I Hate Cows

My cowHamburger, cheeseburger, chili, steak, meatloaf, and hamburger helper.  Ten o’clock at night, I continued to repeat my delicious resplendent mantra, which proved the sole remaining argument for another tour of the neighborhood.  Twenty-minutes ago, Shannon had bounded downstairs just as I decided to pop some Final Fantasy into the Xbox.

“Need any help?” I asked, believing his excitement to be physics related.

“Yeah, the cows got out again.  Get dressed.” Continue reading

Love to Hate

Somewhere in the PETA headquarters across the offices and cubicles adorned with decorative puppy calendars, I imagine, there lies a Wall of Hate.  Every organization possesses one or two.  The simplest features a single photograph of an ex-girlfriend or work rival, their face painted with graffiti, fake mustaches, and the like; others, ridiculous caricatures punctured with darts, forks and knives, perhaps even gunshots – if you happen to work in Tennessee.  The FBI has one, displaying blurry pictures of mass murderers, terrorists, and gangsters; the CIA has one too, though invisible to the naked eye.  Even the White House adorns their distinguished offices with printed screen stills of Fox News anchors, wrinkled and faded from Super Soakers and Nerf guns, large speech bubbles that shout “Capitalism is for shmucks!!!”

At PETA, these portraits of animal rights offenders are encased in mahogany frames and frequently polished, allowing no smudge or stain to mar or obscure the faces of these enemies of animal-kind.  The inherent effect is a photo mosaic of taxidermists, sushi chefs, furriers, and exotic gourmets that smother crickets in chocolate.  Nearly all the department has visited the wall at least once.  After a year, the PETA volunteers and managers have memorized nearly all the mug shots, ready at a moment’s notice to spring on them with a can of paint or a club – PETA members are quite sensitive to irony.  Somewhere on this collage my face too is entombed, squeezed between Michael Vick and a comical poster of Cruella DeVil.  Beneath my hairy chin in large red block letters reads “At Large.”

This week you see, my brother’s, Sean’s, cow escaped their paddock again, and I screamed some very unkind threats to our bovine friends, which no doubt the PETA satellites intercepted and treated me accordingly.  The denizens of ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’ represent the first additions to my own Wall of Hate, unless deep-fried and plopped between a Kaiser roll, no cucumbers though – the second vegetable to appear on the list, wedged between ‘asparagus’ and ‘geriatric drivers.’    The cows or rather heifers in particular with their repeated escape attempts, calling to mind Frogger-esque excursions across the highway and through briar-laden trees, are especially noisome creatures.  Yesterday however, Katie and I succeeded in herding the bolting bovine into its cell, where we learned sometime during the night their water trough had run dry.

Quickly giving into her maternal instincts, Katie sought to rectify the situation:  “Murph, we need to give them water.  It’s not good for them without it.”

Honestly – I freely admit – my conscience momentarily abandoned me here as my mind entertained the thought of simply shrugging my shoulders and walking away.  Or at least waiting until the boys came home to fix the problem.  I do not consider myself a cruel man, but spending another moment with the walking value meals is akin to cleaning crap from chicken coops and my own personal version of Hell.  Yet if the animals managed to escape again for want of water, then that would prolong the ordeal even more.

Katie might feel disappointed in me as well and that I could never allow.

“Sure,” I sighed, searching the ground for the hose.  “Though pumping the water through these hoses will be impossible in this weather.  Look there . . . ”

Beneath the snow and ice, we saw the raised impression of the hose, snaking its way under the frozen pond, up the hillside, and into the underground pump.  Absently I stepped on the coiled tangle trailing into the barn, noticing how stiff and solid it felt as if frozen from the inside out.

“GD, how the hell are we going to get water to these stupid animals?” Katie cursed – or at least as close to cursing as Katie can.  She stomped her feet and seemed quite irritated with the heifers, which simply bellowed lazily.  That moment, I was quite proud of my little sister.

“It’s okay, Big Mamma,” she cooed after a while.  “We’ll figure out something.”

Something in fact proved far more difficult than we originally hoped.  Nearly all the hoses were frozen and several pumps only trickled a few brave drops.  We thus decided to divide our efforts: Katie would chip away at the pond while Mom and I transported buckets of water from the far side of the house downhill to the barn.  Combining our efforts, enough water could be stored away to keep the cows happy and imprisoned for the rest of the day.

Regrettably, wet snow, a fool’s balance, and a pot filled to the brim mix well for comedic effect.  As we gingerly edged our way downhill, my feet rebelled against me, sliding out from my legs like a man who had just slipped on a banana peel.  Water and bowl flew into the air, landing atop a soon-to-be bruised head as my knees collided with the frozen ground.  I then rolled several feet down the hill, wet, sore and in desperate need of a towel.  Katie and Mom fell to the ground as I played dead, mourning for my lost dignity.  Their giggles painful but expected.

The heifers mooed and chuckled too, and I promised to treat myself a quarter-pounder with cheese later that evening.

Thankfully, my sister’s excavation of the pond had hit paydirt and we spent the next half-hour shoveling water into buckets like kids playing at the seashore.  We filled the cow’s trough and promising to mete out some words to the boys, the girls trudged back up to the house and some hot tea.  I remained behind to store the shovels and buckets while the animals slurped noisily, ignoring me.

“You better thank that girl,” I said.  “If not for her, you’d be roadkill chuck roast.  Remember that the next time you make a run for it.”

From politicians to the Care Bears, ‘hatred’ often suffers a bad rap.  No criticism accompanies our shared hatred of injustice, cruelty or corruption, but punting puppies is frowned upon.  Or ignored: my feelings toward cucumbers.  Our hatreds define us as much as our hopes and our dreams, yet we curse those negative feelings or worse pretend they do not exist, allowing them to accumulate and build like the pressure beneath a geyser.  And while sometimes dangerous (we cannot always immediately erase our misgivings about people and cucumbers), we might surround ourselves with individuals, who might challenge us to reexamine these base inclinations.  Sisters are typically a good place start.  They teach us about sympathy, I think.  Or at least compel us to do the right thing every once in a while.

So if any PETA-people have stuck around to the end of this post, I humbly offer you my services.  Every team needs its rogue agent to keep it honest.  A brave new carnivorous world awaits us.  Let’s do lunch next Tuesday.  Say . . .  the local Five Guys?  My treat.

Stupid, Stupid, Cow-creatures

Mornings at the Murphey house are typically quite productive.  In the past, my job involved waking early to drive the kids to college and school, visiting the grocery store en route back to the house for some amenities and a Starbucks iced tea.  Since Shannon acquired his license, I’ve been afforded the pleasure of another half-hour sleep before waking to scratch, stretch, and sit at my chair to write.  This morning promised to be quiet and productive, the day gray and contemplative, Pandora performing a piano piece by Yasunori Mitsuda as Word finally loaded and Mom burst into my room to tell me that the Sean’s cows had escaped their pen again.

In case you’re new to the site, my brother Sean keeps cows — heifers to be agriculturally correct — on the family homestead.  Four or five critters of varying ages, mother and children.  Though on occasion butchered, mostly they act as show cattle, breeding and being bred for various farm shows around and outside the state.  We keep them here at the house in pens designed and constructed by my brothers with minute precision, which explains why they’re constantly escaping their enclosure.

Today the Mother found . . . or rather created a hole in the fencing and scampered out into the surrounding woods.  My sister Katie, already late for class and in pair of pink loafers, met me outside.

“Murph,” she said.  “Try to cut her off.  If we lose her in the woods, there’s no way we’re getting her back.”  Not to mention if she manages to find the road, someone could get severely hurt.  Deer as I mentioned one time before cause enough problems for Maryland drivers.  Heifers are at least a hundred times as heavy as Bambi and not nearly as nimble.  They’re ugly, smelly, and dumb as bricks too, but that’s just my own personal bias.

As I eased my way downhill to the barn and the broken paddock, my foot was nearly swallowed in a patch of thick slime that made a sucking noise as I slowly tugged on my trapped shoe.  Sluuluckkk . . .   Due to rain and poor water management much of the area surrounding the barn is essentially a thick muddy swamp.  The pens themselves are no different.  In some spots, the level of muck can swallow the animals up their thighs like prehistoric tar.  Human beings with only hiking boots and pink loafers stand little chance of ever making it out alive.

Luckily the slime would have to wait as the heifer moved deeper into the trees, munching on dry leaves left left on a several fallen branches.  My job as Katie explained — as I possessed no experience whatsoever with the animals — was to get ahead of the animal and cut off its path into the woods, keeping it close to the border of the paddock, while she attempted to lasso it with the holster.

At first, this plan worked well.  I scampered through the forest like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, jumping over logs and through brambles until I felt comfortable enough cut off the animal from the deeper forest.  Katie moved in rope in hand.  Now if I were to graph the family’s  experience with farm animals, it would look very much like a bell curve, peaking in the middle with Sean and falling away with the oldest and younger siblings.  In 4-H I mostly baked cakes and built wooden trashcans from wood kits.  Farming to me is like cleaning septic tanks, necessary but only if someone else is doing it.

Katie raised and showed pigs for years, and thus acquired far more experience with livestock.   As we closed in on the animal outside the fence, I trusted she could wrangle the creature and lead it back safely to the pen.  She . . .

“Hey Murph,” she said eying the large, highly muscular animal.  “So what do you think about switch places?”

“Huh?”

“You know . . . how about you putting this thing around its neck.”  She sounded nervous, imagining no doubt the creature kicking her in the head like a mule or suddenly bolting with her in tow.

“Seriously?”  I was willing to try, but knew instantly that it would not work.  The animal seemed particularly spooked by me, as sensing the contents of my dinner plate last night, smothered in gravy and seasoned to perfection.

“Yeah . . .” she said edging towards me with the rope.  “. . . here.  Oh shoot!”

The cow suddenly took off.  Running along the treeline and back towards the barn.  I too took off into the woods, keeping my distance in case she should suddenly change direction.  We cornered her in one of the old paddocks that share a common side with their current pen.  The heifer was pushing her head through the planks of the broken fence, trying to gain footing in the muck and grime from several days worth of rain to leap through the opening.  We tried to coaxing the animal back among its fellows, but it refused to budge.   As I said, stupid creatures.

Katie sighed.  “We’re going to have to move her somehow.  Let me go up and grab some boots.  Murph, you stay here an block this entrance so she doesn’t get out again.”

And so like some human scarecrow, I stood guard at the cow pen until my sister ran down the hill again, took one step into the enclose and sank down to her knee.

“Ahrg . . . I can’t move.  Murph!  I can’t move my feet.”

“Well, pull!”

“I am you idiot!”  NOTE:  ‘idiot’ was not actually said as much as implied.  Katie routinely does not insult people, even if she wants to.  I chose to add it here, for the sake of integrity.

With that, she jumped onto the fence, and made her way inching along the planks to the corner where the cow stood watching us.  She resembled a cat-burgler, scaling a wealthy high-rise or an dame from the old dime-novels, inching past molten lava.  One misstep and incineration.  Exaggeration aside, if she fell into the mud, no doubt there’d be no coming out again without a shovel and several bottles of Purell.  Quickly, she kicked off the broken board, and after more wrangling, involving the halter, our mother, several shots with the camera phone, a few curses, and some texting to relevant family members, the cow finally jumped through the crack and back into the enclosure.

Among the muck and mire, we then wailed at the broken pieces of the fence, attempting to repair the broken planks.  Hands that have only used a hammer to break open steamed crabs and deflect Donkey Kong barrels tapped steadily at nails much too small and thin to piece winter-soaked wooden planks into place.  Our feet gurgled with every step.  Shloop!  Shlop!  While the cows gathered together and watched with some interest at the stupid humans trying in vain to convince themselves that all was safe, all was fixed.  Those silly animals can never escape from THIS again.  HA!

And with our feet corroding with slime, our skin welling with cold, our minds filled with delusion, we vacated the barn and trudged back up to the house  for hot tea and warm showers.

In which Murph explores his experiences on the farm and love of — fried — chicken . . .

No man can accuse me of hating animals. Yet no cultivated love exists between myself and the rest of the world’s species. In truth, even if allergies had not impaired any lasting relationship – a true dander divorce – I am too well-acquainted with the responsibility of live-in pets to accept any non-human residents into my home. I have found that helping my folks with the siblings is akin to raising a band of wild wolves anyhow. My life requires no more wildlife, especially birds.

Most animal activists never grew up among chickens. Of this, I am sure. No, most likely as a child they retain fond of memories of Fluffy the rabbit or Tigger the cat, creatures with which you can cuddle or pet. Soft creatures that purred, nuzzled, or fetched. You try any of that nonsense with a chicken, and you might lose an eye, a nose, or a liver. Most assuredly you will lose all humanitarian credos, all faith in the notion that “Man’s Best Friend” can be anything other than a bottle of Scotch. This I say with all seriousness, a bias formed from personal experience . . . and therefore as such is entirely true. If most Americans lived among chickens – raising, feeding, cleaning, watering, and occasionally carrying those feather-born demons – PETA would be nothing more than flatbread, cock-fighting would be annexed as the national sport, and I could easily buy Chick-Fil-A on Sundays.

Everyday before school, I would slip, slide, and breathe heavily downhill to the chicken coop near the base of woods. Suitably enough, most of the rainwater would gather at the base of this hill before trickling under- or aboveground to the adjacent ponds and streams, forming a marsh of fetid mud and slime, a haven for flies and mosquitoes of all sizes and varieties. This I would traverse to the edge of the bramble-soaked woods to the small shack, where the chicken’s dwelt. Most of the time this daily exercise would consist of scraping the food and water containers, cleaning out the excess – and putrid – waste from their coop, gathering slime molded eggs, and avoid losing my fingers to the pecking beaks of this demon band. During the summer months, as the air warmed and humidity rose, the wall above the coop door would collect with mud-built hives of wasps and bees, which I could either deftly avoid (rarely) or attack with a shovel (haphazardly missing). Either way due to the thick mud and swarming birds, I rarely avoided several stinging welts upon my head. The birds, if they could, laughed and cackled riotously. On the return journey up the hill, I trudge through the muck while big black flies bite and hummingbird-sized mosquitoes stab at me with their long proboscises like a straw inserted into a juice-box. At the top of the hill, drained of energy, will, and blood, I then cleaned myself for school, a welcome vacation from the “farm.”

Two years ago while on vacation, we asked a friend of the family to watch over the chickens: feed them, give them water, and collect the eggs. The coop was build with two sections: a large indoor shack with a small latched opening (to hamper invading foxes and weasels) and a outdoor fence. Typically when gathering water and food dispensers, we shoo the chickens through the opening and latch the door, so we can collect eggs quickly and easily. For you see, our rooster had become quite territorial. A whirling dervish of claws and feathers. Our friend did not know this. As he entered the coop, the rooster charged him, flying at him with claws extended like a kung-foo kick. He received several large gashes along his leg for his work, and many many apologetic thanks from the rest of us. Later that week, Mom cooked disgruntled chicken soup for dinner and the safety of the little ones.

Then there’s the smell. Oh, how many of my mornings, once full of color and warmth – emerald-green leaves caked in golden dewdrops; branches dripping opals of raindrops with sapphire pupils of the dawn sky – have been defiled by the fetid stench of the nearby coop infecting the passing storm breeze? Believe me, it frickin’ smells. I take one last longing gaze at the morning, and then barricade myself in my room. Piles of furniture, books, dental floss, shoes, chairs, and coat hangers construct an impenetrable wall, blocking every crevice. With a clap, electronic fans of all varieties whirl and turn like a manmade typhoon. As the book pages begin to flap, I relax allowing the scents of the artificial room to send me to sleep, awaking every now and then as a loud howling cluck splits the air.

To be fair though, I cannot suffer most smells that emanate from the barnyard. I walk through the stalls at the county fairs like a doctor examining plague victims, my nose and mouth masked to allow for ample breathing, my hands protected in overly-long sleeves. The kids meanwhile frolic and play about the maze of pig pens and cages, unconcerned about what they touch or where they step. In a nearby cot, my brother lies on a cot and chews on Doritoes, whiles his pig, Porky, grunts and squeals next door. Every so often his hand passes a chip through the bars, like a letter through a mail slot; his hand now sticky and wet is wiped on his jeans and reflexively returns to the bag. He consumes another chip. I try not to gag.

UPDATE: I am now adding cattle to the ever-growing list of animals best-fried-than-alive. Yesterday our cows got loose and scamper onto the nearby highway. My sister witnessed cars careening between yellow and white lines, narrowly avoiding collisions with the silly creatures. The animals remained unharmed though, apparently bored among the grass-less asphalt and capered off into the neighbor’s yard for some food. Despite the fortuitous absence in accidents, the sudden fear of tragedy, animal mutilation, and lawsuits left my family and me visibly shaken. Eventually though using some honey-soaked grains as bait, we managed to lure the creatures back in their paddock and repair the broken fence. Cows, for those unfamiliar with livestock, are extremely strong. As I held the bucket of grains, one of them managed to stick its head into the blue bucket and literally push me like a dog with a rag-doll. Afterwards we cleaned ourselves up, got some lunch, and took a nap, our bellies fat with cheeseburger.