to share about ag with anyone, and especially kids in town, especially kids from my own hometown, I get really, really excited. It’s so fun, and such a great experience. I thought I’d share some of the questions I got, because they were fantastic.

What would happen if we got rid of all the cows?
It would be bad. Rangelands evolved alongside grazing animals, and so without (well-managed) grazing, they would become unhealthy. Well-managed rangelands are more productive, healthier, and sequester more carbon. We’d likely have something similar to a dust bowl if we were to get rid of cattle. Not to mention, we would have a hard time meeting micronutrient requirements and protecting our current rangeland/open space from development.

Would it be a good idea for everyone to get a couple of cows?
Honestly? Probably not. Cows take up a lot of room, require a lot to eat and drink, and most people don’t have enough room to support a cow or two. Plus, they are really big, so can get to be expensive to feed and take care of. And, like all animals, cattle can require specialized care. But, that’s not to say that if you want to get some cows that you can’t have any! If you have the room, and learn how to take care of them, then go get you some cows. The average herd size in the US is 40, after all, so there are lots of people with a few cows. If you don’t have room for cows, though, maybe backyard chickens? Chickens can help with food waste, are kind of silly, and can be a fun way to learn more about raising animals!

Do cows make forest fires worse?
Nope! Cattle can actually help mitigate wildfire risk by grazing in forests and helping get rid of some of the dry matter and litter on the ground that can be a major fire hazard. Much of the increase in forest fires, in my opinion, is due to mismanagement of forests. There are too many trees too close together, lots of deadfall, too much dry matter, too much to burn. Cattle can help get rid of some of that stuff that can burn, and at least help fires be less intense!

How do cows stay warm when it’s really cold?
First of all, most cows suited to cold climates grow big fuzzy coats in the winter, so that definitely helps! It’s like a winter coat. Otherwise, we feed them extra in the cold since cows keep warm by eating more, and if it’s snowy or wet, we lay down hay, straw, or other bedding to help provide a barrier between them and the cold, wet ground. If it’s calving season, if it’s possible sometimes we’ll try to bring cows in to the barn or pens before they calve to help keep them warmer and drier, and if a calf gets too cold we’ll warm it up by putting it in the pickup, or in the barn, or in the laundry room, or wherever until it’s warm enough to go back to its mom.

How long can cows live in the cold?
A long, long time. All winter! We used to live in a place where it was so snowy we had to feed hay from October-April, and it regularly got to sixty below in the winter. We never once lost a cow to cold, but we did feed a lot of hay, and checked cows constantly in calving season, because baby calves are at the highest risk to freeze.

Is methane like pollution?
Methane isn’t like pollution in the sense of smog or exhaust. But it is a form of pollution, for sure! Cows aren’t the only (or the biggest) source of methane, though. Oil & gas production, landfills, and wetlands are also sources of methane.

My family lives near a place with cows. Their pasture is very boggy, and the water doesn’t look very clean. Is this bad for the cows?
Probably not, as long as they aren’t constantly hanging out in standing water. If cows’ feet stay too wet too long, they can get infections (foot rot). And, most pasture water is not going to look very clean, because it’s probably muddy and kind of icky, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for the cows. Just because something doesn’t look clean doesn’t mean it’s dirty, you know?

My neighbors have some cows and some goats, but the cows ate all the grass so now the goats don’t have any to eat. What can they do?
(I’ll admit this question took me a bit by surprise, and I tried really, really hard to be tactful!) Well, the honest answer is to either a) get rid of some or all of the animals, or b) get more land. This is a pretty standard overgrazing situation: too many animals, not enough grass. So either you get rid of some animals or get more grass. You could lock them all in a pen and feed them hay, but that’s a short-term, expensive band-aid. Unfortunately, it can be really hard to regenerate overgrazed pastures, and why it’s not a good idea to just put a bunch of animals on some grass without knowing how many animals it can support and in what conditions. We saw a lot of this on the 40-acre ranchettes around where we lived in Colorado, especially with horses, and it frustrates me quite a bit.

How did you know you wanted to be a rancher instead of a lawyer? [I originally wanted to go to law school following undergrad–I even started studying for the LSAT!] 
I felt it in my heart. I just knew. It made me happier than studying law or my law internship (although that was so fun), and I am more suited to this lifestyle in most ways.

Can you take the GMOs out of milk?
Well, there aren’t GMO cows, and there is no GMO milk, so no, because there aren’t GMOs in the milk. If a dairy cow eats, say, some GMO alfalfa, those genes aren’t going to come out in the milk. She is going to metabolize that alfalfa just like she would any other foodstuff, and that energy is going to help her make milk. That being said, organic milk is milk from cows who were not fed any GMO feed, if that is something that concerns you. However (you knew this was coming), GMOs have been proven safe time and time again!

Are cows and horses similar?
Well, they both have four legs and eat grass, but that’s about it! Cows and horses are incredibly different, but play complementary roles on the ranch: horses help us work and move and care for our cattle more effectively, and the cow work helps keep the horses in shape and their minds sharp. Plus, it makes everything more fun!

let's visit · On The Ranch · Personal

Kindness in Beef Advocacy

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Do you ever have something you want to talk about, that stays on your heart and your brain for days, for weeks, maybe longer, but you never pull the trigger on hitting that “publish” button because you know that some people may not like what you have to say?

Today, I’m hitting publish (well, obviously, because you’re reading this). And, I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous!

Most of my advocacy happens in real life, or via interviews, or written articles, or on phone calls. I’m working on stepping up my game on social media because social media is just not where I shine, nor is it where I’m comfortable, but I know it’s a great way to help lots of people learn more about ag. Given recent happenings (and the current political climate, etc), I know that social media needs more kindness, and I want to be part of that.

I know that the majority of beef advocates truly want to help, want to answer questions honestly, truthfully, and kindly. Truly want to share, and invite in, and befriend, and just be stand-up people sharing their love and knowledge of what they do.

But there are others that enter this arena with a chip on their shoulder, with an idea that people are beholden to farmers and ranchers for feeding them, with a point to prove and not a kind word in their arsenal. That’s not advocacy. That’s being a bully. Yelling at people, calling them names, telling them they are ignorant for the questions they ask and the concerns they have about agriculture is not okay.

Listen, I know that people can be mean. I have been on the receiving end of some real doozies both in person and online, and once in front of a room full of hundreds of people. I get it. It chaps your butt, it gets your dander up, it makes you want to run for the hills or just get real mad. I’m not immune to wanting to hit someone on the head with a skillet. But, guess what: when people are being really, truly nasty, or you’re in a dead-end conversation, it’s okay to say “agree to disagree, thank you for commenting, have a nice day!” and stroll right on out of that conversation that is going nowhere. I’ve done that, too.

Most people aren’t that way. Most people are genuinely wanting to learn, wanting answers to their questions, and want to talk to someone who won’t treat them like they are dumb because they aren’t experts in the matters of cow digestion or GMOs. I grew up in town. I didn’t get involved with cattle until I was 21 years old. I’ve been the person who has no clue. I’m here on the ranch living this life and being a beef advocate because people helped, and spoke, and listened, and took the time to show me things and answer all my questions…and while I really believe there is no such thing as a dumb question, some of my questions got reeeeallllllll close. I’m here because people met me where I was, and never made me feel stupid. I guarantee it would have been a lot harder to keep going if folks had been unkind. Maybe I wouldn’t have. I don’t know.

Please be kind. Be a good experience. Be a helper, a connector, a light. Our message is heard so much better when it’s delivered kindly.

I also feel compelled to say this: be kind for yourself. I have seen some folks who do have a heart for ag, who have a platform, who are proud of what they do and are frustrated that writers, bloggers, politicians, and activists so often get our story (and the actual facts) wrong, but whose passion and knowledge is moot because of the way in which they deliver their message. It becomes overshadowed by the vitriol, and more’s the pity, because we need all the good help we can get.

Kindness doesn’t mean you’re selling your soul or being a doormat. It doesn’t mean you can’t stand your ground, or stand up for what’s right. It just means keeping your manners and integrity about you, and being tactful.

If you want to see how this works in real life, check out Terryn’s most recent post on FFB HERE and Brandi’s letter to Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez HERE.

Personal

I Went To Vancouver and My Movie Moment

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I wrote several “No, I didn’t quit blogging! Life is just crazy!” posts and not one of them was ever finished.

Life got crazy for a bit, but I’m so glad that it seems like it’s winding down back to normal. We’ve moved, I’m home from traveling, we’re mostly unpacked, we have food in the fridge…things are good.

So, I was in Vancouver last week for the Sustainable Brands conference and oh my heavens it was amazing. Not just because it was in Vancouver, but because it was a great conference full of people I never, ever would have been connected to. I have some big, major things to share about the actual content of the conference, but that’s a post that’s best not written on the fly so I’ll save it for later this week.

In the meantime, I’m going to tell you all about the fun parts of my trip, in list form, of course.

  1. Vancouver is amazing. I want to go back there with Bert and the boys so badly. The weather is cool, it’s not too humid, and it’s beautiful. I loved watching the seaplanes fly in and out, and I think it would be so fun to go on one!
  2. Candians are so nice. I don’t think it’s necessarily that their manners are so much better, but that they have a calm and ease about them that you don’t see in the States. Even when people are in a hurry, they’re not rushing, and they’re courteous and friendly.
  3. Eating at local restaurants is always a must. I love long, leisurely dinners (another quality that is often lost on us Americans), with plenty of food and conversation, and the group I was with in BC felt the same way, praise the Lord.
  4. That being said, I love a Starbucks. I love having something reliable and familiar, even if they do make fun of my gigantic Yeti tumbler.
  5. The weather. The weather, the weather, the weather. It was unseasonably cool when I was there and I loved every second of it. The locals told me, though, that even when it’s not unseasonably cool,, it never really gets hot or cold. Being by an ocean means it’s very moderate and now I’m trying to find a way to start a company and have an office in Vancouver so I can travel there regularly.
  6. French everywhere, even though most of French-speaking Canada is in the east. It made me feel like all of those years of French through college were worth it!
  7. In addition to being so kind, the Canadians are also very well turned-out. I didn’t see a lot of sweats, or messy hair, or disheveled-ness. Even when it was apparent that someone was being leisurely and comfortable, they still looked so put together and classy–much less athleisure than in the US. Like an outdoorsier French. Which, I suppose, is sort of what they are?
  8. It was such a treat to be able to tourist just a little bit while I was there. The last day, some of the other folks in my group and I went to explore this park that is actually basically a botanic garden. We had our heads on a swivel and our phones outstretched the entire time, and it was the perfect start to a long day of traveling. It did make the transition back to the dry, dusty desert that much more stark, though.
  9. So much diversity! Everywhere we went there were people of different ethnicities speaking different languages, and I loved it. That’s another reason I want to take the boys there–it will be good for them to see so many different kinds of people speaking so many languages in one place.
  10. It was so fun to wear “fancy” (read: business casual) clothes for a few days, but golly I need some comfier shoes. Heels are fun, but I’ll take boots any day of the week.
  11. I want to see so much more of BC, and Canada in general. I never really thought of Canada as a vacation destination (sorry aboot that, eh?) but now I want to go back to Vancouver, and spend time in Montreal and visit a ranch in Saskatchewan and go to Nova Scotia and on and on.

 

And I’ll leave you with this tidbit about the time when I had my very own movie moment.

On the way back, the first flight was delayed (nothing direct from Albuquerque to like, anywhere) and I had a tight connection in Denver so I was a little apprehensive at takeoff. Fast forward two and half hours and I’m sort of freaking out because it’s apparent that it’s going to be really tight but there’s no point in really worrying because you can’t make the plane fly faster, right? So we land, and I must have looked a little anxious (was it the immediate throwing-on and cinching down of my backpack? The nervous hand-wringing? The jitters that rivaled a four-year-old in need of a potty break? I wonder.) and the guy next to me was like, “You okay?” and I was like “Yep, totally fine, I just don’t want to miss my plane.” He asked when the plane left and I told him, and everyone around me was like “Oh God.”

You know where this is going, right? I totally missed that plane.

Nope. I totally didn’t miss that plane. What I did do was legit run through Denver International Airport, thanking my lucky stars that I wore tennis shoes, checked my suitcase, and that I know the airport’s layout really well (you have to train a freaking train between concourses), with my backpack bouncing like a kid in elementary school. I ran down moving walkways yelling “ON YOUR LEFT!” like some demented on-foot bicyclist and almost ran over an old man whose name was evidently Ralph since his a lady near him yelled at him for standing on the “walking” side of the moving walkway. I made it to my gate literally as they were closing the door, quite actually yelling “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! DON’T CLOSE THE DOOR! NOT YET NOT YET NOT YET!” and shoving my crumpled, damp (how? I ran for like, seven minutes) boarding pass at a very shocked attendant (hey lady, don’t pretend you haven’t seen this level of desperation of obvious lack of regular running before). Needless to say, they let me on the plane, at which point I took my sweaty, red-faced, hard-breathing self allllllll the way down the aisle to row 22, at which point the man in my seat audibly groaned because he’d already had his heart set on sitting in the aisle and having more room to stretch out with an empty seat next to him.

Not today, pal. Not today. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m a badass.

When you started this, I bet you didn’t think by “movie moment” that I meant the running-through-the-airport scene of Home Alone.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m a badass.