Cow Heads, Knee-Deep Manure, and Perspective – Life on the Farm

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The Thursday Think Tanks are semi-random thoughts that may not necessarily fall directly into the category of finances, but I still feel are worth sharing. Read at your own risk!

Starting Credit Card Debt (01.01.19): $126,310.77
Current Credit Card Debt: $109,570.87
Total Paid Off: $16,739.90
Income Going to Savings: 2%

Disclaimer: What you are about to read is 100% true. However it’s also 100% gross. If you have a weak constitution and get nauseated easily, turn back now. You have been warned.

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There was a time in my life where I was 100% content with knowing that I was going to inherit my father’s cattle farm, work it until it broke every ounce of spirit in me in my old age, and then pass it on to my children to continue the cycle.

At the age of 20 however I decided that the cattle business just wasn’t for me and so I moved to the Seattle area, eventually landed a job in videogames, and the rest is history. I’m thrilled with how my career has gone, but I also think I would have been very content if I was still working on that farm to this day. We’ll get to that later…

Farm life was not always fun, and the relentless nature of it at times was downright torture! Keep in mind that we had close to 3,000 head of cattle, and cows don’t take a break from eating. They require food 365 days a year, and that means no breaks for those humans in charge of feeding them, which mostly fell to me. From about 17 years of age on, I drove a large yellow front end loader and used it to scoop all sorts of ingredients into a giant auger truck that I then drove along the 2 mile stretch of stanchions as it slowly barfed out the mixture for the hungry cattle. It was highly monotonous and took a LONG time! My typical day started at 5:30am with morning feeding that took around 4 hours. I would then take a break from feeding to help with administering shots, branding, etc. and then would climb back into the feed truck for another two-three hours at the end of the day for the second feeding, usually wrapping up around 7:00pm.

It was hard work that was compounded by harsh central Washington state winters. Temperatures often dipped down into single digits, and we got lots and lots of snow. The snow wasn’t the problem though… the problem was what came after it was gone.

Each spring the snow would melt quickly, and turn the cow pens into soup-filled mud and manure pits. There were times that we had to wear hip-waders, because if we wore our traditional shin-high rubber boots, the soupy manure would run down in them and fill them right to the top. It was gross.

Spring was also the time in which we had the unfortunate job of finding the occasional deceased cow that had passed away during the winter and been covered in snow until the thaw. This was never a fun job, because while the cows were frozen for most of the winter, they thawed out just like everything else… and they had to be retrieved for proper disposal.

One particular spring morning my Dad wasn’t around as my Grandfather rolled up on an ATV and proclaimed, “Got a dead one in 14. I can see the top of it’s head sticking out of the sh*t.”

Oh how fun.

I grabbed a chain, and my grandfather fired about the gigantic front end loader. I climbed into the bucket, chain draped over shoulder, and we headed off for the retrieval.

Now first of all, picture a gigantic soup bowl filled with runny poop that comes up over your knees. Now picture a deceased cow’s head sticking out from this soup, with nothing else of the creature exposed. My job was to reach down through the soup, wrap the chain around as much of the animal as I could, and then give my grandfather the signal to lift the corpse up and out so that it could be removed from the pen.

I reached through and put the chain around the neck. I always felt horrible dealing with dead animals, which is I think part of the reason why I never became a hunter like so many of my friends and family have. I’m totally fine with others hunting, but I just wasn’t wired for it.

With the chain securely in place, I gave the “thumbs up” to my grandfather who began to raise the bucket and slowly lift the cow from the manure like some Rob Zombie’s nightmarish version of a giant tea bag.

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Quick-But-Related Tangent: The valley I grew up in is called the Kittitas Valley, and it’s known for one thing above all else… WIND. It is absolutely not uncommon for the wind to blow for several weeks straight at an average of 20-30 mph and ramping up with gusts to 40-50mph. There are even articles referring to the most offensive four-letter word in the area which is — you guessed it — WIND.

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Even by normal standards, today was a particularly windy day on the farm. We had used all sorts of redneck sign language to communicate on days like this, because if you were more than 3 feet away from the person you were attempting to communicate with it made for an impossible conversation.

So I gave my “thumbs up,” and my grandfather begin to pull. Had it not been for the wind, I might have heard the popping, or one of the other god awful noises emanating from the cow.

Before I get to this next part, let me be clear: THE COW WAS ALREADY LONG DEAD.

I wasn’t even looking at the cow, because I was probably day dreaming about starting a career in videogames or something dumb like that. What snapped me back to the present was the jump of the front end loader, as though it had a heavy weight hanging from it’s raised bucket, and that weight was suddenly released.

I turned to look just as the cow’s lifeless corpse slammed back into the soup, splattering me head to toe in manure.

It gets worse.

The cow had decayed so badly that the head had popped clean off and was hanging from the chain. A winters worth of decomposing goop and guts was dripping from the neck where the body used to be, and wouldn’t you know it…

The wind blew a bunch of it right into my gaping mouth.

I began to gag, and then began to vomit. The smell was unholy, and the wind was doing a fantastic job of pushing said stench right up my nose and into my very soul. As I stood in knee-high manure, puking and gagging with a dead cow’s severed head swinging violently in the wind, I head something. It was loud enough to be heard over the running motor of the front end loader and the raging wind combined.

It was my grandfather laughing.

Tears rolled down his face and his massive belly bounced in delight as he watched his grandson spitting and crying and cursing as he wiped horrific fluids from his face. Luckily his laughter only continued nonstop for 4 or 5 more days, and then gave way to mild chuckling and giggling.

Needless to say, I used a few extra bits of redneck sign language to communicate with him on this day.

I drove home that night, walked in the front door of our tiny little 650 square foot house and said to my wife, “We’re moving. I’m giving my notice tomorrow.”

I did exactly that, and headed for the big city a couple of weeks later. I often think about the farm, and especially the wonderful perspective it provided me. I understand what hard work really is, and I understand that I’ve got it pretty damn good in my climate-controlled, high-tech office building. When things get rough here at work, I often think about those days on the farm. Part of me longs for the days of being outside and working hard, but part of me also realizes that even on my roughest day now, I’m probably never going to drive home covered in manure and cow parts.

Perspective is key. Remember that, and keep digging!

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