I spent part of my life on a dairy farm. I am intimately acquainted with the ways of livestock, the land, and people who are drawn to working them. There are many lessons to be learned from the earth, and from things that dwell close to it.
One of the lessons I refer back to most often is The Shit Cow. I understand it’s not the most attractive term, but it’s the one used by dairy farmers. Beef farmers may not use it, but they don’t have to get up underneath their livestock twice a day.
I was introduced to the farm when I was seven years old. It was a fantasy land for me, with haymows full of kittens, and dogs out in the yard. Feeding baby calves was fun, and fresh apples in the orchard were sweeter than anything. Most of those early days on the farm were spent in play. I wasn’t really introduced to the working end of it until I was fifteen, and started dating the oldest boy in the family.
The farm was still fun, but there was a lot of work to be done. Milking happens twice per day, no matter what life throws at a dairy farmer. Cows don’t stop producing because someone had a baby, or their best friend died, or for any other reason. They also have to be fed, crops must be planted then harvested, and so on.
And, there’s The Shit Cow to deal with. She’s the one who saunters into the barn with her udder crusted in manure. Most cows are clean, but there’s one in every barn that will find any muck she can, and spend her time lying around in it. (Sound like some people you know?) The Shit Cow absolutely must be cleaned before she’s milked, or she will contaminate the product and equipment. If it only had to be done once, it wouldn’t be so bad; but it’s twice a day, every day. And, it’s one of the nastiest jobs on the farm.
“She’s awful! Why don’t you just get rid of her?” I complained to Jim (the owner of the farm) one day. He laughed, and then proceeded to tell me that they had tried that. “But, there’ll always be a Shit Cow. As soon as she’s gone, there’s another waiting to take her place. They cool off by lying in that muck, so there’s always somebody waiting their turn. You just have to get used to it. There will always be a Shit Cow.”
Farmers are wise. Jim knew more about psychology than he probably realized. Life has its Shit Cow, too. Most of the stuff in life is really good, but it seems like there’s always a Shit Cow hanging around somewhere; that recurring situation that follows us around, a lesson begging to be learned. The players may change, but the same, nasty message keeps cropping up. Even if I get rid of the people involved, the same circumstances will come up again and again until I pull the lesson out of it, get what I’m supposed to get, and move on.
Dealing with The Shit Cow really does require that I get below the surface layer and look for what is underneath. A messy as it may be, it is still a necessary part of life. Often, The Shit Cow is the most productive. Lots of milk in the animal; lots of lessons in life. Good stuff, if I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Of course, there comes a time when productivity drops off. There’s no point in scraping off the goop, because there’s nothing left underneath. At that point, Knowing When to Walk Away is a good thing.