Cow manure and truth.

While Dave’s moving, Here’s another post from April 2014!

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.

If you want to support Dave’s move to a new farm, try one of his books like StarDogs… or, that’s an Amazon Asociate link, so anything else you buy after clicking through will donate a little dough his way!


  1. Yep, that’s something the indoor folk don’t consider in their rush to automate all the cushy indoor jobs… the only jobs left will be the dirty outdoor jobs at which the indoor folk are incompetent. Of course, they expect to all be on the dole anyway, so who needs jobs??

    1. *chuckle* In their rush to automate the work, they don’t realize that the ones who will still have work are the ones who have the ability to automate, and the jobs that can’t be automated, or are very difficult to automate.

    2. Fuck living on the dole. Fuck it sideways with a rusty bill hook.

      Pardon my French.

      We have innumerates who want to live off computers doing everything.

      We have ‘college degree to do anything sort’ facing down automation of college degree work that does not touch a lot of the remaining ‘unskilled’ work.

      We have this thing of management of occupations, with the politburo deciding that we will not be having certain sorts of jobs because of technological forecasts, environmental policy, or because Party Officials had a vivid hallucination when they were smoking weed last night.

      ‘Life’ on the dole is without much of the joys of real living, and is only at the whims of crazy people.

  2. What women do on farms depends to some extent on how they are raised and what is necessary. My Dad retired from the service and bought a dairy farm in the Ozarks between my sophmore and junior years of high school. For the next six years my younger sister and I did everything from picking up eighty pound bales of hay in the field to load onto a trailer to take into the barn to milking morning and night to vegetable gardening as well as the more normal “female” things like cooking and cleaning and canning those vegetables. I never felt taken advantage of and learned a lifelong lesson that you do what is necessary and don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.

  3. One might expect me to be somehow offended by this. I am not. I know it to be true, though I have not lived it. I was “close enough” to those who have lived it to realize it. There are aspects of $CURRENT_JOB that I can see how they could be automated. It will NOT surprise when they finally are. The ‘down on the farm’ robot? Oh, that I so want to read about. No, not watch. I suspect that would be FAR too painful for all (all species!) involved.

    1. Everybody thinks manual labor is soooo easy and mindless, any idiot can do it. Easily automated! Those knuckle-draggers can be replaced with a shiny new robot.

      Until they go and try doing it. Then its not so easy.

      I put in my first-ever fence post on Saturday. I even had the tractor with the post-hole digger to do it with, and nice flat ground too. Anybody who thinks they are going to automate that operation so that no human manual labor is required is dreaming in technicolour. And that’s just the fence post, never mind putting up the fence.

      Something else I want to see is an automated house-painting rig. Something that scrapes, fills, sands, caulks and paints the woodwork on a house. Good luck boys.

      1. I suspect the ‘rule’ (very ‘of thumb’ and NOT ‘hard & fast’) is “Indoor job? We can probably automate it.” “Outdoor job? Ask me again in a few decades.”

        Self-driving vehicles seem like an exception, at least until (as has been suggested) one Grand Bug affects a fleet’s worth of vehicles in some horrific manner. Really, the best automated setup has been for large aircraft – and those still have crews to deal with that nasty glitch-generator called Reality.

        1. With the book price of a car, do you think real self driving cars would be on the market long before people were investigating car phreaking for theft purposes?

          As an aside, it has been a while since I looked up Tesla. Anything interesting happen there over the past year?

          One thing I’ve realized recently. For a lot of car designs, the code for controlling the steering would probably vary depending on the configuration of the alignment. So maybe J Random elite programmer designs code that is maybe tuned for suspension in good repair, aligned correctly. Years down the line, majority of that model on that road are not maintained so well.

        2. Self-driving cars are further away than the traffic professionals thought they would be three years ago. It turns out there’s a lot of issues that the prototypes didn’t – and still cant – process. These include predicting pedestrian behavior, telling the difference between a plastic bag and a boulder, and snow; there are more.

          Automated vehicles can function in very controlled environments, (there are automated mining vehicles right now) but open systems are still beyond their capabilities and there are still unknown unknowns, as the phrase goes.

      2. Driving steel fence posts by hand is a tough job. Typically, I use a 6 foot crow bar to drive a hole for the post, then put the post in and finish sledgehammering it to the proper depth. Doing that allows me to wiggle smaller rocks out of the way, or move the hole if the boulder underneath is too big.

        I tried to semi-automate it one year with the tractor and ended up bending 3 posts into interesting artistic shapes (i.e. pretzels) before I gave up on it and went back to the old method.

        1. The steel “T” posts went in pretty easy, I had a post-driver. Basically thick-walled 4″ pipe with two handles and a plate welded across one end. Whacks them 3′ into the clay with four or five hits. Rocky soil or roots, that would not be so easy.

          I had to sink a 6″ cedar post for the gate. Even with the 9 inch auger to dig the hole, there was plenty of shoveling, raking up the clay afterwards, compacting the gravel around the post etc. Driving the machine and getting the hole straight was not so super easy either. Plenty of measuring and fiddling with the level. This was on dead-flat ground, short grass, basically the best possible easy setup you can get. A robot probably couldn’t have done it.

          Throw in a hill and rocks in the soil, absolutely no way.

          1. I live in New Hampshire and have all that lovely glacial till for soil with predominantly granite boulders underneath the topsoil. It can get tricky finding a spot between rocks, much less rock free. It’s one reason for all the stone walls for fencing, and why you see a lot of places with sheep fencing attached to A-frame posting because they just couldn’t drive them into the ground at all.

            Heh. Imagine trying to colonize a planet with barely breathable air, mostly bare rock, and trying to fencing your stock in so it doesn’t wander off, and to fence them out of your vegetable garden. At least Matt Damon didn’t have to deal with stupid hungry critters in The Martian.

          2. Sounds like Ontario north of Orillia, where all the land was glaciated down to the bare granite. Canadian Shield. Impossible to drill or cut a hole in it without rock-drill machinery. Telephone poles are held up by 6′ diameter corrugated steel culvert sections filled with loose stones. Fences, very sketchy. I’ve seen them bolted to the rock. So much work!

      3. There are very, very, very few jobs where performance does not correlate positively with IQ. Most can use the mind.

  4. “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”

    You know what? Even in the latte-sipping city, somebody has to fix the fucking cappuccino machine.

    They do wear out eventually. And while it is not a physically demanding job (yes girls, you -can- lift the big-assed coffee maker if you put your back into it and apply the Big Brain to the problem) I rarely-to-never see FEMALE service technicians. Not even for fricking coffee machines and photocopiers. Its always, always always a dude.

    I mean, they -can- do it. I’ve seen women do stuff like that. I personally know a very svelte and attractive woman doctor who heals the sick in intensive care during the day, and in the evening she loves to putter about doing home renovation stuff. Put up drywall, refinish baseboards, re-hang crooked doors, all the boy stuff. Girlz can do boy stuff if they want to.

    But they don’t WANT to do it! Outside of socialist-driven affirmative action programs where the pay differs wildly from market value, women do not take these jobs. They don’t want to spend all day every day screwing with busted coffee makers or balky photocopiers.

    Men do. They actually like messing with that stuff.

    Gender roles, as little Damian would have it, are not “roles.” They are not a pantomime of costume and staging. They are literally bone deep, and resist all efforts to change them. People get angry when somebody like Damian comes along and starts lying to them about something so painfully obvious.

    Yes, there are people who have difficulty with the “role” their gender has chosen for them, the adventurous females and the shy retiring males, and that is why we live in a FREE COUNTRY. So those square pegs can have a square hole to fit into, instead of being mashed into the usual round hole. Because in a free country, if somebody doesn’t like that Damian isn’t a proper manly man, Damian can tell that person to piss off and make it stick. They are free to disapprove, and he is free to ignore them and continue on doing as he damn well pleases.

    Of course that’s not what Damian wants, what he’s after is a bat to beat people with and make the country LESS free. He’s a little pocket dictator.

    Screw that guy.

    1. I’ve seen men shocked that I can change the bottles on the water cooler without aid so it’s not just the girls who don’t know they can do it.

  5. Huh. I wonder what Damien is up to.

    That was a lie. I really don’t.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve done farm work, milked cows, picked rocks or loaded and stacked bales, castrated (or helped to) pigs, etc. It’s usually an all-hands sort of situation. I also started cooking supper fairly young so that my mom could milk the cows. I could have milked the cows but my folks let me have the choice and were willing to eat lots of spaghetti.

    1. Oh, I don’t know. Whenever I wanted to watch Larry take some particular bit of idiotic writing and bash it like a pinata, Damien always provided such a fabulous selection you would have thought he was a Mexican party store. I have a soft spot for the village idiot on book welfare.

  6. All these years late and Damien still isn’t a successful writer.

      1. In his own words: “Wandering mendicant. Words for The Guardian, BBC, Wired, Aeon, Buzzfeed, The Independent.”

          1. Burger flipping probably pays more. And has more self-respect. 😉

        1. Nothing wrong with paying the bills by writing opinion articles. The reason he was so annoying (okay, probably still is) was how he was a Fiction Writing Expert.

          Well, with that definition, so am I.

  7. Having worked cattle, I can tell you he speaks the truth. But I will also say the women on the ranch may not ‘actively’ get in the middle of that, they can and often do damn near every other job on the ranch, in addition to multiple meals, starting at oh dark 30, and running well after dark, seven days a week, especially during roundup.

    1. The man he works from sun to sun. The woman her work is never done.

    1. I think it’s going to stay that way. I know that science fiction luvs some vat meat but I’m not really seeing the benefit of exchanging a self-contained life support system for a mechanical one. It might convert “food” to meat more efficiently by some standard, but does it really?

      1. Theoretically, you can put a calf in a pasture, leave it until it’s big enough to butcher, and not invest one since ounce of petroleum or a watt of electricity in producing 500 lbs or more of meat. Not to mention leather, bone meal, horn, etc.

        Today’s reality does take energy, including the fore mentioned vet visits and treatment.

      2. “I know that science fiction luvs some vat meat but I’m not really seeing the benefit of exchanging a self-contained life support system for a mechanical one.”

        Try to imagine the maintenance a thing like that would need. Its a perfect bacterial growth environment. One single e-coli bacterium could completely take over the whole system. Remember from science class that little bit of math, where you calculate how long it takes to fill a tank car starting from 1 e-coli, and the answer is around 24 hours? They’re going to find out for real.

        I actually know of a company doing the fish/hydroponics thing, where the fish get fed the plant waste and the fish poo is used for fertilizer. Closed loop, suitable for space exploration. They have huge problems controlling molds and yeasts. Their grow rooms are cleaner than operating room clean. You could probably do open heart surgery in there.

        Or you can grow cows and fish the normal way. Much easier. Probably a lot cheaper, even in space.

        1. Even just a literal vat, though. A vat. A tank with a growth chamber growing meat that is fed with nutrient washes. We grow skin for skin grafts. Maybe someone is growing meat. I know they claim the are.

          So where do the nutrients come from? Someone is growing them somewhere and then they’re processed and added to and refined and put in a tank to hook up to the vat and then “fed”. It’s the ultimate example of a system that is *not* closed. It just adds all of these other steps between growing the biomass, tearing the biomass apart, adding some chemical mix to make up for what’s missing, and then feeding it to the living meat culture. (And yes, not at any point getting contaminated.)

          It seems very rube goldbergy to me. Like using diesel to plant the corn to harvest the corn to cook the corn sugars into ethanol and then proclaim that you’ve “created” fuel. The vat meat is being fed with *something*. Why add the extra steps?

          1. Oh, but we can grow meat on a space ship!

            Okay, so you’re storing the food for the meat instead of just storing the meat.

            Again. Why?

            1. “To Serve Man” really does start to make sense, doesn’t it? /shudder

            2. The idea is that its a perpetual motion machine, where the human poo gets reprocessed into nutrients, and the nutrients grow meat and vegetables, which the humans eat and then the process begins again.

              And we all know that perpetual motion is totally a thing.

              In the future they’ll send slower-than-light fusion-drive robots, and grow new humans once they get there. Or thaw old ones, outside possibility. Otherwise, we’re not going because there’s increasingly fewer possibilities of keeping a small life system going for tens of years, never mind hundreds for a generation ship.

              Unless there’s a nanotech breakthrough, of course. Then you can -make- meat from scratch. In one of my books the girls make a whole pig for a luau in orbit.

              1. Poo will grow vegetables relatively well, and then the meat *eats* the vegetables and digests them with enzymes created by the most amazing biological systems ever created which delivers the nutrients to cells which then grow and multiply.

                And then someone says, “Oh, this is too complicated. We need to add several more intermediate steps.”

                Personally, I think we’ll be eating a lot of insects in space. Crickets and stuff.

        2. And all that cleaning takes a heck of a lot of water, cleaning solutions, disinfectants, and manpower and energy. I’d like to see the true cost per pound versus natural caught fish.

Comments are closed.