Learning about what’s up the coulee

Ranch kids have a natural way of learning about the birds and the bees — remember that just yesterday my kids witnessed as their pony was castrated.  Death, too, is a topic that’s revealed and accepted early on.

Last week I accidentally drove by the “dead pile” as just-turned-two Muggins watched from his perch on the console of the pickup.

(The dead pile is kinda like the cemetery for cattle that die in the feedlot here at PV headquarters.  Cattle dying in a feedlot is unavoidable, just like people dying in a city is unavoidable.  There’s a high concentration of human life in a city; there’s a high concentration of bovine life in a feedlot.  Some statistics say that feedlots can expect as much as a 2% death loss in each new season’s calves — it’s such a stressful event for them, adjusting to their new life in confinement, and that stress can lead to sickness — but of course any feedlot manager hopes for better numbers than that.  Still, with 3,500 calves in the pens here, a few are bound to die.  And when one dies in the PV feedlot, Ben or Tawny or Bill uses the loader to carry the dead animal up the coulee [in this part of the world, coulee is the word for a low spot between hills] beyond the silage pit to the dead pile.  Eventually all the carcasses from a season are buried there under the dirt.)

Anyhow.  The other day I wasn’t thinking, and instead of driving home via the ranch lane that comes from the Ingomar Road, and in an effort to avoid driving through the stinky juice that drains out of the silage pit, I took a cutacross that ran us right through the coulee and right by the dead pile.

As I drove by, wide-eyed Muggins spotted the dead calves far off to the right of the road.  He is talking more every day, mostly in one-word sentences that he strings together to get his point across, then repeats.  Over and over again.

“Cow.  Dead,” he immediately said.  “Cow.  Dead?”

Yes, I did my best to explain to him, but it’s okay.  Daddy knows that calf died.

Like I did (when the time came) with each of his three older siblings, I did my best that day to explain to Muggins his first glimpse of death.  I drove home, unloaded Muggins from the pickup, took him into the house and started supper.  But he kept worrying about it:  “Cow.  Dead.  Dead.  Cow.”  And asking:  “Cow.  Dead?”  And I just kept trying to answer.  Yes, that was a dead cow you saw.  That place is where we bury cows that die.  It’s normal for a cow to die every once in a while.  Daddy knows about the dead cow and everything is under control.

Eventually I put Muggins on the 4-wheeler that afternoon and drove him back up the coulee, thinking another look at the situation there might ease some of the questioning.  We went, and we came back, and though he doesn’t necessarily seem worried about it, the scene clearly made a big impression on him.  Even now, a week later, he points up the coulee, nodding, and grimly tells anyone who comes through our front door, “Cow.  Dead.  Dead.  Cow.”

So he has had his first lesson in death, and I just figure it was bound to happen sometime.  I have never been interested in protecting our little ones from plain ol’ truth, and that might seem like a strange approach to parenthood in some circles.  Oh, sure, I do take a few sane steps to protect their tender little hearts from the gruesome and the hard (we homeschool, after all)… but there’s only so much one can do to avoid reality.  A life lived in agriculture just has an inescapable and unforgiving honesty to it.





Today’s Weather:  High of 46.  Low of 25.  Pleasant and dry.


Today On The Ranch:  More office work for Beau, school for me and the kids.  Tyrell and his daughter Lauree (from the VX) were at headquarters picking up parts and so joined our family for lunch and a good visit.  This evening I headed to town for a meeting while Beau and the kids stayed home and (so far as I can tell) watched team roping videos and a Star Wars movie!

© Tami Blake

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