Yup, I've got cows. Well, they're not my cows. They belong to my neighbor. Considering how far away the actual house is, it might be more accurate to say that the cows are my neighbors. It looks like theirs is an easy life, just roaming around out there eating all day. They're even starting to get slightly fuzzy for winter.
Before I moved to rural Southwest Missouri, I thought I knew a bit about cows. I grew up in Nebraska, which makes it inevitable that you will see herds of cattle from time to time. My uncle even has a cattle ranch up in northeastern Nebraska. But I haven't ever lived close enough to hear cows on a regular basis. I thought they just mooed, but no. They wail and holler back and forth to each other. The first months we were out here, I truly believed that we had some pretty strange animals hiding in the vicinity, because I just couldn't accept that those noises were coming from cows. I'm not even sure what I thought might be lurking in the pastures. The noises didn't sound scary, like big cats or bears. Bull moose, perhaps?
Just to point out, for those of you with more rural "cred" than I have, I do know the difference between cows and steers and bulls. The ones in the picture are steers. The ones right across from our farm are cows with their calves. The correct term for this, I have learned, is "cow-calf pairs".
Even if I didn't know about cows, steers, heifers and bulls before I got here, the other agents in our Carthage and Mt. Vernon offices would have gotten me straightened out. I try to ask them only intelligent questions. This means sometimes I keep my mouth closed lest they all fall down in fits of laughter at my ignorance. For instance, the broker/agent in charge of our Carthage office has cattle. Cow-calf pairs to be exact. One day he said he was late because he had to deal with a dogie calf. I refrained from providing him with even more entertainment by asking what the heck "dogie" means. I think from the context that it means sickly. This must be the same word from a western song I learned in grade school music class, about "get along little dogie".
For those of you thinking about moving to Southwest Missouri and actually running cattle, whether few or many, this certainly seems to be the place for it. The website of the folks at the National Agricultural Statistics Service tells me that in 2006 the 10 counties of Southwest Missouri supported about 660,000 total head of cattle, including 330,000 beef catttle and 25,500 dairy cattle. That leaves around 300,000, presumably parents for the next generation of beef cattle. Or maybe they are just layabout, jobless, no-account cattle, but I doubt it!
In our area of Southwest Missouri you would be needing about 3-4 acres to support each cow-calf pair, although of course it depends on the land and the pasture condition. Our weather is relatively mild, so hay is generally fed from around December through March. I've heard $35 per large round bale for basic mixed grass hay right now in our area. Better hay is higher of course. This seems to have been a better hay year than last year, although some did get ruined by excessive rain at the wrong time. Last year the problem was drought. On balance, I think everyone is much happier with the rain.
If anyone out there reading this is a serious rancher or farmer wanting to move their operation to Missouri, please don't be scared off from contacting me by my relative inexperience with rural property. In my office, I am the exception, not the rule, and I'm learning every day. We have agents with mixed farms, agents with cattle, agents who breed and show quarter horses. If I can't answer all your questions, there will be someone at the next desk who can. On the other hand, if you're a city transplant heading for the country, call me up right away! I just did this and I can guide you through it.
See you all next time!