Sharing Well-being

This is Bunny, the newest member of my animal family.  He lost his mama somehow so I’ve adopted him. He is awfully cute and fuzzy, but still I wish I didn’t have to adopt him.

Just as there are all kinds of human mothers, there are all kinds of cow mothers.  Some mama cows are devoted and determined, others are flighty and nervous.  Sometimes when the herd moves to the next pasture a first-time  or a nervous mother will lose her new-born calf in the crush and not find it again.  I’m always on the lookout for this.  I don’t like it to happen and am always trying arrange things to prevent it, but it does happen now and then.

Adopting a newborn calf is not a winning proposition in any way, shape, or form.  Under the best circumstances, it requires lots of expensive powdered milk  and many hours of bottle-feeding for me to raise a calf, and even then I don’t do half as good a job as a real mama-cow.  Sometimes the calf is already too far gone by the time I find it, or gets sick and doesn’t make it.  It can be heart-breaking. Some ranchers refuse to do it, citing survival of the fittest and the evolutionary mandate to delete the “irresponsible mom” gene from the pool.  They have a point, but I see it differently.  I see it as one way to show my respect and appreciation to the cows, to reciprocate and, yes, perhaps, to assuage my feelings of guilt at making a living off of them, off of their living and dying to feed us: the human community.  At the very least adopting Bunny redresses an unfortunate situation that is partly my fault.

From a wider perspective, as I see it, taking in this orphaned calf is one small, concrete way to  share human cleverness and invention with other species.  I have access to powdered milk and grain and veterinary medicine; shouldn’t I share it with this fellow being in his hour of need?

I believe that this might be the whole point after all: to create a realm of shared well-being with each other – other humans, other animals, other forms of life, plants, microbes, air, land, water.  This is what our big brains are for, our evolution, our education, even our technology.  I don’t know what other point there is. What is money for in the end but to make places where our lives  and other lives can flourish? What is work for? What, even, do we fight for but that?  For life.  For the well-being of the people and places we love.

We don’t need heroes, celebrities, politicians, or tycoons. We need people to quietly care for each other, for their fellow creatures and for the places they live in because that is the most enduring joy and the way to make things right.

And this is what I’m willing to fail at, over and over again, because that’s what we do as well.  We try and we fail – that is what people do – and then try again, until maybe you get some little bit, some infinitesimal part of what you are trying to get at to actually come into the world for a flickering moment.

10 Replies to “Sharing Well-being”

  1. On first pass I’d say I have to go with the other ranchers in terms of selecting against an ‘irresponsible mom’. But Bunny doesn’t deserve to be left to die for his dam’s poor genetics. If I presume as a male he’ll grow up to be someone’s dinner and not a herd bull then there’s no selection issue. If, on the other hand, Bunny were a female and there were some chance she might be selected as a replacement heifer then I’d not be so sanguine. I might still bottle feed her – but I’d also make sure that she ended up with the steers on a path to market.

    So I share the feelings we should do what we can to preserve habitat, to care for our fellow travelers and be responsible stewards as we make our own way. But with our domesticates – especially those domesticates that fill a dual role of being food and being the seedstock for future generations (of both their own species and the infrastructure for our children’s generation) – I take a more business like approach. If there were a way to identify Bunny’s dam I’d likely cull her. No sentimentality about it – or rather I’d imagine the act of culling an ‘irresponsible mom’ as doing a favor for future generations of the herd, and for anyone who would follow in my footsteps as the manager of the herd.

    If one has to rationalize the businesslike attitude that this sort of culling requires on a philosophical level then I’d point to how many of us tend to differentiate between our pets and livestock. Both are animals, but as our culture tends not to eat cats and dogs then we deal with them differently.

    1. Hi Clem, if his mama is a repeat offender we’ll catch on to her sooner or later. Managing the genetic fitness of domesticated animals and plantsis a serious issue for us domesticators. How intensely do you select for an economically significant traits (like marbling) and what are the trade-offs or un-intended consequences in terms of long-term-survival-of-the-species traits (like ability to evade predators or mothering instinct). It’s disturbing to me that so many breeds of poultry nowadays have so little interest in actually sitting on their eggs!

      1. Context, context, context.

        Realtors may tell you that it’s the three ‘L’s of location, location…

        But for this plant breeder its all about context. The tradeoffs one can justify for pushing a particular trait way off of what Mother Nature had dropped in our lap depend largely upon market rewards. I shouldn’t speak to meat marbling – an animal scientist would do far better. But if I suppose for a moment that seed protein content might serve as a proxy, then I’m on firmer ground.

        One obviously can’t push a trait so far as to compromise a domesticate’ s ability to reproduce. Though the chicken example certainly pushes the limit. So long as there are ways to culturally enable the domesticate (cage rearing allows slower and less hostile traits because predation is prevented)… we can continue to push the envelope.

        So back to seed protein content in something like a soybean. You can go quite high. But you can’t turn a soybean seed into a 100% blob of protein… the seed wouldn’t germinate and grow. No future in that.

        As one pushes further and further from what Mother Nature is happy to offer us already we quickly encounter limits. As the limits approach the cost of progress increases. The only justification for continued investment of effort is if there is a market willing to buy (pay for) the expense.

        Not exactly the same, but I think related, is your experience shipping feeders to the mainland. Not an inexpensive matter, but in the right circumstances it can make sense. Context.

        As for long term survival… that is an excellent question. Here plants and animals differ a wee bit because of life history elements. One can continue to culture a given pure line variety of a plant for a very long time. An animal only lives so long. You can preserve semen for a very long time, but not to the extent you can keep a plant lineage. Where I’m going with this is if we were to push a particular selected trait TOO far – once we figured that out we could punt and go back to former lines. Easier with plants than animals, but still possible on both sides.

        I am fascinated at times when I look around at my fellow breeders, agronomists, herders, etc. We can individually get so absorbed in working with a particular species we tend to forget about the forest of other species around us. I’m as guilty as any. Even within the community of soybean workers the specialization gets pretty incredible. Occupational hazard I suppose.

        One should always remember to ‘surface for air’ every now and then. Have a look about, smell the roses. If feeding an orphaned (or abandoned) calf is one way to get there, it’s certainly the right path.

      2. I understand the dilemma, in my early days as a herdsman we did it the way of older generational cowboys when cattle would/could really hurt even terminate man or horse. Were they a mirror reflection of one another? Hence, the fear and aggression reflected in one another. I have heard it said that love is reflected in love. So, we yelled at the cows and calves from horseback, corralled and pushed them forward as we wanted them to go. We would invariably push to hard go to fast; mothers losing their calves so turning around to find their calves, totally flipping out everybody yelling, bawling (cowboys and Cattle) then a group of calves make a break for it going back to where mom last was; moms turning to follow and the famous cry in rage and and superiority BLOCK’EM ! BLOCK’EM! Oh no! Let’s do it again. Yes, calves get lost, separated. This was how it was done and still is in many places. Fast forward a few years and being left to move the cattle alone I began to use a New Zealand dog whistle. I would go to the gate when changing paddocks and blow the whistle. At first they were slow, untrusting but I gave them plenty space at the gate. A boss or lead cow would below and slowly all the the others would begin to move. I should point out that in these paddocks of Ohi`a and Hapu`u I was lucky to be able to see 5 cows at once; the paddocks were 150 acres each. After just three moves they began to move in earnest upon hearing the whistle. I could sit back and watch them walk through the gate; mom and calf, I counted them and knew when they had all moved. There were no longer 100 cows and calves trying to get through a 12 foot gate. They just became tamer and tamer as time went by. The old timers did not like this, would tell me not to do it. Fortunately, I am a hardhead, cow lover so I did not listen. This is neither here nor there; I was peeked by your Sharing Well-Being. Sort of brought back memories. Mahalo. Oh! One last tidbit; “The only way to move cattle quickly is Slowly!”

        1. Thanks, John! I’ve been around cows all my life and I’m still learning such nuggets of wisdom from them such as that last tidbit that you mention. Applicable to humans too.

  2. Bravo Michelle. I really appreciate that insight into sharing the fruits of our inventiveness.

    If your photo is anything to go by, giving this little character a leg up in life is going to profit the mental health and well-being of you, your ranch and your wider biotic community.

    Sorry Darwin (luv ya to bits btw!) but “survival of the fittest” doesn’t tell more than a sliverish slice of the story.

  3. Michelle,
    What a darling calf! Who could resist adopting her (or him). I’m the same way as you, baby animals capture my heart and bring out all my effort to protect and help them. I’ve read that humans produce neurochemicals when we see infants that reward us when we help them. Evolution has rewarded human parents because our infants are born so dependent on us. The enlargement of the human brain resulted in a larger baby head and this meant baby had to be born more immature, before the skull hardens. Other primates reach maturity much earlier than human infants. So we see a baby’s big eyes relative to their face, we detect their smell, hear their sounds and all these signals trigger our feel good brain chemicals. We feel good when we take care of a baby even if its not one of our own.
    So maybe we get an emotional high from our act, but I like how you reasoned it out as well. I agree, we are better people when we help others, especially when we see no reward for it. Here’s to Bunny and Michelle. May you both live and thrive from your bonding.

    1. Thanks, Jody, yes, oxytocin is powerful stuff. It would be interestesting to learn more about it.

  4. **We don’t need heroes, celebrities, politicians, or tycoons. We need people to quietly care for each other, for their fellow creatures and for the places they live in because that is the most enduring joy and the way to make things right.**

    We may not need manifestos either, but if one ever emerges for anima/soul then this belongs at the heart of it.

    1. Thanks, Chris, that is very kind of you. Yes, I agree that quite a lot of mischief has been done in the name of manifestos and that kind of sweeping certainty in general. By the way, I’m liking Voltaire’s Bastards quite a lot.

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