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Cow manure and truth.

I spent about ten hours helping to pregnancy test 700 cows today. It’s the sort of lesson in reality everyone should take. The cows have to be brought in to the cattle yards, (which are concrete floored, ridged, pole and rail fenced with hardwood (to allow a little bend and yes, they are softer more flexible than metal. The cows have microchips in their ear tags, and there is backpack reader so one can keep count. The vet uses a backpack ultrasound. He also uses a shoulder-high glove for the purpose of being able to stick his hand in to the shoulder up a cow’s hind end. The crush itself has hydraulic help (but still takes a strong man). Anything else is done by the same means as it was a century ago. We use pieces of polypipe instead of stock-whips (which make a noise and not much impact.) The stock is moved by men, in rubber boots, yelling, shoving, walloping, swearing. Slithering in the cowpoo and pee which is liberally distributed (remarkably often as you try and shove the cow far enough to close the gate). There is no part of cows or person that is safe from it, and the yards that started the day clean are dangerous four inches deep in this delightful mixture. Cows slither, kick, get aggro, moo, bellow, baulk (a lot) and try to reverse out of raceways. The humans involved stand a fair risk of getting hurt, crushed, kicked and large chance of being on the receiving end of a face-full of flying bovine-excreta that has not even been through a politician (Okay so it is cleaner).

This is not a slaughter, nor is an ultrasound probe torture. The cows are walking out of the far end complacent and unhurt (or even, if they have a problem, treated). The incoming cows can see and hear the ones which have been through, quite tranquil. If the cows were even vaguely intelligent (and the older ones do do it as a matter of routine) the entire process would take a minute of their time and be very easy for all, us and them. If they kept it in for 2 minutes the process could be entirely free of politician and would be much more pleasant for everyone, especially the cows who decide to burrow under the one ahead, to avoid that terror the microchip wand (which does nothing more than go beep beep.).

Now this is, as extensive farms go, a very advanced one, owned by folk with a love of technology and the money to invest in it. As far as the future goes, for most cattle farms (which, let’s face it, are a reality until artificial vat-meat comes along for all which methinks may be a lot further down the track than a lot of sf, particularly dystopian sf) this is probably a bit like science fiction. A few years into a future they may never reach.

And that is the reality of the future. There will be hard, physical, filthy jobs. Jobs that see that the sleek little NY city latte sipper can sip lattes, now… and in 20 (or maybe 50) years’ time. Growing food, working with sewage. The day that robots are cheap and adaptable enough to do them will (barring dystopia/collapse) arrive. But it may be a lot further down the track than people who never did a filthy, hard, manual job can imagine. Because humans are very flexible and relatively easy to teach, and some of them are very skilled and very strong.

I read comments and, indeed, sneering rants by many of my writing peers who obviously have no idea about the need for these jobs, or the how physically hard these are. There is little acknowledgement they exist let alone have value, and rather like wild daydream of supergirl kicking lots of big male butt in hand-to-hand combat, if they admit they exist, the fact that these jobs are almost entirely done by men (and if they are done by women, they’re women who despise the average woman, or indeed city-dweller as total weakling wussies.) is never acknowledged. It’s interesting that in Australia, where the minimum wage is high, and the cities crowded… the starting wages for these sort of jobs are 25%-50% more than minimum (I earned more per hour today, paid promptly, in full and with no weaseling, than I have ever have as a writer (where prompt, in full and no weaseling are a dream). Something to think about). They come with all manner of perks from cheap to free housing, clothing, to meat or other produce. They battle to fill the positions… They’ll take anyone who can do the job (but you do have to be strong enough to lift a sheep, shove a cow into a crush, lift a 50kg basket of potatoes and not be afraid of rain, or snow, or mud, or bad smells). Most of the people taking it on remain male, fairly large (or tough as old whipcord). There are a few females, and a few who aren’t heterosexual, and possibly a few who aren’t quite conservative in their tastes and beliefs. But a gambler could have a very safe bet on the characteristics the people who keep the world fed, clean, able to get that latte. Let’s say you won’t find many in trad published sf, and never as heroes. One could come up with a far less-likely-to-pass-than-Bechdel-test, as to whether any real jobs which are unlikely to be affected by technology or plausible people doing them get mentioned – especially without sneering. Call it the Dirty-Reality test. On the other hand: a city checkout clerk job, minimum wage plus nothing will have 20 applicants (skewed to female). Jobs that are indoor, simple, clean and repetitive will automate… They won’t be there quite a lot sooner than dirty, flexibility-demanding, physical (but requiring gentleness too, and the judgment of requisite force) jobs.

If these people went away tomorrow… if they weren’t there in our future, without something to replace them (and they’re MUCH harder to replace than a checkout clerk with technology) civilization as we know it would last days. Yes, in a FAR future maybe. But in future we could recognize? No. I don’t think so. Yet: one of the darlings of a UK so-called newspaper The Guardian (proof that publishing when your audience doesn’t matter is easier when you do it on other people’s money) writes that SF needs to reflect the future is queer – because he was a boy of slight with long hair who kept being told to get a haircut! “Society gets angry when gender roles are blurred, precisely because those roles are a fragile act put on with clothes, hairstyles and makeup. If they weren’t enforced, clearly defined gender roles would not exist.” — Damian Walter (who isn’t a successful writer, but writes how wrong Larry Correia is to say what successful writing needs. Predictably Damien Walter can’t actually find anything Larry actually said, or provide a link to what he said, but makes shit up.)

To which I reply in tones redolent of the fragrant effluvia of cows I have been working with: ‘You’re smoking your socks, Sunshine. Somewhere in a future so remote that present readers would have little to identify with, maybe technology will do away with men in the role they always have occupied. But if sf (particularly sf set ‘near-future’ – like the next 200 years) wants to reflect any form of plausibility, men will still be the ones doing the cows. The fishing. Or the plumbing. The crew on the salvage tugs. Probably most of the bleeding and dying, most of the jobs that require a long neck and strong back, mental and physical flexibility. Any number of other jobs which attract little or no interest from the vast majority of women, because they’re dirty and hard. Yes there will be women doing them. There are now. But damned few. Gender roles are not fragile, and Damien Walter and all his ilk better hope they aren’t in future, or they may have to find out just how hard those hard men are for themselves. I’d pay good money to watch them slither around the cattle yards.

94 Comments
  1. Boy does that bring back some memories. Years ago my husband’s grandfather had cows, not as many but enough to be a head ache when vaccination time came around. Blessed with four daughters and one son, everyone was expected to help with the cows. How this worked was the grandsons were sent to help, along with his youngest daughter Jeanie. Aunt Jeanie waited near the end of the shoot and did the actual vaccinations. (Though I’ve seen her fight her share of cows too.) The boys herded the cows and fought their heads between the bars. At 5 foot 3inches and around 120lbs at the time, I stayed out of the way, sat on the fence, tried not to get stepped on, and handed things to people as they were requested. It was an experience. We were paid in lunch instead of money but it was definitely worth it.

    April 14, 2014
    • Yeah, as I say, everyone should do, or at least see this kind of thing at least once. It colors the world differently.

      April 14, 2014
  2. Oh Dave. Now you have me daydreaming of a few men and women of my acquaintence out working in the cattle yard. I especially dream of that quick swish of poop-dripping tail across the face . . .

    I think we may be starting to regret this devaluation of hard labor, as college grads fail to find jobs.

    April 14, 2014
    • Heh, I’ve got a little list. Perhaps Jim Hines could spare the time from posing as a covergirl to do a little photoshoot. For society. And the children.

      The problem with hard labor – if you’ve never done any, is that first meeting with tends to be such a shock that you’d rather be unemployed and sponging than doing that. I am pleased to say my kids do not have this problem.

      April 14, 2014
  3. I’ve done enough manual labor to know that Manual deserves every penny he (or she) gets for that labor. And I’m always amazed by the ability of cattle and sheep to find the one loose fence post or broken wire section in a 5 mile run of fence and all swarm out of it. It’s as if they are telepathic or something.

    April 14, 2014
    • And wait until you try and get the bloody things back through.It has to organized resistance (especially sheep. I understand perfectly why my ancestors stole English sheep. I just don’t know how the hell they got them back over the border.)

      April 14, 2014
      • I think my ancestors got on the English side and started singing at them. The critters fled north to get away from the sound. That may also be why a few generations later, closer ancestors were thrown out of Ulster and chased to the Colonies. *shrug*

        April 14, 2014
      • bearcat #

        You’re one up on me, I’m sure mine stole English sheep also, and I have NO idea why anyone would want to steal a sheep.

        April 14, 2014
  4. correia45 #

    What you describe in that first section is how I grew up. No wonder I find writing so much easier. 🙂

    April 14, 2014
    • Also explains a bit about your work ethic, Larry. Anything further on teh grauniad front?

      April 14, 2014
      • Draven #

        Don’t make him respond! He’ll use precious writing energy!

        April 14, 2014
        • Meh. Larry is a machine. At least a cyborg of note. I am unconcerned with wasting his precious time. I’m far more concerned that he spend enough time in re-creation that he doesn’t burn out. Also that his family see enough of him one of them doesn’t accidentally shoot him as an intruder.

          April 14, 2014
    • heh, I have to be a little odd. I enjoy doing this kind of stuff. If I’d been born in Australia, not Africa (where making a decent living on hard labor was difficult), I’d probably still be just working on a fishing boat, reading a a book at night. Might have worked my way up from a deckie by now. Maybe.

      April 14, 2014
    • The closest I came to manure was when I worked in the fields in summer. We used vast quantities of it. But due to a meeting with an ill-tempered cow as a small girl, I was afraid of bovines…
      OTOH I’d rather work the fields than the three months I spent as a hotel cleaner. Manure is more pleasant than what humans do to spaces that you have to clean on clocked time and leave spotless enough for inspection. (I still would like to know what the heck was with the couple that kept the bathroom full of food. No, seriously. The room had a sort of kitchenette, but all the food was in the bathroom.)

      April 14, 2014
      • Ah, memories. Helping out on the family dairy farm. Luckily I was the youngest of 6, with three older brothers, and there was a permanent farmhand on staff, so most of my farming experience was picking rocks in the springtime, and occasionally being dragged outta bed in the middle of the night, set by the side of the state highway near the cow pasture, given a large stick, and told to whack any escaped cows that tried to head for the road. I did have a couple of extended stints helping with daily milkings for a few weeks at a time here and there. I have great respect for those with the work ethic and dogged determination to make that their life, but not for me. I also had a summer job as extra custodial staff at the local Nursing home, and Sarah speaks the truth–I’d much rather clean up after cows. Of course, people look at me funny when I talk about how it’s been a few decades since I actually worked for a living (i.e. doing construction work, rather than being parked at a desk all day).

        April 16, 2014
  5. My husband spent his formative years working on a dairy farm. I think he’ll be able to commiserate with you fully once he has time to read this. 😀

    April 14, 2014
    • Dairy? You must be friggin’ mad. 😉 That’s definitely the too-hard basket.

      April 14, 2014
      • Javahead #

        My grandparents shifted their small dairy operation over to beef about the time my uncle graduated from high school since they no longer had him at home to help. When my grandfather died my grandmother asked my uncle if he wanted to give up his job working on the state highway crew and take over the beef operation. He was polite, but very firm, in declining.

        I worked through all the stuff Dave describes as a teenager, and bucked hay in the summers. Whenever I think my indoor desk job is tough I reflect on what I *could* be doing and don’t feel quite so bad.

        A quote from my grandfather: “a cow is stupidity wrapped in cowhide”. Some of his other quotes about cattle are rather more pungent.

        April 14, 2014
      • Ah, the pleasant memories of skiing through the barns on the end of a cow’s tail, barefoot through the manure 😉

        April 14, 2014
        • bearcat #

          Can’t say as I ever did it barefoot, but yes I spent time on a dairy when I was younger also.

          We were only running about 150 cows though, 700 is a lot to go through in a day.

          April 14, 2014
          • My dad never had much more than 60 milking head.

            April 15, 2014
            • heh. My experience with dairy is that you need your heads read. That’s hard yakka.:-)

              April 15, 2014
      • Mark Webster #

        My uncle had a dairy farm and we used to spend some time there in the summers, at least enough to get a feel for how hard they worked year round. As a kid on “vacation” it was fun, but as an adult I can look back and understand how hard my uncle and his family worked to make that farm successful. I’ve also picked strawberries for payment by the quart (as I recall we got $.05 per quart) and understand how hard that type of labor is also. I got to go home each night to supper on the table and roof over my head. It was spending money for me, not survival. I sympathize with those to whom it is survival.

        April 21, 2014
  6. Well said.

    April 14, 2014
  7. Being of slight build but, knowing enough to get a haircut when I needed one, I spent many a day looking at the backside of a cow and dodging. That or working in the back of the grocery store sorting good veggies from bad veggies, or picking peas, beans or cotton. I read Damian; but, could neither relate to him or understand his article. I guess it goes back to the saying- those who can’t- teach. He has to do something to get his Latte doesn’t he.

    April 14, 2014
    • Oh I have been told a stiff breeze would blow me over. And I never got a haircut when I needed one except in the army. But the only persons confused about my gender role appear to have been a ‘gay’ males who thought I might want to get up close and personal when actually I’d come to the gents to get rid of the beer.
      I read the article. It was hard because my eyes were doing 360’s in my head. He can’t write, or do. But he’s OK because the Grauniad will pay for his lattes.

      April 14, 2014
  8. I believe it was Horace who said that you can throw nature out with a pitchfork, but it always keeps coming back. Funny how the crew who claim to be reality-based have so little in common with hard, dirty work.

    April 14, 2014
    • Shavian socialists. I made them the villains of RBV

      April 14, 2014
      • You only made them villains because they shave!
        Oh, wait… (And HOW did you pass that on to my younger son? You have to chase him all over the house and lock him in the bathroom and not let him out for food before he shaves.)

        April 14, 2014
  9. Synova #

    (and if they are done by women, they’re women who despise the average woman, or indeed city-dweller as total weakling wussies.)

    Pretty much… yeah. 🙂

    Even when you’re small enough to be stuck doing all the jobs you’re able so that larger stronger people can do the others… despising the city-dweller as a total weakling wuss is part of the territory.

    April 14, 2014
    • NY and the like look down on us. I don’t think it occurs to them that we do the same. With more reason. We do what they cannot. They simply do what we would not.

      April 14, 2014
      • Javahead #

        Dave, thanks for putting my feelings about urban elites in a nutshell. Too late, I realized my career choice would require me to live in urban areas (maybe I should have majored in forestry rather than engineering after all).

        Next time I talk about the differences I’ll just say “the neighbors”, and quote you.

        I’m told that during the early American frontier period that some felt it was time to move on if they could see the smoke from a neighbor’s cabin. I think you would have fit in quite well then and there.

        April 16, 2014
    • I can’t say I much despise or have any really harsh feelings about town kids in general, I just have to keep reminding myself that they really don’t know they can do a lot of stuff… and that they don’t have the sense to recognize when something they think they can do on a ranch, they can’t! (Dad doesn’t take my husband out to check the cows anymore, husband can’t “read” that a cow wants to eat him.)

      April 14, 2014
      • heh. That last line made me laugh a lot. There are townies and townies. The kind I refer to are either willfully blind or arrogant. That gets up my nose and itches. I’ve lived in town, I know their world, I can deal with it. They, in general, don’t know mine.

        April 15, 2014
  10. Luke #

    A-fricking-men.

    April 14, 2014
  11. John McDonald #

    I spent my teenage years living on a small family ranch/farm in East Texas, so I can sympathize. Going to school was a relief from the physical side of life. Makes me appreciate all those folks who have those kinds of jobs as a working career.

    April 14, 2014
    • There are people – and I’m borderline, who probably should do them, because that is what they do well and enjoy. There are people who do them because they have no other option. But no mistake, it’s hard work, and those who do it as a career are hard men.

      April 14, 2014
      • In a way I enjoy/ed that type of work more. It was less stress and I knew when I was done. But I’m not as strong as I used to be.

        April 14, 2014
        • bearcat #

          Yep, I like Manuel Labor jobs for those reasons.

          April 15, 2014
        • That’s the main problem with manual labor. You may be able to keep doing those type of jobs well into old age. But it’s also possible you will get problems which make them difficult or impossible even pretty early in your middle age. And finding something less physically demanding can be difficult if you are no longer young, and have work experience only or mainly from manual jobs. Yes, getting educated in something new and maybe some sort of degree or other papers can improve your chances, but when you graduate you will still be competing with people much younger with the same papers, and some a bit older who have both the papers and experience.

          Those people who work mostly with their minds have better chances of being able to work as long as they need to. Probably the best way to go would be trying to have some sort of dual careers, or find something which will also get you trained in something you can do even if your body fails you.

          April 15, 2014
          • This is true. But when I’m sitting back on the beach with a boat full of fish, safe home from an ocean that is full of lumps and bits of nasty white waves, even knowing I am going to be as sore as hell tonight… I do feel alive and, well, a man. A hunter, who has lived with the elements, calculated his risks and got it right. A man who has temporarily beaten the sea (and it’s bigger and tougher than anything else, bar gravity) and who has brought home food for his family. It’s a primitive satisfaction… but I hope I can die before I get too old to be able to do that. I enjoy writing, but that touches a part of me that nothing else quite reaches.

            April 15, 2014
            • phunctor #

              Feeding the summer gathering of the clan with my speargun yea 50 years ago. I felt useful. It’s a good feeling for a young teen.

              April 17, 2014
              • That’s something I hadn’t actually considered. As kids my brother and I were expected to add to the family food, diving, collecting seafood. It was always acknowledged with appreciation of the effort and respect. I can still clearly remember the pride in the old man’s voice as he would tell the family, or anyone else that would listen ‘My David/Carless caught that.’ I wonder if he knew he was shaping us into hunter-gatherers ;-/. I enjoyed that respect, that feeling of achievement, but I hadn’t put my finger on it until you brought it up.

                April 17, 2014
  12. mikeweatherford #

    Been there, done that. What’s more, I know such jobs will continue to be needed as long as mankind tries to live with nature. There are just some jobs that have to be done, and only people can do them. Most are dirty, hard, and mind-numbing at times. In my case it was castrating hogs, but I’ve also milked cows, plowed behind a pair of mules (who knew more about what they were doing than I did, but it was still hard work!), pitched hay, and done all the other “fun” things of farm life.

    Anne McCaffrey touches on this lightly in her “Doona” novels, as I do in “Lost”. People who colonize other planets will have to do hard physical labor to succeed, and some of them won’t even then. It will be the physically strong but mentally alert that will colonize the stars, not the latte-sipping law clerk or retail sales associate.

    April 14, 2014
    • Yes, I wrote about it in RBV too. What gets missed by the likes of Banks, Stross etc is that technology interlocks. And any new world has none of he interlocking industries, and shipping it in is ridiculously expensive. So the only way forward will be back. And the ‘new’ world people will regard the old worlders with scorn, and vice versa

      April 14, 2014
      • Depending on how advanced a culture you’re coming from, you might have a few nano-factories or the like, but you’d only want to use it for mission-critical/life-or-death stuff — and only when you absolutely need it. You wouldn’t want to be the guy who overtaxed and broke down the nanofac because you were trying to fab an espresso maker. Tends to put you on rather awkward terms with the neighbors…

        April 15, 2014
        • yes – there will be the most valuable of resources – information. Probably some medical. Some brute force machinery. A few luxuries. And the rest colonists will have to make.

          April 15, 2014
      • I think Banks gets that, but the Culture just travels with a ginormous interlocked structure there. They don’t have the problem of “new worlds” because they mostly don’t use planets, and they bring the worlds with them.

        Now what Banks doesn’t (well, didn’t) get is that the Humans in the Culture are pets.

        April 16, 2014
    • bearcat #

      April 15, 2014
      • I think I’d vote for her 🙂

        April 15, 2014
      • So does she include farm subsidies in that?

        April 16, 2014
  13. masgramondou #

    Ah yes the joys of livestock farming. Definitely a job I’m happy to let other people do, but one that I think it would benefit everyone to do for a month or two at some point in their life (as I have).

    You can automate a lot of the surrounding tasks (e.g. haymaking is now one guy on a tractor for a week or two not a couple of dozen people for longer) but when push comes to shove you still have to have people to move the damn beasts and inspect them and inject them and so on.

    April 14, 2014
    • Agreed that automation and SOME better tools will happen. But the truth is that it’s not a routine job. Yes, there are routine bits, but there are so many different aspects often short but essential to farm-work that automation just isn’t worthwhile. A flexible, filth tolerant tough ‘bot is a lot more expensive than a clean environment routine job bot will be.

      April 14, 2014
      • masgramondou #

        Indeed. But there’s a reason why only 5% of the population work on a farm these days not 50%. Farming today is so much more efficient than it was 200 years ago and a big reason for that is that we have far better tools.

        A bot that can drive a tractor (be a tractor) with different tools attached will help a lot to reduce that 5% down to 1%. Though it will not (and cannot) eliminate the final 1%

        April 14, 2014
      • I want my hypospray.

        And a better branding iron.

        And some way to inject the bleeping “I got my horrible disease vaccine” tags directly into the dang SKULL so that they don’t have to be replaced so often…..

        April 14, 2014
        • As someone who got an injection from an air hypo and has a scar to show for it, I can tell you they hurt 😛

          April 15, 2014
          • Uncle has a scar, too– ‘s why I want a REAL hypo-spray!

            April 15, 2014
  14. I think this particular pendulum is about to swing back. To a large extent, status follows money (at least in the US). It used to be that college graduates were rare and manual laborers common. Now the situation seems to be the reverse.

    April 14, 2014
    • And with a sort of grim inevitability, we’ll get demands for more women/minorities etc. etc. Despite the fact that the jobs are there for anyone who can take the pressure, they’re _excluded_. Call the diversity police! Only they can’t be expected to do the same job, but a less physical one, with special toilets. As is there are some women who do the same job on the same terms as the average farm-worker. For equal work, and equal conditions to work, equal pay. But if you want 5 press-ups instead of 50, and carry 10 pounds instead of 100… maybe you should expect 1/10 pay too.

      OK another 300 cows to deal with. More replies later.

      April 14, 2014
      • bearcat #

        There are plenty of Mexicans doing those jobs here anymore, but the few women doing them are usually either family (and relegated to the jobs they can do as well as the menfolk) or tougher than bootleather, or more often, both.

        April 15, 2014
  15. dgarsys #

    After 12 years as a Navy nuke in Subs (mother nature is an unforgiving B***h and just doesn’t give a F[art|uck] ), I’m convinced that most of us in the “civilized” lands have no idea what kind of cocoon we’re wrapped in, nor how lucky we have it.

    No, I’m not inclined to sneer at civilization (unlike, say, the latest “Lone Ranger” travesty who’s greatest sin wasn’t the sheer dogmatic PC in it but breaking a repeatedly made promise in the story), but all too many kids today seem to forget that “food” doesn’t just come in pretty packages n the supermarket or get pulled out of the ground. They glory in how much “better” they have it without understanding the foundation it’s built on, or that not all aspects are really any less grubby.

    It’s a topic I’ve harped on before, but I think that the three central tenets of Eric Raymond’s “Ethics from the Barrell of a Gun” are generally applicable to anyone who has spent significant time in a profession or life where large portions of their day require life-or-death awareness of consequences – and that the universe doesn’t care if you screwed up or were just unlucky.

    Points that Sarah makes about a bunch of us smart kids thinking we can predict and control everything (something else the navy and reality knocked out of me – the idea that it has to be/can be perfect every time. And predictable, and can be modeled easily with numbers) can be addressed by taking a look at books/concepts like “Antifragility”.

    …and getting repeatedly head butted by reality also helps one understand that maybe the ancients and our more immediate predecessors weren’t so stupid about so many things we think outdated – at least when it comes to systems and people. And if they were right about some things, perhaps we should question our “we know more than they did” superiority about others.

    April 14, 2014
    • JB from KC #

      Not to derail the thread, but dgarsys, I also am a Navy Nuke bubblehead. Spent 14 years riding fast attacks.

      April 14, 2014
      • dgarsys #

        The last time I exhibited concern for derailing a thread around these parts (over at ATH) the hostess wondered if I’d been replaced by pod people.

        I made holes in the water and stayed very very quiet. Then handed the boat over to a bunch of other guys while enjoying the GA sun chine, insofar as that was possible. That and two instructor tours.

        April 14, 2014
  16. Kate Paulk #

    I’ve done my stint in one of those kinds of jobs – and mine was a bit less of the hard manual labor than that (Junior field geologist in a teensy exploration camp in far northwest Queensland, Australia). Hot, difficult, dirty, buggerall in the way of civilized amenities. As in, power came from a generator. Water pumped from underground (not drinkable – for washing only – the drinking water was a mix of rainwater when we had it and trucked in from elsewhere).

    I’d have gone back if the company hadn’t evaporated. Couldn’t do it now – but I appreciate what goes into manual labor a lot more than if I hadn’t done that stint and worked with hard burly men who slung 3 meter lengths of pipe around like they were nothing.

    April 14, 2014
    • There is a satisfaction in working at tough jobs with working men. I know a handful of women who can and do. But they’re a very small group. my advice to any young man out there: you find one, you marry her if you can (but you’ll usually find there’s a queue).

      April 15, 2014
      • Kate Paulk #

        That or she’s SO odd she scares off most of the young men (that was me…)

        April 16, 2014
  17. So reality influences the demographics of cow pokers? And therefore women are underrepresented? That’s not fair! Where can we sue reality?

    April 14, 2014
    • Don’t try in Washington DC, because I gather it hasn’t been seen there for years.

      April 15, 2014
  18. Robin Munn #

    When you say “jobs that require a long neck and a strong back”, I know what a strong back is. But what’s a long neck? I’ve heard the phrase before but I’ve never known what it meant/means.

    April 14, 2014
    • Robin Munn #

      Actually, what I think I mean to ask is, “How is a long neck a benefit in physically demanding jobs?”

      April 14, 2014
      • I think it comes from the expression ‘sticking your neck out’ Robin – taking calculated risks. So for instance, you need to get a cow into the race. She’s a balky kicker. So take a chance that you can intimidate her, and shove her with the gate, and be fast/lucky enough not to get kicked. Your taking that chance is a calculated risk, but if you completely played it safe it would take you to next week.

        April 14, 2014
  19. “Society gets angry when gender roles are blurred, precisely because those roles are a fragile act put on with clothes, hairstyles and makeup. If they weren’t enforced, clearly defined gender roles would not exist.”

    Wow, has he got it backwards– if they weren’t enforced promptly by society, they’d be enforced with a delay by reality, and in rather dire ways.

    My folks are ranchers, and mom does a lot of the ranch stuff with dad– but she’s got the sense to let him do some of it. Part of why she hurts so much is that it took her until she had kids to stop trying to show she was just as tough as the guys…. (Tougher, actually, because she’d keep going after she got hurt!)

    ****

    I’d be so cool to try out some of the fancy stuff…sounds like dairy, so totally different situation even before funding, but so cool!

    April 14, 2014
    • bearcat #

      Sounded like diary to me too, (I used to work on one) but I think Dave said it wasn’t. We never had any of the fancy microchips or ultrasounds, but the shoulder length rubber glove is familiar.

      Dave,
      Did you say the microchips are in the eartags? I would have thought microchips would be to expensive to put in the tags, unless your cows down under are a lot better behaved than ours and don’t rip them out fairly regularly.

      April 15, 2014
      • Maybe it’s a feed lot type operation? Or very expensive cows?

        I know they tried to use chips here, but they didn’t work out– too high of a loss and failure rate, plus too hard to read. (Would’ve been 10-15 years ago.)

        April 15, 2014
        • Yep, they’re in the ear tags. The girls look like punk rockers with all the tags. I think we had to replace 15 or so. No, it’s not feed-lot – It’s not a huge farm by desert or mountain standards, but it is fat, well-watered fertile flatland (not what you would think of as Australia, very green, improved pastures) – About 5000 Acres – with more or less 7000 sheep, and around 900 cows, and of course calves and bulls. And wallaby and wombats.

          April 15, 2014
          • So either a LOT of money, or the cost of the lost chips is worth it to them…..

            Cool. Thank you!

            April 15, 2014
      • I think the owners like gadgets 🙂 – which is nice for my friend Norm who manages the place.

        April 15, 2014
  20. Dan Lane #

    I work in manufacturing. Well, that’s the part I get paid for.

    Some years ago, the Powers That Be decided it would be a good idea to automate. Business was good. Profits were high. The workers were efficient and well paid…

    So changes came. Overhead track to move finished product the quarter mile to shipping. ‘Bots to move parts from fabrication to sub-assembly to final assembly. Efficiency. No need for overtime pay. Less paid benefits. And so on.

    Problem is, though, that we still needed forklifts, and men to drive them. Why? All this automated machinery was there to do all the things we needed done! They said. Well, the thing is, humans can innovate. Faced with a situation we’ve *never* experienced before, often enough we can figure it out. We’re adaptable. ‘Bots stop running when their sensors go out (supposedly). People work around and get the job done. People are tough, too. I’ve had days where I had to finish a shift still leaking blood and smarting from the bruises (and I’m far from special), because taking another fellow’s pay to do a job is a promise and an obligation. Broken ‘bots tend to stay that way ‘till they are fixed.

    Hands-on work won’t be leaving us any time soon. Oh, sure, it can get more complicated, more precise. There’s tools for that. Even should we manage to conquer gravity, break the speed of light limit, live longer and so on, there will still be dirt and balky cattle and filthy sheep. There will still be pipe wrenches (because it’ll be hard to top that basic, durable design), split-rail fences, and plows for a while yet.

    This post was good for me because it fit some ideas I’ve been knocking around for a while. *grin*

    April 15, 2014
    • Automation/’bots will get every place. What they don’t figure when writing about this stuff is that the dirty flexible (and outdoor) jobs will be the LAST place it happens. What is the US/Europe’s largest employment sector – ‘service industry’ – you know what that means… not making things, designing things, working out in the rain or adapting around problems, or even creating stories. But a huge swathe of those ‘service’ jobs are going to go first. Because a robot/computer can do most of that.

      April 15, 2014
      • Draven #

        I think alot of the ‘fast food workers need to be paid a living wage’ are about to find out that computers can flip burgers.

        April 15, 2014
      • Dan Lane #

        Oddly enough, the ‘bots were canned when the economy tanked around ’08-’09. The company moved to Texas, thinking “cheap labor!” and ran into inintended consequences… Dust, for one, quality control issues, and so on.

        The company is now ‘bot-free, back in Southern Appalachia, and regaining its place in the market (slipped a few notches once it moved manufacturing). We’re still using equipment from the 1930s-1950s: drill press, rivet punch, and lathe, because they work.

        I ended up here because I like making things, and doing work that shows real results. Can’t really get that with the service industry. I hope to be able to keep making, growing, and fixing things ’till they put me under. The sore back and aching hands tell me I did something today. The pile of stuff that was borked, raw, and unfinished before I set hands to it is further proof. That satisfies. *grin*

        April 16, 2014
  21. Reblogged this on Be Swift, Be Precise and commented:
    An ode to animal husbandry . . .

    April 15, 2014
  22. By the way, did that person complaining about people who kept telling him to have a haircut, mention what kind of long hair he did/does have? Somewhat less likely to get those comments if the hair is thick, luxuriant and has a good color, and is kept clean – in other words, is pleasant to look at and maybe looks like something one would want to touch. But thin and stringy and dirty looking, yep, that will probably get comments recommending something a lot shorter. Admittedly a boy with that kind of unpleasant hair will probably get way more of those comments than a girl will, but it does not have much to do with his perceived sexual orientation. 😀

    April 15, 2014
  23. Don RN #

    Sounds a lot like a TV series here — Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs. Enjoyed that show. Every week, for 8 years, featured jobs that were dirty, hard work, and most of the time can’t be done except by people.

    April 15, 2014
    • There are a lot of them, happening beneath the surface. Behind the latte as it were :-). I saw a couple about working at sea. Been there.

      April 15, 2014
  24. Marty #

    What I’d really like to see is a robot that can find cows in a round-up. I’ve helped my brother-in-law get his cows from the 50 square mile mountain pasture.

    One: Cows can be very hard to find in the chaparral.
    Two: Scrub mahogany trees are very hard on the legs (even with leather chaps) while chasing a cow that doesn’t want to go the way you want it to.
    Three: Cows do not like to cross highways, even when the highways are being blocked by the round-up team on horseback.
    Four: Drivers not getting where they’re going can be very rude.
    Five: Hunters (this being BLM land) will try to intimidate the round-up crew because their prey is running away from the round-up.
    Six: Cows will go to where the water is, even when it’s on the other side of the fence.
    Seven: There is always one or two cows that do not want to stay with the herd and have to be returned to the herd.

    A robot that could do all that would be prohibitively expense to most ranchers in the U.S. west.

    April 15, 2014
    • Yeah. Agreed. That’s my point. And you don’t round-up every day. So it becomes a VERY expensive robot indeed, as it only works a small number of days a year. If it’s not a specialized round-up ‘bot, doing the other hard dirty jobs – it’s going to cost you even more. It’ll happen, maybe, somewhere so far down the line that we look at a future as alien to us as readers as Grog-the-caveman hearing about i-tunes in the campfire story circle. Grog thought it dull and incomprehensible drivel then, and we would now, were it realistically written.

      April 15, 2014
    • bearcat #

      “Five: Hunters (this being BLM land) will try to intimidate the round-up crew because their prey is running away from the round-up.”

      As a hunter this always seemed a particularly stupid reaction for hunters to have myself. First off most critters do not run out of the country, but just get far enough out of the way to be undisturbed by the crew, second, if they wish to use it to their advantage the hunters can get ahead of the round-up crew and let them work as beaters driving game their direction.

      I do recall the time I was bear hunting and my dogs ran a bear right through a round-up. The cowboys had about fifty head in a bunch driving them along when bear and dogs decided to go right through the herd. Scattered the cows a bit, and created a few minutes exciting work for the cowboys getting all the cows gathered back up and pointed in the right direction again, but happily they weren’t to ticked; probably because they were as flabbergasted as I was that the bear chose to go through the middle of a herd of cows being driven by four cowboys and half a dozen cow dogs rather than go around.

      April 16, 2014
  25. Dave #

    I just smiled as I read this. It brought back memories from when I was younger, well,…. lots younger. My Grandfather had a dairy/beef farm in the mid north coast region of NSW. One of the earliest memories I have from then is helping to “strip” milk from the udders as a 5 yr old and spraying it into work boots, and getting a drink of milk “straight from the tap”. As I grew older you were always sent to help during school and christmas holidays. My Uncle now has the farm and he’s given dairy away as being a ‘fools game’ because there wasn’t enough money in it for him to live because his herd wasn’t large enough.
    As for hard work, well, i know my grandfather used to start about 430 am mustering the dairy cattle,, then you’d milk and start clean up. Mainly because the milk truck arrived between 7 and 710 every day, guaranteed. then it was chores, breakfast at 8, where you were told what was going to happen today, then worked till about 12, where you had a lunch break. Now this lunch break was usually just long enough to eat a sandwich or two, have a drink of water, maybe a piece of fruit, scratch yourself and then start work again. Then keep working till 4, back to the house/shed, put tools away and have afternoon tea. You ALWAYS had to have afternoon tea at 430 – ‘things’ just wouldn’t get done if you hadn’t had your cuppa and a slice of plain cake. Then milking started again at 5. Normally while Pop was having his cuppa, us grandkids were setting up the bails for milking and getting the cattle, becuase you milked from 5 till about 7, did a few more related chores then dinner at 8pm, lights out by 9. Forget about TV, you listened to the radio station and the news whilst you were working.
    Now, as for myself, I’ve been a Marine Engineer for the past 28years, going to sea on large deepwater vessels – the largest was 220k Tonnes. I like my job – it’s got it’s ups and downs, it’s hot, smelly, noisy, but i like it. I don’t mind visiting the farm, but playing in liquid cow flop everyday – I gave that away years ago. This way, I get to relax at night, and i can even have a holiday without having to get someone else to work for me.
    Some people just don’t understand real life, and wouldn’t if they stood in it.

    April 16, 2014

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