It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last, but this past week’s weather hasn’t been easy on ranchers and others who make a living outdoors. There was no midnight mention of bold plans or sustainability by people with advanced degrees and clean shoes. This is sustainability in action.
The night sky gave way to the occasional spotlight from a pickup rolling through a pasture or a field of cornstalks. Barn lights burned through the night as calves plucked, still steaming, from the ground were brought in to warm. Hot boxes were bed with clean straw, and pickups idled through the night, empty travel coffee cups on the floor and wet gloves drying on the dashboard.
In the corner of the barn, the pile of colostrum supplement pouches grew, and cow calf pairs lay together on straw on the south side of windbreaks. The mountain of dirty, muddy, and slimy clothes grew through the week.
Bleary eyed stockmen passed one another at the fuel station — again — and gave updates to one another about how they are faring against Ma Nature. Calf tallies are given while coveralls and scotch caps serve as badges shared by those entrenched in the same, cold battle to get the chance to do it again next year. Farm radio and podcasts and basketball games all played over pickup and tractor speakers, each forecast met simultaneously with a groan and the anticipation of warmer nights.
Live calves are a piece of the sustainability picture, even when the salebarn check isn’t enough and never is. Working shoulder to shoulder with dad who thinks harder about retiring on nights like these is sustainability out here. The little kids, bundled to their eyeballs and watching bright lights gleam off ob chains are sustainability through the hope they too will want to spend their nights in a barn trying to save a calf. Sustainability is watching a calf flop to the ground and watching your mom tickle his nose and blow air into his lungs, bringing him to the point where he’ll sneeze and sit up with a wobbly head.
The quick pickup window conversations between ranchers is as much about increasing sustainability through monitoring one another’s mental health as it is a visit. If they have a good year, so does the feed store, the shop downtown, the FFA fundraiser, and the café. They’re sustaining their communities with their dirty hands and their clean money.
No one out here was reminding them to use best practices to care for their stock. No one out here was shaming ranchers for murder and no activists were there to help lift a calf into a warm backseat.
Bless the people who live sustainability each day, even if that’s not what they call it. Bless the kids dropped off at school who wave goodbye to their mom and the calves in her SUV en route back to the cows now that it’s above zero. Bless those who watch the vet suturing flesh torn by the teeth of a predator who does his best work this time of year. Bless whoever invented Tide pods and bless the consumers who will buy what we produce, not knowing us but trusting us to do what’s right. That, my friends, is a bold plan for sustainability.
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