Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cows Owe Us - Big Time

Have you ever looked at a cow? I mean really looked at one of them? They just look back at you, blankly - kind of like Forest Gump. They’re all stupid, of course, just like we’d expect them to be – except if you’re in with the PETA folks, that is, who think all animals are sentient beings. But I hardly think that cows could be given any credit for heavy brain work. Cows are so dumb, in fact, we have to build robots of them as spy tools because, unlike dolphins, we can’t train them to get the job done.

Actually, I’m being a bit sexist, here. "Cows" are, as you know, female cattle. Their younger virgin sisters are known as "heifers". Male cattle are called either "bulls" or - when neutered - "steers". Whatever. As long as they come medium-rare with green beans and mashed potatoes, aye?

Dairy cattle live out their lives just moping around, chomping grass, a thought-cloud parked over their heads with a big question mark set in the center of it. Beef cattle have a different, less savory fate in store for them, of course, but since they’re dumb, anyway, I doubt that they care too much.

Like all other farm animals, it never even occurs to cattle that they are actually owned by humans. Interesting factoid: the word "cattle" is actually derived from the French word "chattle", which means – believe it or not – "possession". How about that? Their entire species is named after servitude. Nature has been cruel.

But not as cruel as it could have been. After all, where would cattle be today if it weren’t for us humans wanting them around? Think about it: Cattle have no credible defense mechanisms – like spines or poison fangs, or whatever. (Sure the guys have horns, but those are only useful against matadors with big red capes.) They can’t run fast. And they’re too dumb to think their way out of trouble (although some humans do share that sad trait). In fact, if it wasn’t for our fences penning them in, they probably would have all walked off cliffs or been eaten by wolves by now. There are an estimated 9,000 breeds of cattle roaming the earth today. Do you think there would be such numbers and diversity (progressive keyword!!) without our interference – I mean, intervention? I don’t think so. Cattle used to be used for hauling our stuff around, but horses have pretty much taken that job away from them in modern times. Nowadays, they are raised primarily for beef and milk (cattle are the largest livestock providers worldwide for both). All fifty states in the U.S. have cattle farms, and although Americans only have 10% of the cattle in the world, we provide 25% of all its beef. (Brazilians come in second to us as Kings of the Slaughterhouse.)

Yes, cattle have their uses – and that’s why we make sure there are plenty of them. They can pull heavy things for us, they taste good (especially over a grill), and we can milk them ‘til the you-know-what come home. One day, perhaps, the animal rights freak show just might get their wish and we’ll all stop eating and milking cattle. We’ll open up our pens and let them all wander free. Most will die away – if not from wild predators, then from starvation – and their population will shrink to about the same numbers as gorillas or hippopotamuses (two other animals the world has no use for). Nobody will want a cow as a pet (the stupid thing again). We might keep them around for their manure, but so many other animals can poop, too, I just can’t see that as being a factor in the Cattle Special Interests lobby. In fact, with Mad Cow and other mischievous bovine diseases plaguing us from time to time, we may just purposely thin the herds down to manageable sizes, putting them on remote nature preserves somewhere in Colorado or New Jersey.

But for now, cows provide 70% of the calcium in the U.S. food supply, and most Americans would agree that for at least a couple of days out of the week, beef is what’s for dinner.

It’s the least they could do for us.

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Related Story: "Carnivorous and Proud"



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