Another grazing season has passed, and today the grass-finishing steers go back home to a full plate of excellent stored forage and eventually to feeding families in the Northeast market.
Such is life for a custom grazier who specializes in directly grazing pasture and being a link in the local chain of beef cattle production.
It’s a time of pause and reflection for me as I pick up the last of the temporary fence, unplug the energizer, clean out the hay feeder and push up the wasted feed mixed with manure into a compost row. I’m once again alone with my thoughts, pastures empty, and with cow manure dotting my pants.
Standing in a now empty muddy pen, I reflect on my life’s work as a grass farmer, nourishing the land, its people and providing ecosystem services for my community. It’s troublesome to be undervalued – when you’re consistently under attack from those who see these magnificent beasts as contributing to climate change and other ills of the world.
It’s an emotional time, pondering whether there is a genuine appreciation for the hours of work put into caring for animals that are an integral part of our diverse biological systems for our farm that will provide sustenance to families.
For nearly 34 years now working as a custom grazier, I have nurtured countless generations of cows on pristine pastures, giving them the best life possible while also making personal sacrifices for them. We are a team that trusts each other and I would hope, in some way, respects each other for our commitment to nobly feeding people.
For me, there is symbolism in load-out day that gives me pause to look at the bigger picture of life as the truck rolls out of sight. How will my holistic work be perceived? How many more load-outs do I have left? What will be my legacy? I wonder how Mother Nature will perceive my stewardship, for someday I will be loaded out, returned to the earth and put to rest in green pastures.
I want to know it matters. I have to believe what I do matters and that my community cares what myself and farmers do 24/7. I/we owe these animals a tremendous amount of respect and sheer gratitude for turning sunshine, soil, water and grass into milk and meat to feed hungry microbes and a planet.
On these types of days, I also contemplate the future. I dislike the vulnerability of being this emotional but I need to vent internally and start anew. Then I think of my angel brother, Scott, who never quit. I think of my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, my wife, my children and my granddaughters, who all grew up in the farming life and how all our cumulative energies have nurtured this land the best we know how for over 130 years.
As the sun peaks out for a split second while breaking down the catch pen once again, it reminds me of resilience, with the ability to recover, change and keep moving forward despite the physical, emotional and worldly obstacles. The FFA Creed describes it best: “I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds.”
by Troy Bishopp