For Jeff Hanlon growing up on a cattle ranch helped him to see the worth of cows; not in their flesh or skin, but in their lives.

I grew up on a cattle ranch. Cows always brought me great joy and wonder. I was entranced by watching a newborn calf get up on its wobbly legs for its first trip to the lunch counter. Or a few weeks later when that calf would join his brothers and sisters — just before sunset and with the wind picking up — racing around, tails in the air, frolicking in the green pasture.

Most of the cattle liked attention from me. But none more than The Bull. We named all the cows, but since there was only one bull, he was simply ‘The Bull’. Kinda regal. I’d scratch his back, then his head. The Bull liked me scratching his head. And when he shook his huge head and horns, that was the signal it was playtime. So he’d lower his head and I’d press my left hip against his forehead, and then he’d toss me up in the air like a sack of flour. With a little snort he’d shake his head again, as if to say, “That was fun! Let’s do it again!!” Me, a little kid, and The Bull, weighing in at around a ton, were jousting. And we’d do it again, and every time he’d raise the stakes a bit, tossing me higher and further.

Me with “The Bull”

My mother probably worried The Bull would toss me completely over the barn. And obviously the big guy could have done me considerable harm with his massive strength and a horn span of nearly three feet.

But he didn’t.

I was his friend.

I could have done that forever, but The Bull got tired of our game before I did. Plus, he needed to chase around some cute heifers.

It’s unlikely most people know cows like I do since they’ve probably never been closer to one than the T-bone steak in the meat counter. And there’s never been a cow movie like Bambi, or a TV series like Lassie, to spawn cow empathy. Most people just don’t know that much about cows.

It’s also unlikely most people have ever cried when a cow they loved died.

Flirty was an absolute statuesque beauty. If we’d taken her to the state fair, she’d have come home draped in purple ribbons. If bulls had calendar cows, Flirty would have been Miss January. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the birth of Flirty’s calf. But “Too Flirty,” as I’d already named her, couldn’t get up after she was born.

So there I was, an eighty-pound boy cradling a fifty-pound calf as I her carried into our house so I could care for it. I made a bed for her. I kept her warm. I bottle-fed her. The vet came every day to try to help her, which was no mean feat since the vet’s office was thirty miles away. The vet informed me that Too Flirty had Weak Calf Syndrome and was unlikely to survive.

She didn’t.

went off to college. The ranch folded, another vanished family farm. Years passed. Among the things I learned out in the real world was that many people don’t reminisce about their childhood. Too painful or too ugly or too neglected. I was lucky.

But I did remember. And for the most part those were very happy memories. I recalled Flirty and Too Flirty and The Bull, and the beauty, grace, and congeniality of these creatures.

But while some memories are cherished, others just fester. I recalled the annual trip to the slaughterhouse. I’d always willingly fooled myself that we raised Hereford “breeding stock.” Breeding stock is about life, perpetuating the breed. But half the newborn cattle were male, not breeding stock. The males had drawn the gender short straw and their fate was sealed: to be castrated, fattened, and slaughtered. As soon as I was old enough to drive the truck, I was the one who took them to the slaughterhouse. I didn’t know then and still don’t know today how to describe my feelings about that. Queasy? Sleazy? Duplicitous? By taking those cattle to the slaughterhouse I was abandoning my friends to their cruel fate.

I couldn’t go back and change those trips to the slaughterhouse. But I could do something. I’d go vegan. One small step for animalkind, one giant leap forward for me.

It wasn’t easy. Like many do in recovery, I slipped three times. But finally I succeeded.

I quit eating or wearing cows. Because I love them. And I’m a better person for it.

Original source: https://medium.com

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