I'm thinking about starting a new self-help program. I'd call it Cowman Anonymous. At this point, however, I’m not advocating for a 12-step program, or that there's anything wrong with the disease that so many people become afflicted with when it comes to the cattle industry. But I do think that the urge to run cows can be compared to addictions to gambling, tobacco, alcohol, even drugs. Once it has hold of you, it has a similar power.
I just spent two days visiting cattlemen in Virginia. The three operations I visited were all highly successful cattlemen and all of them were rabid about what they're doing. Each one could recite 5-6 generations of pedigree on their cattle, as well as individual data on nearly every cow we drove up on. My guess is that they would have struggled to come up with even the names of their own children’s ancestors much beyond two or three generations.
All three operations were large, diversified and successful. Yet, they were consumed with their plans for the future, and how they were going to improve their cowherd or expand. I do believe they were exhibiting the advanced stages of cow addiction.
I’m not trying to cast aspersions. Lord knows I could be described as a cow addict myself. They say the first stage to recovery is admitting you have a problem, but I’m not quite to the point of admitting it's a problem – yet. I guess the analogy would be the drinker who knows he drinks quite a bit more than he maybe should, but is still convinced he can handle it. Personally, I can admit that maybe there are some potential problems with my addiction, I’m just not sure I want to quit.
My dilemma is that my wife has seen the light, which I suppose is like a drinking buddy veering off on the straight and narrow. After all, it potentially creates some conflict in the cattle business when one partner is able to think rationally and the other isn't so inclined.
My wife is one of those people who wake up one morning, decide it's time to quit smoking and does it cold turkey. That frustrates me for a couple of reasons – my character's not wired that way, and I now know she's right.
Don't get me wrong. She still loves cows, but the cows are a distant fourth on her priority list, after God, kids and family. She still wants to ranch but now she expects, even demands, that the cows work for us instead of the other way around. I knew things had really changed when she started talking about a vacation that she affectionately referred to as a "real" vacation, which means it's not cattle-related.
I've thought about starting a support group. The problem is that if you collect 15 cattle addicts in the same room, they'd just end up hatching a plan to buy a whole lot more cows, maybe even a feedlot. I've been told the quickest way to cure the cow addiction is to own a packing plant, but I think that's the equivalent of electric shock therapy. I'm not that bad yet.