Then of course, there were the occasions that someone else would be permitted to cast a ballot on the referendum of my life. Those days were steely, and made me a calm player under intense pressure. The enemy had as much of a right and desire to inflict suffering upon us as we might have them. It was always a give-take, with lives of Marines in the balance. I distinctly remember seeing a young man, not to far off in my age group, on the opposite side one day. He looked like I might have. Tired, scared, doing his duty, and perhaps just wanting to be sure to go home that night. For a split second, that seemed more like a hour of detail (that is how I kept calm in combat) I thought about every detail of his life - what he did for fun, how many children he might have, what his home life was like.
It occurred to me that he was like me. He wanted to live. He wanted to be home. He missed his family.
And, perhaps, his only chance at that might be if he shot me out of the sky. It was a fair game - an honorable fight as it should have been. He had his chance - I had mine.
I am often asked "Doug, why Cows?" What makes a guy leave military service and want to work with Cows? Why aren't you still a pilot? Why not choose a more exiting "second career"?
I'll tell you why... sheer terror - I've had enough. Period.
The resting heart rate of a Cow is between 48 and 84 beats per minute. For a human, that is practically comatose. They are very calm creatures and after years of stark madness - they seem like my kinda folks. To put it bluntly, its a crowd I fit into quite well.
We try not to excite them, as research tell us that it takes up to 72 hours for their heart rate to return to normal after even a small startling. They are a creature of prey, so they can be very acute to your movements. They see us coming from miles away. I can always tell, because when I arrive, they continue, calmly grazing, whilst turning one, single ear towards my position. They never even look at me, they just track me like a radar with a single ear. As I move abeam their position, the single ear does too and follows me with deadly precision. We always approach our cattle with the smoothest calm and careful methods possible.
Most of these techniques can be attributed to the innovative work by Dr. Temple Grandin, PHD. She, an autistic lady wrote a number of innovative and insightful books on animals - who, obviously, do not speak. Their entire world is comprised of pictures and/or sound. Her insight as a successful person with autism shed enormous light on our system of handling animals. She is perhaps one of the most influential people in the cattle industry - for those willing to learn.
And that is the key.
Let me repeat that line - "Those willing to learn"
One, if not, the biggest challenges I face on a day-to-day basis is the absolute stubbornness present in the cattle and industrial Ranching and Farming world.
"Well listen here Sonny, we've been doing this, this way for longer than you've been a cattleman" or, "My great-granddad Ranched this way, and I was taught by him"
Has it occurred to anyone that he might have been doing it wrong all this time?
Look, I am not after great-grandpa, or in anyway desirous of tarnishing his legacy, but lets be honest here, our farming and ranching systems are broken - period. Its time for us as producers to embrace change, humble ourselves and lead from the front - irrespective of our Ranching buddies who might look down upon us or snicker in the background about "those hippie Rancher lunatics, that do things all new age like"
Movement, Manure and Aeration
We focus on movement - because that is what nature does. Cows, unhindered by man would group tightly, move daily and would act in a beautiful symbiosis with their perennial grass counterparts. The soil below them would be a dancing celebration of nematodes, bacteria and fungi - all functioning together. Manure would be deposited, not concentrated and issued from the animal at a rate coincidental to the correct metabolic breakdown rate of the soil supporting the beast above it. Aeration from hoof action would promote light disturbance, but not over-oxidation of the soil (as in tillage by a machine), creating capillary action for water to infiltrate to root zones.
All because of the proper movement of the animal.
Where you are sitting today, reading this, in a tidy southern California town surrounded by
21.1 million other people, roads, fences and precision laid lot-lot lines of 1/4 acre; 500 years ago was a vast grassland with no barriers to movement. Great rolling hills and space stretched as far as the eye could see (read "Two Years before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana, for a great description of California in the 1830's)
70 Million Buffalo
The great western herds would have moved freely and with purpose as the predator packs worked feverishly to keep the herd thinned of stragglers.
That is all that our electric fences do - they mimic the ancient action of the predators. Because we can tear them down, roll them up and restring them out to then next lush pasture in a matter of an hour or two, they act to keep the herd on the move. Those Cows, on the move, are never allowed to commit the unpardonable, in plant husbandry - the "sin of the second bite" - which hinders plant growth by removing, too rapidly, the photosynthetic capability of the plant before it can recover.
Its a bit like being an outcast from all.
Sometimes I wish I was neither - but then I see the calling.
It can be easy to see only the enemy at the gates. I understand completely the current culture war on meat - both in ignorance and apathy. I don't surmise that those are our constituency. They, of the crowd that care, are ours. Our team. Our tribe. Our co-laborers.
They are the ones I think of most. The concerned Mom, the cancer survivor, the athlete, the true environmentalist.
When I see the Hollywood elite, foolishly proclaim that veganism is the way to save the planet - I don't get angry. I have pity.
Perhaps they want to go home too... maybe they miss their family in this culture war, and maybe they feel that their only hope is to shoot me from the sky.
I guess its a fair fight.