Izzy Bird, the observing faculties
Izzy Bird, true love

Izzy Birds, cattle minutia

Isabella takes some time to explain to her sister how cattle ranching works in the Western United States.

Young animals are imported from Texas, she says, and “the climate is so fine and the pasturage* so ample that shelter and hand-feeding are never resorted to except in the case of imported breeding stock from the Eastern States, which sometimes in severe winters need to be fed in sheds for a short time.”

Unlike in England, the cattle here “run at large upon the prairies; each animal being branded, they need no herding, and are usually only mustered, counted, and the increase branded in the summer. In the fall, when three or four years old, they are sold lean or in tolerable condition to dealers who take them by rail to Chicago” where they are slaughtered for tinning or consumption out East.**

She goes on to talk about the current king of cattle in Colorado (Mr. Iliff of South Platte) and his breeding operations. She describes the feud between the “cattle men” and “sheep men,” with the latter business said to be more profitable and more risky. Even then, American eating habits were evident. Isabella only seems mutton or lamb on a menu once in her entire Western trip. Most sheep are farmed for their wool, which is as it should be.

* Colorado is mostly terrible at growing crops other than wheat — and even wheat requires extensive irrigation in most parts of the state. Grasshoppers** are a constant menace. Grasslands for ruminants, however, are plentiful and pest-free.

** “The farmers seem much depressed by the magnitude and persistency of the grasshopper pest which finds their fields in the morning ‘as the garden of Eden,’ and leaves them at night ‘a desolate wilderness.’”

*** While some Western ranchers still do this, most … do not. I still wonder what Isabella would think of a modern, centralized feeding operation. I imagine her response would not be kind.


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