Today I spent some time listening to other homesteaders as they talked about what a life changing venture it all is. There were people in their twenties, fresh out of school, just starting their own little farms, lamenting that even after several years of progress they were still not recognized or respected within their extended families or communities as the farmers they were. I also smiled as some people in their fifties and sixties recalled how getting into homesteading at such a late stage in life has left their golden years joyous and fulfilled. They all wondered why they hadn’t gone into it sooner. Agriculture is a tough business and many do fail but those of us that thrive love it to the very core of our being. My own journey started in childhood with my father, my brother, and several cows.
My father didn’t live with us but he was still in our lives. He lived on a large swath of land out in the woods, a single neighbor within very distant eyesight, which was “too close.” He was a rather mysterious individual to me in those early years. He’d show up wearing an old fedora, a flannel shirt, and an Amish beard. He wasn’t Amish, although at times it was hard to say he wasn’t with no TV in the living room and no mirrors in the bathroom. He believed his children should have a strong work ethic so when my brother was old enough he bought a male dairy calf for him to raise for meat.
Dairy cows are bred to be lean, bony creatures, completely devoted to the production of milk. This makes their male offspring terribly useless so they are frequently sold for very cheap, being too grisly for even veal. There were several cows over the years but Mooove-On was the one who would always be remembered. He wasn’t very bright, even for a cow, and one day when no one was around, he got his horn stuck in the fence. Rather than wait for rescue he ripped it clear off his head leaving the calcified mass just sitting there in the wire like some sort of macabre ornament. This was the only reason I knew anything about him because his horn was left as a bloody memento sitting in my brother’s room for years after the cow had been turned into ground beef.
There was a time I got very bored going over to my father’s and I stopped going all together. He had no idea what to do with a little girl and my brother was seven years older than myself and not keen on watching me as I ambled along. I don’t remember much from those days except the burgers – so fresh my father felt cooking them was a sin. He fed them to me just barely warmed, still bleeding, as I stabbed it with a fork. I wasn’t quite young enough to believe that was ketchup spewing out. This is probably the same day I swore off beef. By the time I regained an interest in visiting I was well into my teens…
I remember the day pretty vividly because when I first sat down all the talk around the table was about one of the horses living here. It was recovering from surgery which was to remove some sort of impacted mass out of its gut. This isn’t all that unusual but the fact the strange artifact was still sitting in the fridge was. There it was, a big, rock solid, heavy green ball, the size of a cantaloupe. It was a sight to be seen, mysterious, strange… cold. And there beside it in the freezer was dinner, aptly labelled “Holly.”
“Who is Holly?” I wondered, thinking of my dental hygienist. The cow. The cow this burger came from was named Holly. Her name was marked on the package of meat to denote how old it was – not a date, mind you, but a name, and not just any name, but a very human name. This was all starting to feel a bit too much like a German fairy tale. I don’t remember if I ate Holly or not but the event stuck in my mind for over half a lifetime now and I still recount it with delight, teasing new listeners, that this was the day I became a vegetarian. This is in jest, as I am not a vegetarian, though I still don’t eat beef and maybe this is why…
So perhaps next time, should you be in a position to raise your own meat, you can have the good sense to name it Dinner, or Burger, or Rumproast, but not Holly.