I read, recently, that 90% of the population of the U.S.A. now lives in large cities. How different from the first half of this nation’s history, when a majority of the inhabitants lived in a rural environment, either on farms, or in small communities close to agricultural activities. Indeed, frontier life was even closer to nature.

Today, most children grow up so far removed from the food producing aspects of life and society in the past, that many of them are ignorant of these vital and basic contributions to survival. Increasingly I am shocked by comments or questions that illustrate this growing area of ineptness. I believe that early in their schooling, our children should be taught the history and significance of human nutrition. Let me relate just a few incidents, which dramatize the ignorance that exists in our urbanized population:

1.  Hawaii. I am visiting a large cattle ranch. A tour bus pulls up and the tourists come out to hear a ranch employee explain, briefly, the history of the ranch. Most of the passengers are taking photos of the grazing cattle. One asks, “What do they eat?”
Answer: “Grass!”
Response: “Grass? They eat grass?”

2.  I am doing a rectal palpation on a mare at a boarding stable. A well-dressed gentleman watches me. His young daughter boards a horse at the stable. As I completed my examination he asks, “Why did you do that?”
“I’m checking to see if she’s pregnant,” I explain.
“In there?” he gasps.

3.  A woman telephones me. “A sheep herder gave my kids a two day old orphan lamb. They love it. What should I feed it?”
“Cow’s milk,” I respond. Out of a regular human baby bottle.
“Cow’s milk?” Where am I going to get that?”
“Do you drink milk?” I ask.
“Yes, sure!”
“What kind?” I ask.
“I drink skim. My husband likes regular.”
“Where do you get it?”
“At the supermarket,” she explains.
“Where do they get the milk?” I ask.
“I don’t know. From a dairy company I suppose.”
“And where does the dairy company get the milk?”
“I don’t know! How should I know?”
“Well, it comes from somewhere!”
“Well … Oh! … Oh! … Cow’s milk!”

4.  Hawaii again. An agricultural and spectacular natural paradise. I am doing a seminar for a group of mainland horse owners, most of them residents of large cities. We are invited to participate in a cattle roundup. Everybody is pleased. Suddenly a wild pig bursts out of the underbrush. Two of the Paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) immediately go after the pig. One ropes its head, the other its hind legs. Thus captured, they tie the 85-pound porker behind a saddle, and when we get back to the ranch headquarters with the herd, they untie the hog and release it into a pasture fenced with hog wire. One of the Paniolos says, “We gonna fatten him up for a month and then we gonna have a luau (a barbecue).

One of my students says, “Oh, they’re turning him loose. I’m so glad. I was afraid they were planning to eat him.”

“Not yet,” I explained.

5.  A rock music star bought a cattle ranch in my area. One Sunday I received an emergency call. “One of our cows is trying to have a calf. It’s been halfway out of her all morning, but it’s still stuck. Can you come out?”

I had a very full schedule, despite the fact that it was the weekend. So it was discouraging to know that the ranch in question did not possess a cattle chute. It had been one of my clients for years before these new owners had bought the ranch. I remembered some of the “rodeos” necessary to treat some of the cattle.

So, I drove to the ranch with apprehension. There she was, lying on her side with a calf half way out of her. She was near an old oak tree. If I could drop a lariat around her neck and snub it to the tree trunk, there were enough people around to hold her while I injected a tranquilizer to restrain her.

So, I sneaked up towards her back, my lariat ready to throw if she moved. She did! She must have heard me because she explosively jumped to her feet and started to run. Realizing that her escape would mean a lot of wasted time in a busy emergency laden day, I ran after her and threw my lariat rope at her head. It landed on the back of her neck and slid along her back as she ran away from me. But, then the loop went over her hind end and over the calf’s head and forelegs. I reflexively pulled it back, and (yay!) it snared the calf. I leaned back, and presto! The half delivered calf popped out of the birth canal and was on the ground before me.

Then came a gasp from one of the guests and she said something I have never forgotten. “I didn’t know they delivered calves that way!”

6.  Both our son and daughter were active in 4-H as they grew up. It’s a fine organization. We made sure they were involved in non-slaughter projects. At our county fair it always disturbed us to see the crying youngsters as the livestock projects they had bonded with and cared for went off in trucks headed for the packing houses. So our kids raised and trained rabbits, goats, horses and a dairy heifer.

Once, we were requested by 4-H to lead a 4-H pack trip into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Debby rode up front with the pack outfit guide. I rode at the rear.

At one point we were on a very steep trail, barely wide enough for a single horse. One side was a very steep mountainside. On the other side was an almost vertical drop to the canyon floor.

Several young men, backpackers, came down the trail. Up front, our column was stopped to allow the backpackers to pass us. They were going uphill. We were going down.

As the first hiker made his way past the horse in front of me, the horse lifted his tail and defecated, necessitating the hiker to step over the steaming pile and, as he did so he grimaced, and said “Ugh! That is disgusting!”

I dismounted, blocking his progress, and I said, “What? What’s the problem?”

Still grimacing he pointed at the mound of fresh manure. I bent over and picked a ball of fresh manure with my bare fingers. “What?” I said. “What’s the problem?”

Shocked, he shouted, “You’re crazy! You’re nuts!”

I studied the ball of manure, sniffed it and offered it to him. Revolted, he drew back shouting “Oh no! You’re crazy! I can’t believe it! You’re insane!”

“Looks okay to me,” I responded. “Here,” I offered him. “Take it. It’s okay.”

“Aaah!” He gasped. “Crazy!” And he jogged up the trail away from me.

“It’s okay!” I called after him as the 4-Hers closest to me collapsed in laughter. “It’s okay. He’s just a nice healthy horse!”