**A guest post today from Farmer Joe, our resident cattleman.
I have been a lot of things in my life. Professionally, I’ve been a teacher, a teacher “coach”, and an educational consultant for Ag Ed programs throughout the U.S. I’ve been a grain farmer, and had a short stint helping out a crop insurance agent for a year. I was even offered a job to work for a U.S. congressman for about 20 minutes. At home, I’m a dad, a husband, brother and son. But the one thing I have been for the longest amount of time? I’m a cattleman. 30 years ago this coming November, my Dad and I went to pick out my first two purebred heifers for my 4-H projects. I was hooked on cattle, and the amount of responsibility that my Dad bestowed on me at a young age taught me lessons that I’ll use no matter what industry I work in. I had my own herd within our cattle operation, and between the cattle and working for Dad and Grandpa on the hog operation, I generated my own income through my teenage years that I used to pay for things that I wanted and needed- like a car, gas, and a college education. I was careful with my money because I knew how much work it was to earn it. And I didn’t want to ask anyone to give me money that I didn’t earn. Too bad more people didn’t grow up with a lesson like this…..
After college, since I was away from the farm, I had sold off most of my cattle. I remained interested in the cattle business and always hoped to be back in it as soon as the opportunity presented itself. On the day before my wedding in 2003, my dad arrived at my house and presented me with a nice card and a used, but reconditioned fence post-hole digger- The manual kind where you dig a post hole by hand. One of the handles had been replaced and Dad had sharpened the tips, and had given the metal a fresh coat of red paint. Someday I will devote the appropriate amount of time to the significance of this particular gift, but for today’s purposes, the contents of the card are more relevant. As our wedding present, Mom and Dad wrote in the card “Welcome back to the Cattle Business- take your pick of the cows.” Needless to say, I was touched and very pleased. Of all the things I’d done, I wanted to get back to our family’s farm and raise cattle alongside my dad the most.
The cow that I picked was a 4 year old that we called “Old Red” (not to be confused with the heifer referred to as “Psycho Red” who, for obvious reasons, is no longer at the farm…..). While it did not work out for us to relocate back to my home farm, I was able to find a pasture to use when we moved to Farmington six years ago. “Red” was the lone survivor of the tragic Memorial Day lightning strike that eliminated the rest of my small herd, only two weeks after moving them here. Time to start over.
Later that year, I partnered with my current landlord on a grain and livestock farm, and have since built a cowherd of about 135 cows, of which 12 are my own purebred cows. All of them were bought, or born into the herd except one: “Old Red”. She was a gift. She was passed from my home farm to where I am now. She’s a legacy of the experience of what I learned working alongside my dad, grandpa and brother, and as an 8 year old 4-H kid, and from the place where I learned how to do whatever it takes to insure the health and comfort of my animals. Where I learned what it means to be a stockman. She’s a symbol of the generations of Webels who have made the livestock industry their livelihood.
“Old Red” is the quintessential “Boss Cow”- she’s in the lead anytime the cows come in for feed. She’ll push away any younger cows in her way at the bunk. And she’ll always walk right up to me in the pasture, put her head down, and expect to be scratched behind the ears. She has raised several nice bulls that we’ve sold, but I haven’t kept any of her heifers for my herd. “Red” isn’t the best cow I own- in fact, she’s not as good as the other purebred cows that I’ve went out and bought over the years, but she’s probably the most meaningful and symbolic cow that I own.
Sadly, 2012 is a year of decisions. The drought has burned up the pastures, and I’ve been feeding my winter feed supply since the 2nd week of July. I have more cows in my purebred pasture than I can feed for the winter, and I have some good replacement heifers to add to the purebred group for next year as well.
Unfortunately, the time has come to sell “Old Red”. I don’t really want to- I think I could get her through a couple more years, but there just isn’t enough feed for all of the cows. So next Tuesday, I’ll load her up for her last trailer ride on our farm and haul her to Fairview to the sale. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more sad to sell an animal in my entire life.
Red’s last calf on this farm is a nice little heifer. She’s not quite as good as the other heifer calves in the purebred pen, but she’s acceptable. I think that just for the symbolism, I’ll keep this little heifer, and give her to the kids. Maybe she’ll mean as much to them someday as Ol Red has meant to me…..