Outstanding in His Field

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Written by Leigh Anne Florence, illustrated by Chris Ware



“What is that smell?” Chloe asked Pa as the nasty odor filled the truck.
“That’s cow manure,” Pa explained.
“Cow manure?” I repeated, unsure of what cow manure was but happy I wasn’t responsible for the rancid scent.
“Yes,” Pa confirmed, “cow manure.”
“I don’t want to be crude, Pa,” I said, “but it smelled like somebody used the bathroom – and for a moment I was scared it was me!”
“Somebody did use the bathroom, son,” Pa answered, “the cows.”
The look on our face was priceless.
“For centuries farmers have used animal waste – or manure as it’s called – to fertilize crops,” Pa explained.
“Fertilize?”  I asked.
“Yes, fertilize,” Pa repeated. “Fertilizers are put on top of the soil to produce better crops. Cow manure contains properties to help those crops grow.”
“What kind of crops?” Chloe asked. “You have a dairy farm, and this is a beef cattle farm. I don’t know much about farming, but I do know you don’t plant cows!”
“You’re correct, Chloe,” Pa said, “but even dairy and cattle farmers still grow crops. We grow gardens so we can have fresh vegetables to eat and so our cows can have corn and hay to eat. Sometimes we sell extra hay or corn to other farmers, which gives us extra income.  Since my cows produce milk and these cows at this farm are used for beef, we want them to consume top-quality hay or corn so they produce top-quality milk and beef. Of course, there are farmers who grow crops such as corn, soybeans, vegetables, tobacco or hay as their primary source of income. Kentucky ranks number 1 in the production of non-alfalfa hay.”
“They must really think cow poop is good stuff,” I said, making everyone giggle.
As we looked around the farm, I noticed something missing. “Where are the Brown Swiss cows?” I asked Pa.
“Well, Woody, here comes the farmer. You can ask her.”
“Her?” I said.         
“Girls can be farmers just like boys,” Chloe responded, looking smug.     
“Your smart sister is correct,” Pa said as a very pretty – and small – young lady appeared. “Woody, Chloe, this is my friend Lauren. She is one of the best beef cattle farmers in the state. Lauren, say hello to my friends Woody and Chloe.”
We held out our right paws for Farmer Lauren to shake.
“Farmer Lauren,” I asked in my clearest voice, “do you have any Brown Swiss cows? They’re my favorite.”
“Brown Swiss are more of a dairy cow, Woody,” Lauren said, “not a beef cow. Some cows produce better beef than others, just as some cows produce better milk than others. If you look all around the farm, you will see Angus, Hereford and a rarer breed of cattle known as Wagyu.”
“Why are the cows wearing earrings, Farmer Lauren?” Chloe asked.
“Those are ear tags, sweetie,” Lauren said. “Since we have more than 200 cows here, it can get very confusing. The tags help me identify them. Each cow has a tag that contains an AIN, or animal identification number. It tells me information such as when the cow was born and which flock he or she came from. It also allows me to keep better records.”
“I didn’t know farmers used computers!” I said.
“Sure we do,” Lauren replied. “We use computers, math, science and many other subjects I learned in school.”
“Guess I better study all my subjects harder,” I told Farmer Lauren. “Chloe and I went to the milk barn and helped Pa milk the cows. Can we go to the meat barn and help you meat the cows?”
Lauren looked at Pa before she answered. “It might take a beef cow a few years before it is ready to produce meat. And even then, it can be a complicated process. Why don’t I show you around the farm?”
I had a funny feeling Farmer Lauren wasn’t telling me the entire story, so I made a mental note to ask Mom and Dad about the process of making beef.
Chloe, Pa and I followed Lauren as she took us to various pastures and pointed out different cattle. “The solid black cows are Angus, and those with the reddish-brown bodies and white faces are Hereford.”
Listening to Farmer Lauren, we learned so much about cattle. I couldn’t wait to tell Mom and Dad all the things I’d learned. As I was thinking about my parents, I saw some familiar faces. I grabbed Chloe’s paw and pulled her as I ran as quickly as I could to see our friends. Barking and sprinting made it difficult to hear, but I faintly heard Pa and Farmer Lauren screaming at Chloe and me to come back.

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