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Working cattle and going to church

It was a long day of branding some 350 calves yesterday on a ranch west of Keene, North Dakota.

As the photo above shows, this is oil country. So there was lots of talk among the cowboy crowd about its impacts: trucks tearing up roads, gas and oil leaks in pastures and creeks, pipelines cutting across freshly planted fields of spring wheat; but also of the money for landowners and jobs for young people that the Bakken oil boom brings.

Most attention was on the work at hand: branding and vaccinating the calves and castrating the young males among them.

This is how we get our meat in America. These calves, born a month or two ago, will now roam pastures until October, when they will weigh 550 pounds or so each and be shipped off to feed lots and, a year later, slaughter.

Neighbors took a day off from seeding flax and spring wheat to help with the branding. There was a break for sloppy joe’s and potato salad midday, and cold beer when the day’s work was done.

This morning I said goodbye to my rancher hosts, and I walked deeper into oil country. This afternoon I will traverse a stretch of road so thick with oil wells and drilling rigs it’s called the ‘midnight run’.

First, though, I stopped to type this in the shade of a pine outside a rural church. It was Sunday, but the sign said the congregation was holding its service at a church in a neighboring town. The door was unlocked but no one was there. Too bad, as it seems they make good coffee.


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