Deep Thinking in the Barn
After the cows have been watered, the gutter shovelled out, new bedding distributed, water buckets removed and refilled for the next time, hay put down, and short feed distributed, there is little left to do but sit down and milk.
It takes a while to get to that point, of course, and many thoughts float through the brain in the interim, but one only gets down to serious thinking when one hauls out the milking stool, and plunks it down beside Cow A.
Before that, most of the thinking has been relatively practical. There is, for example, the perennial issue of how to muck out the steer. As far as I can tell, this is not a question of a particular steer. Each steer we have had has seen the world in very much the same way. His tendency is to see you and the shovel coming and to move over so as to be standing exactly in the spot which most needs cleaning. The cow is used to being shoved a bit to move her so the milker can sit down beside her, but steers just never seem to see the point.
It is while milking that one has the chance to turn over the big issues, like moving the steer.
When I was up at the University thinking deep thoughts, I would hardly have given this problem a backward glance; but, that just shows you how many of the great issues of life are yet to be adequately investigated even in the very centers of learning.
Here, as best as I can explain it, is the nature of the problem. Any steer of my acquaintance when pushed in a north-westerly direction, will infallibly lean in a south-easterly direction.
Steers were on to Newton's third law of motion a long time before Newton was even a gleam in his mother's eye. "To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction," eh, Newton? In barnyard terms, the more you push a Steer the more he leans back. Our Jersey steers aren't huge, of course, but even so the steer weighs more than I do by a good deal and they are all good at leaning.
It might occur to the uninitiated that the clever response would be to do the unexpected and pull instead of push. That just shows you that cleverness will not get you very far in the barn. It won't work.
Even supposing you can get a good grip on a haunch bone, if you are going to haul away with anything like gusto you are going to have your feet just where John Steer will wish to plant his foot so as to be able to lean the other way.
You are there (and then) in a Catch-22 of classic proportions, and all of your own making. With John standing upon your foot while you are wearing it, your natural instinct is to give him the old heave-ho. But of course this will not work because of his deep understanding of Newton's third law (see above). Furthermore, steers know something about that third law that Newton didn't know. They know how to focus their weight.
What that means, in practical terms, is that if John weighs, say, 900 pounds, when he leans so as to counter your shove he somehow transfers about 810 pounds of the total to the foot resting on your foot.
The implications of this are truly staggering, and would no doubt revolutionize space travel and a whole lot of other things. Suppose for example that it would be possible to focus the weight of the space shuttle at the front at the moment of lift-off. Then they could use the Canadarm the way a major league pitcher uses his, and sling the whole shooting match into orbit for only ten percent of the present price. Fantastic, eh? But nobody thinks about the things that go on in barns anymore. Ask your average astrophysicist, and he would probably say there is nothing to be learned from a stupid cow.
Now cows are not stupid, and even the steer who is standing on your foot knows quite well that he is standing on your foot, and is really only standing on your foot in order to make a point about his right to stand in a completely impractical place. Once you stop drumming on his rib-cage or otherwise interfering with his peaceful self-composure he will cease stress-testing your metatarsal arch and go back to snitching hay from his neighbor with a clear conscience.
Clearly, there are big issues to be considered while sitting there behind the cow. I wonder, do you think Federal funding might be available?
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.