This weekend, I got my hands dirty and never felt more alive.
The occasion was a visit to the Forsters, new family friends from Johnston County, three hours and change from Tulsa. Sight unseen, they welcomed me with hugs and gave me a place to sleep.
We broke bread, swilled wine and swapped stories. Theirs were far better than mine.
Tom is a sixth-generation cattle rancher, a transplanted Californian who moved to Oklahoma 20 years ago to continue the legacy.
Shorty after sunrise on Saturday, I joined his son, Skylar, and him as they sack-fed the cows in the rain.
Gladly, I went to work, emptying feed into in long troughs, feeling the snouts of Black Angus brushing against my legs. Pen to pen we went, and with re-entry into the truck, Tom taught me a little more about what it’s like to head the Forster Cattle Company.
At a time when the average American beef herd is 30, Tom maintains 500 cows on about 2,700 acres. Side-by-side with livestock since age 8, he said when he came to Oklahoma, he was working “hand to mouth.”
Times are better now, but no less time-consuming.
He has trouble keeping good hands because they can’t maintain the work ethic. And the vigilance needed to supervise such a spread is constant.
He eyes the cows for signs of sickness and aggressiveness. Tom watches the bulls when they breed, for the ones that err become premature hamburger.
He showed me traps used to catch wild pigs, which can wreck a pasture. Tom talked about the importance of spraying for weeds and clipping cedars to avoid an infestation.
And there is always drought, which never seems to relent in Oklahoma.
I spent less than a day with Tom, his wife, Dana, and Skylar, and I could have spent much longer.
When I have a steak, I’ll think of the Forsters, and all the labor they put into each bite.