The era has arrived where only a few aging cowboys haven’t figured out how to hunt and peck around on a computer keyboard. A bunch of them have even tackled the “smart phone,” which is not the name they give it.
As a whole, these untechnical geniuses have fought the trend valiantly but in spite of those efforts, their rural isolated world became boxed up on the internet. Feed programs, breeding programs, market watch and cattle sales are just a few on a long list of things in the cow business that have gone computerized. Communication with just about anybody now requires some sort of technical skills ranging from answering a cell phone to finding forms to fill out on a company website.
It is and always will be a fact that there are just some things about ranching and cowboying that a computer can’t do, and will never do. A cowboy who knows nothing about a computer will quickly tell you exactly what those things are.
However, technology has persevered even in the pasture. Implanted computer chips with the animal’s complete historical data embedded in them are in use, and making themselves handy in controlled situations. As a need to track cattle origins from the pasture to the meat counter tops a priority list, “data-based cowboying” is on the rise.
In all this, what happens to the everyday run-of-the mill, denim-garbed, leather-shod, felt-hat-wearing, colt-riding cowboy?
Years ago Dan Roberts, a Texas cowboy, singer and song writer wrote and released an album and song called Cowhand.Com. The title cut takes a humorous look at the adventures of a cowboy who hires onto an outfit that is basically run by computers, not seasoned cowboys.
The misadventures of this technologically challenged cowboy who longs for the old days tell a story that was perhaps more prophetic than Roberts ever dreamed it would be. His intention was a witty take on the concept but the result was an outline of the real dilemma of crossing a cowboy with a computer.
The lyrics point out that no machine ever shod a horse, pulled a calf or broke a bronc to ride. The laptop in his saddle bags got dusty riding drag and all that talk about menus, a mouse and booting up had the cowboy telling his boss to stick that Pentium right in his AOL and pointing out that the megabyte-ram-thing sounded inbred.
Book learnin’, as they would call it, isn’t foreign to cowboys, it just comes from books and takes place after dark when the work is done. My cowboy dad was a fiend for learning and was an easy mark for the encyclopedia salesman that somehow found us at the head of Muddy Creek where not many strangers trod.
We had not one, but several sets of encyclopedias just in case we four children needed to look something up. He also bought every update published for years after and several sets of assorted “how to” encyclopedias.
He learned taxidermy, beer making, electronics, mechanics, veterinary skills and many other useful things from his “how to” books. I often wonder what he would have done today with Siri and Google to guide him.
Computerizing the cowboy way will only go so far. Technology has extended to providing data for the genetic, nutritional and medicinal history of a cow as well as her history of residence for her lifetime. The good news for the cowboy is it still takes man to bring the cows to the corral.
The statistical information can be downloaded from computer to computer, from hard drive to CD, or even sent to the printer. But the paper trail through the office will never completely replace the cow trail through the pasture.
And that cow? She is going to download her own nutritional history into the same green pile she always did. What does Siri have to say about that?
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.