Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Domesticated Animals

The Agricultural Revolution also created a revolution in the production of meat for human consumption. According to recent estimates, the world can now boast of more than a billion cattle, about a billion pigs and sheep, and around 25 billion chickens. This past summer I was given the opportunity of watching some of these animals domesticated by us Homo sapiens.

In late September I was walking through a pasture about a mile east of our place, land owned by our neighbour Marianne. There were about 40 cattle on this quarter. There had been lots of rain and snow in our area over the past four years, and the grasses are high and the sloughs are overflowing. The animals had not seen a human being since they were dropped off there in April. They stood in a group and all stared at us. Who were these intruders? I was a bit edgy, but there were no bulls around and Marianne had run cattle for many years. This must be much like it was before humans took control of the world.

As I drive into Bulyea to check the mail and go to the co-op, I pass a pasture where there are six cows and one horse, always very close together. I used to wonder of the horse now thought he was a cow.

On the Saturday drive into Regina, I pass a farm where two miniature burros always hang out in a field with six cows. They are the best of friends, never separated. After the wheat was harvested this year, the farmer put the cows in the adjoining field to clean up but left the burros in the pasture. The burros and the cows stayed right next to each other on each side of the barbed wire fence.

Marianne, who has been running the farm since her husband died about fifteen years ago, raises goats and sheep. Out in the middle of one pasture there is a fox den. Early in the summer this year’s small foxes emerged. They soon began to play with the new born sheep and goats, chasing each other around. Being of the older generation, we did not have our I-phones to record this event.

Among the goats and sheep is one black steer. He is distressed when put in a different pasture by himself. One day I drove by the farm and saw the steer in the small pasture next to the barn. The only other animals with him were the chickens and ducks. He was running back and forth along a barbed wire fence, doing his best to try to keep a fox from coming into the farm yard.

A pair of domestic geese had been living on my neighbour’s farm for a few years, hanging out around the dugout and the farm yard. One of them disappeared this summer, most likely a victim of a coyote or a fox. The remaining goose now waddles out every morning with the sheep and the goats and spends the day with them in the pasture.

Norm, who has the farm behind us, runs cattle on the adjoining quarter. He also has four horses there, as he and his daughter ride. The four horses are rarely seen except standing together, no more than two or three feet apart. They ignore the cattle.

A short way down the grid road I had a very productive garden on Dale’s farmstead. It is surrounded with barbed wire fence as the neighbour would run some of his cattle there before and after harvest. One day I drove into the yard and there were around a dozen cows next to the fence as well as three cows on our side of the fence, in the garden. I walked towards the animals as I was going to open the back gate and let them out into the field. They freaked, as they did not know me and feared the worst. An older Holstein milking cow and one of the calves ran and jumped over the fence. The heifer ran and scooted under the barbed wire fence.

I am currently reading Yuval Noah Harari’ Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He argues  that “domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that ever lived.”