Bob War (Ode to Humane Farming)
I was an adult before I realized that barbed wire is not called Bob War, because that was how my grandfather pronounced it, and he happened to be the person who mentioned it to me most often, as he was the person who would always tell us kids that we needed to help repair the fence. Some concerned neighbour would call to tell him some of the cows were out, and he’d tell us to grab some Bob War and git in the truck. We’d drive out to the cow lease, which was several hundred acres, and find the wayward cows, round ‘em up, and repair the fence. Sometimes getting the cows back on the lease was the easy part, and sometimes it took all day.
Repairing the fence was always about the same. First, cut the broken wire and get it out of the way. Second, nail a new piece of wire to a fence post with a fencing staple. You have to get the staple just inside of a barb to keep the wire from slipping through. The hard part is stretching the wire to the next fence post enough to get a barb there to use it to secure the other end of the wire. Sometimes my job was to get the wire in the fencing tool and pull it around the post using the post and tool for leverage. It wasn’t really easy. It required all my limited strength, and it caused me no small amount of anxiety, as my grandfather was not easy going about it. My efforts were usually subject to some harsh criticism.
In the end, though, the cows were always contained, and the fence was always mended – one way or the other. I never felt much happier about it, but that’s how life is when you raise cows. And the cows were fairly happy, I guess, having plenty of room to roam. It made you wonder why they’d ever want to escape in the first place, though sometimes you knew.
Every farmer needs a few bulls, of course, but not too many, so each year we’d cull some of the bulls from the herd and take them to auction where they were bought and either put to pasture or slaughtered. Unless they were breeding stock, the bull calves were castrated and sent on their way to become steers, as steer meat is more desirable than bull meat. I sometimes participated in the making of young steers. You may think the testicles are whacked off with a big knife or something, but we had a device with a strong rubber ring attached and stretched open. We’d pull the testicles through the open ring and then remove the device, which meant the ring constricted around the base of the scrotum. It’s anyone’s guess whether this was more or less pleasant than a big knife.
It wasn’t my concern to know what happened to the calves we sold. I do remember, though, returning to the lease one evening to find a mother cow wandering around the perimeter of the property braying for her calf. She was well-fed and cared for, but she depended on her son’s executioner for winter food, protection, and medication. This is humane farming, you see, not the horrible things you see in the smuggled films from factory farms.
I don’t know how long Mom continued searching and braying for her lost one.