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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gushing Over Galloways*

Belted Galloway
From Golden Howe Farms, UK

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
June 13, 2010
as "Co-Worker Giddy Over Galloways"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

I am a pet person. Like so many others, I have come to enjoy having that cute little furball around the house to greet me excitedly at the door, take me for walks around the neighborhood, and lie quietly beside me as we both gaze hypnotically into the flames of a warm fireplace on a cold winter’s eve. I’ve heard that people with all manner of initials after their names have said that it’s good for humans to have something to take care of because it draws us out of our self-protective shell as well as helping to make us feel needed.

Most of us have settled on dogs and cats, although birds, snakes, gerbils, and iguanas are among the list of creatures we have adopted into our homes and taken into our hearts. Occasionally, you hear of someone who has something creepy like a tarantula, or something scary like a lion, but for the most part, pet people are normal humans.

But last month I realized just how far afield this pet thing can go.

One morning, a co-worker be-bopped into work. She was smiling and laughing, coming close to actually dancing an Irish jig. For a few brief moments, I thought she had won the lottery. But unbidden, she exclaimed, “We got ‘em!”

Got what?

“Our cows!”

My co-worker and her husband own a spread out west (Westmont, actually) called JayRaphie Farms on which they’ve run horses for several years. Those horses have often graced the front page of this newspaper. But now they’ve added a small herd of some of the oddest-looking critters on four legs.

They’re called Belted Galloways. The breed comes from southwest Scotland and was bred to flourish on the relatively poor pasturage of that region. They are naturally polled, and except for their longish hair are perfectly normal cows. Except for their coloration.

Belted Galloways are also known as “Oreo cows.” They have three vertical stripes, black-white-black, mostly so symmetrical that you’d swear they must have been painted. They’re pretty rare around here, although there is a herd across from the Tractor Supply store in Somerset. The news that they were now proud owners of a small herd spread rapidly through the office. People were excited, one person literally jumping up and down in glee.

While I’m always delighted to see people happy, I was still puzzled.

I once worked summers for a man who owned several cattle ranches in western Texas and New Mexico, running Herefords, Angus, Charolais, and Brahmas. It was long hours and hard work but in many ways, the best job I’ve ever had. Out there, cattle are business. You buy them for one of three reasons: Milkin’, eatin’ or breedin.’

But this isn’t Texas or New Mexico; it’s Pennsylvania. And things are just different here.

These two folks are successful business people. They possess the mandatory strength to make decisions and the necessary pragmatism to make sure they’re good decisions. So if one owns a farm and wants to run cattle on that farm, that’s a good, pragmatic business decision.

But the more I listened to her coo over her cows, I began to realize that this wasn’t necessarily a business decision.

These cows had become pets.

I was curious, so one Saturday afternoon, my wife and I jumped on the motorcycle and went for a ride. It was my regular loop, out route 31 to Donegal, up 711 and 271 over Laurel Ridge, and into the Western reaches of Johnstown before returning on 985. But this time, I turned on Fender road and there, right next to the fenceline, stood all thirteen family pets, up close and personal. I looked them over with my New Mexico cattleman’s eye, but the more I looked, the less pragmatic I got. Grudgingly, I had to admit it. They were…well…you know…sorta…okay, cute.

There. I said it.

And I’m not surrendering my Cattlemen’s Association card, either.

“God loves wondrous variety,” as Robin Hood’s Moorish friend once said, so who am I to question a person’s motives with regards to a member of the animal kingdom? After all, we treat our Tweeter like a human child instead of the canine fluffball of uncertain parentage that he is. But having lived with pets my whole life, there’s one aspect of that life that I’m sure the good folks at JayRaphie farms will be spared.

When the lights go out at night, there likely won’t be a Belted Galloway curled up on the foot of their bed.
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