Sep 15, 2010

Entire Herd Demonstrating "Classic Stages of Grieving" As Annual Culling Time Draws Near

An area cattle herd, normally 'happy-go-lucky' and without any other worries besides where their next pitchfork of alfalfa is going to come from and why certain heifers seem to attract all the bulls, has been stricken with what animal behaviorists commonly refer to as the bovine version of the Kübler-Ross model, also more frequently known as the five stages of cow grief - a predictive model first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, (a well known cow owner and a wizard with the lasso) in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying On The Ranch. Given that there are any number of herd members, and let's face it, some of them are more socially advanced than others (the really dysfunctional ones are usually made into beef jerky!), the herd itself is showing all 5 signs at the same time, thus making the ranchers an emotional wreck from trying to deal with each individual cow in order to supply just the type of support structure most appropriate for them at the moment! These unfortunate stages of cow grief are:

1. Denial - "I feel fine. There is no way 90% of the calves and all the old heifers are going to be shipped to the meat processing plant in Oregon! This can't be happening, not to me! I can see it happening to the Bodine herd, but not my herd!" Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the unfortunate bovine. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and other cows that will be left behind after the 'long, slow trip in the cattle truck!'. (That is why the ranchers usually tell the herd they are really going 'economy class' to 'Cow Disneyland!')

2. Anger - "Why me? It's not fair! How can this happen to me? I have a few more calving seasons left in me! Who is to blame?" Well, the obvious answer to this is, of course, the ranchers and their lust for money (and a good ribeye!) are to blame - and oh yeah, all of those doggone meat eaters are to blame too, but this provides little comfort to a grief-stricken bovine with just a few short hours or days to live. Once in the second stage, the cow recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the cow is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy - not to mention all of that unprovoked head butting! Any other animal that symbolizes life or energy or that is not considered a worthy or desirable meat source, including those crafty coyotes and of course those stupid sheep (who are going thru the same process, doggone it! Why doesn't anyone care how sheep feel? And who eats mutton, anyway?) is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.

3. Bargaining - "Just let me live to see my calves grow up to breeding age. I'll do anything for a few more breeding years - even though finding good grazing land in the Scablands is kind of a pain. I will give up my turn at the saltlick if..." The third stage involves the hope that the cow can somehow postpone or delay death in some distant slaughterhouse. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power like a rancher or veterinarian in exchange for a reformed bovine lifestyle. Psychologically, the cow is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time..." (Ranchers and vets are traditionally immune to this sort of plea!)

4. Depression - "I'm so sad, why bother with anything? "I'm going to die... What's the point? Why go on chewing my cud and putting on weight?" During the fourth stage, the soon-to-be dying cow begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the cow may become silent, refuse visitors from other herds and spend much of their time crying and grieving out behind the barn. This process allows the dying cow to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection that its herd-mates so abundantly provide. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up a cow who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.

5. Acceptance - "It's going to be okay. I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it. I'll just go charging up the loading ramp to the cattle truck and take my ultimate slaughter like a bull!" In this last stage, the cow begins to come to terms with their mortality or that of their loved ones.

As we all know, cows have a full range of emotions, just like human beings do, and it is important for all of us to provide the maximum amount of sensitivity and understanding during this difficult period, a period that unfortunately seems to happen every year. So the next time you find yourself face to face with a cow, please be sensitive to their unfortunate predicament! Your turn might be next!

(Editorial Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, we at the Lamont Blog feel obligated to report that we are currently thawing hamburger for dinner - a substance that might be cooked on the grill - or maybe worked into a 'Shepherd's Pie' or something - and also that we are not above the occasional "Slim Jim" or slab of savory beef jerky. There, now that we got that whole 'ethical thing' out of the way - the tattered remains of whatever conscience we have left is more or less appeased. Thank you.)

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