Christmas Cows

Why does a farmer like to look at his cows? What is it about a pastoral scene that is so comforting? How did the domestication of animals affect the history of civilization? What role will livestock play in the farms of tomorrow?

I always seem to wax philosophical as late autumn turns to early winter. It may be the long nights with their Christmas lights, or it could be the time spent tending cattle. As we ponder the mysterious and awesome life around us this time of year, with limestone bluffs peeking out from their summer cover, the creeks running full again, and the crackling fires cutting the chill from our cabins, our thoughts fall on a baby born in a manger.

Love, hope, faith, and forgiveness are continually rekindled in the hearts of humanity by the deeds of this baby. The contemplation of these virtues leads us to acts of kindness and compassion for our fellow citizens. Two thousand years ago the seeds were born for many of the world’s great religions, Christian and Moslem both. From the Christian saints, reformers, and crusaders to the Catholic Pope and the adherents of Islam, all follow the teachings of Christ.

"What does this have to do with cows?", you may be wondering. Cattle connect us to the earth. We wouldn’t be here without domestic animals, because they have provided the fertility and structure to sustain the soil which sustains us. Only a cow can make four acres fertile while living off of just two acres. The grasses and clovers they eat create humus and topsoil. All of the great churches and mosques were built by humans living off of animal products. Without the goats, sheep, and cows our ancestors domesticated, there would be no civilization as we know it.

These animals were the first beings to behold the baby in the manger, and rightly so. Only afterwards did the gold, frankincense and myrrh appear with the kings. The gifts came after the gentle calmness and peace in the barnyard scene.

Today we still feel a special warmth when we observe cattle contentedly munching on the rolling green pastureland. Deep in our subconsciousness we know the foundation of our lives, the soil, is benefiting from the scene we are observing. "Holy cow" is an aptly coined expression indeed.

On the other hand, a sickening, repulsive feeling floods us when we see confined, crowded animals wallowing in their own wastes, or the miles of endless cornfields with no life-giving animals or trees around. A part of us knows it is not right to keep animals off the farmland, or to have farmland without animals and forests nearby.

Ever wonder why we like mowed lawns? A sense of security comes with the aroma of cut grass, an intuitive feeling our cows are going to be fed and our soils are building humus. We like to live where grass grows, because grass improves the land, which feeds us all. When it comes to waste products, though cows have lawn mowers beat by a long shot.

The cows are starting to moo for hay. As I go about my fencing project,they are letting me know it’s Christmas, time to bring out a little of last summer’s grass in the form of a sweet roll of hay. They don’t seem to notice the missing calf, sacrificed to no longer serve us as a farm soil builder but to be served as a human body builder. Although I was a vegetarian for many years, we have always kept cattle on our farm. I love to see them roam on new pastures, enjoying fresh air, water and sunshine. Our two milk suppliers, Jersey Bessie and Brown Swiss Bonnie, exhibit such unique personalities that a reference to “sacred cows” requires no leap of faith for me.

How will I ever attain the Christ-consciousness to regard my fellow humans’ welfare above my own? As much as I love cows, I’ve never seen them scoot over and let another cow have the best munch of hay. No, it’s only the humans, whose life the domestic animal makes possible, that can develop compassion and love for others.

Gifts are great, to give and to receive. But nothing is greater than the presence of the feeling of treating others better than ourselves, and nothing is harder to come by. As we sink into the deep winter, with Mother Nature fast asleep, our soul life awakens a little more, and we celebrate our role model’s birthday. We feed our cows, they feed our soil, and us, but only our love for others feeds our soul. Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards all.

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