Saturday, January 31, 2009
Bobby calculates by cattle. We were talking this evening about the effect of the national financial downturn on the local stockyard. I asked him if he was seeing an effect at the stockyard. (He’s there every Saturday.) He said yes, mainly on the small farmers. So I asked him what the minimum size of herd a farmer would need to keep his head above the water as conditions are now. He looked me in the eyes and said that an unmarried man with no kids would need at least 50 cows to survive – that would be him. And right on the line, at that. Lucky he is, I suppose, that his dog Baby is his only dependent - he said you’d need to add 20 cows per child, until they’re teenagers, then it would take 50.
Just keeping the cows takes cows ~ for instance, the past couple of years have been drought here in Kentucky, which means that the cattle are drinking “city water” – Bobby, his in-head cattle calculator running an instant output, said it would take a calf a year to pay the water bill for the herd. When you add fuel for trucks, tractors, and machinery, feed and hay to supplement what can be grown on the farm, vaccines necessary to battle the illnesses that thrive and spread outward from the huge feedlots in the west, it adds up to a lot of cows just to keep one man and his stock dog going. No frills, no vacations, just the basics - "If I get a sandwich, Baby gets one too." So when he says, “Cattle are my life.” He means it in more than one way. He’s here on the farm early, and seldom leaves before dark. Sometimes it’s past midnight. My admiration for him is boundless.
A lot of small farmers are going to lose their way of life this year. Bobby won’t be one of them, (my fingers are crossed) because he’s sharp as a tack and willing to work harder than most people in our society can imagine. The super giant producers and mega factory farms will downsize, fire a bunch of workers and barely feel the pain. I really wish that our culture would value what small farmers do enough to take care of them.