Friday, April 10, 2009

Non-traditional Job Experience

This is how you brand a calf:
First you separate the babies from their mommas. They moo to high heaven while you do this. Actually they keep mooing the whole time. It's quite a chorus.
Then you line the babies up and drive them one by one into a chute.
From the chute they go into a Contraption. Its name? I don't know, but what it does is clamp closed on them as they stand in it, and then you turn it over sideways so you've got a calf lying down at waist height, with its head sticking out, and its feet out of kick-range.
Then you open some of the bars of the Contraption so as to expose the calf's side. Then you call your citygirl who's holding a buzzcutter and she clips the hair off a brand-size bit of its side while someone rubs its head and it gets fooled into relaxing. Meanwhile someone else slips a couple of vaccinations into its neck. Then comes the brand, white-hot, and a loud moo, and a cloud of smoke (smells real nice, like barbequed hair) and immediately you close the side bars of the Contraption and turn it back to right-side-up-calf, unclamp it, and it jumps out and runs away, and the next one is already kicking its way down the chute.
The cute thing is that these particular folks' brand is C-O-W so you've got a whole lot of calves running around labeled as if they were ready to be photoed for an ABC picture book.

Ethical qualms? yes, I really don't like inflicting pain on innocent animals. And how else are we supposed to mark our animals so they don't get stolen? right, good question, i'll get back to you on that one. You see, in my idealistic world, cows get to run around wherever they want, and they don't belong to people, but folks have told me how well that works in India...

When I arrived and met people, one of the farmhands asked me "so, are you a meateater?" and to my "no" he asked a puzzled "so what's the interest?" and while I have no idea what I actually said to him at the time, I now know my answer. It's anthropological, really. I want to help brand calves because I want to know how folks live, what they do, how they do it. I don't want to be ignorant. Especially as I often have pride of position, elevated in the pulpit, a tendency to overutilize polysyllabic words, and I really did receive a first-class education in an ivory (colored) tower in a castle on a hill. Guess what? THAT DOESN'T HELP A WHOLE LOT when you get down to practical moral issues. If I don't know what someone's talking about I'm alienating myself, and unfortunately if I've got a "pastor" in my name, I'm alienating the name of Christ, am I not?

For example: (really, The example for me now, because everyone always asks me about my eating habits):
Choice in foods.
City dwellers have a very obvious and simple choice to make. $1 conventional beans, or $3 organic beans. While complex issues underlie the whole thing, the choice as presented is simple because the cans look nearly identical, they are the same size, same weight, same location (grocery store). Both are pre-prepared and ready to go.
Now don't get me wrong - we DO have grocery stores in this county. seriously, a couple of them. BUT if you choose, as many do, to grow your green beans yourself, your choice is MUCH more complex than the $2 price differential you'd face on the shelf. It includes time spent on your hands and knees weeding, or shooing away pests, and whether you fertilize with a small amount of expensive chemical fertilizer or with wheelbarrows full of heavy manure. I'd still choose organic, but I have a glimpse into other people's choices.
I am learning over and over again that I don't know the whole story.

I repeat. Field ed in a field was the best idea EVER.

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