Man’s Endless Battle Against Mud

May the odds be ever in your favor–that’s what I think whenever we have to load cows. There are two types of cows in a cattle chute: passive-aggressive cows (a.k.a immovable cows) and aggressive cows (a.k.a. cows that snort and kick). I can’t blame them. I’d be mad too if an annoying creature was pushing me down a muddy hallway into a strange dark trailer. Cows aren’t the brightest animals in the barnyard, but they aren’t stupid either. If I was in a similar situation and a smaller animal, like a squirrel, was pushing on my hindquarters and yelling gibberish at me, I’d kick the fire out of it too. 

The problem is cows don’t respect gentle pleas for mutual cooperation, which is unfortunate for introverts. We, introverts, need a good five minutes just to warm our vocal cords up enough to let out a respectable, “Hey cow, move cow!” By that time, first impressions have already been made, and the cows have identified us as a pushover. In fact, statistically speaking there are more extroverts currently in America because way back in the Wild West days introverts were more likely to get pushed over and trampled by cows, drastically reducing their ability to mosey into a town and attract mates with their best Clint Eastwood impression. 

Sometimes my wife asks me why we need so much farm junk, and the short answer is, “mud.” When your trailer with four cows on it gets stuck after managing to make it two whole feet from the corral, you need a tractor to pull the truck and trailer out. And when your tractor bottoms out trying to pull the truck and trailer out, you need another tractor to pull out the first tractor and truck and trailer. 

Same goes for boots. Farmers have to have multiple pairs of boots to extricate footwear from mud holes. This time of year, cows have a considerable advantage because they don’t have to wear rubber boots in the mud. Boots are notoriously slow to biodegrade, as evidenced by the fact that ancient boots have been located, without their partner boot, in archaeological sites, meaning long ago an ancient farmer was likely hopping around on one foot trying not to get his ancient sock dirty. Whether he fell over and took a breather to wallow in the self-pity of a good mud hole, we may never know–but we do know he left a boot for perpetuity, a sign of man’s endless battle against mud. 

All Hail, the Floor Inspector

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times, “Take your boots off before coming inside.” There’s a boot tray on our back porch where I’m supposed to deposit my footwear before entering the inner sanctum. Sometimes my wife, the Floor Inspector, posts sticky notes on the porch door reminding me, “Take shoes OFF!” (emphasis hers). 

Hypocritically, she doesn’t remove her shoes. Nor does she require other people to remove their shoes. It’s just my shoes. So we have a double standard in which my manure-caked boots are discriminated against. 

The real problem here is my wife is a clean freak, descended from a long line of clean freaks who believe it’s a great moral failing to have a speck of dirt on the floor. And it’s darn near an unforgivable sin to leave a muddy footprint (even in plain mud, not red). All this has something to do with the quote “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” which I’ve told her a million times is not in the Bible—nowhere, not even hidden in Habakkuk. What is found in the Bible is Jesus making a blind man see with a saliva/dirt combo. That’s one-hundred percent indisputable evidence that Jesus is pro-mud. Of course, she fires back that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, which she says is one-hundred percent indisputable evidence that Jesus is pro-clean floors. So we have a theological standoff. 

And our preacher, who has declined to take sides, is about as useless as a boot brush—you know, one of those stationary three-sided brushes that you kick your foot through repeatedly like a bull threatening to charge. Theoretically, the stiff bristles are supposed to dislodge contaminants. Mostly, they just smear your soles in a thin layer of mud, which, when applied to the floor, goes on in a smooth even coat and dries in two to four hours at 72 degrees. If home alone, this drying time provides some flexibility, allowing you to piddle around before returning (as the Floor Inspector pulls into the driveway) to hurriedly wipe the floors clean. 

Some of my farming friends have suggested I try the tip-toe, an old-timey mud abatement method in which full-grown men in boots walk en pointe like ballerinas. I can’t say I’m opposed to such old-fashioned methods, but this is the 21st century and there ought to be a better solution, one that doesn’t require me to develop grace, balance, and flexibility at an advanced age. Until I figure out what that solution is, I’m stuck taking my boots off and praying for a divine intervention for my wife, whose belief in the immaculate inspection is borderline heretical if you ask me. 

The Three Truths of Raising Livestock

If you walk far on our farm during winter, you’ll likely come up missing footwear, especially if you try to traverse the Bog of Despair, which is centered around the hay ring. It contains a few old-growth rubber boots that are as firmly rooted in the muck as swamp gums in the Bayou. The poor soles are a grim reminder of what happens when bipeds with loosely-fitting rubber boots on their trotters attempt such a superfluous task as removing twine from a hay roll. 

A lot of farmers don’t bother cutting and removing the twine, but if anybody was going to lose a cow because twine got knotted up in the digestive tract, it would probably be me. I once lost a cow to a plastic feedsack. “Probably just a little case of pneumonia,” the vet said, having stopped by since the cow was off its feed and acting puny, “likely this shot will get her perked back up and feeling better by tomorrow.” By tomorrow, the cow was as perky as a three-toed sloth, and by the next day it was as perky as a dead three-toed sloth. Figures, most farmers get to tell stories of losing cows to cunning predators like coyotes or mountain lions or chupacabras, but I lose a cow to a plastic bag.   

I know it was a plastic feed sack because after we dragged the carcass off and let nature take its course, my wife’s poppaw returned to examine the remains. In the ribs, he found a feedsack that had been balled up and compacted so tightly it could have been an effective projectile in a small cannon. 

In my opinion, losing animals is the worst part of farming, especially when I easily could have prevented that loss by throwing the empty feedsack away instead of saving it for who knows why. After that, I was admittedly feeling pretty glum. In consolation, my wife’s poppaw told me there are two truths to raising livestock: “Animals are going to get out, and animals are going to die; a person who ain’t prepared to deal with those two facts don’t need to be raising livestock.”

He was right of course, but I’d also like to add a third truth: a farm is going to get muddy in winter, and a person who ain’t prepared to lose a boot, best walk barefoot.