Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Cash Cow

Every now and then I start to get melancholy for the years I spent growing up in Iowa and Pennsylvania. In those days, if there were any towns with people, stop lights, or businesses, my parents managed to live as far away from them as humanly possible. We usually dwelt somewhere on the edge of town, over the hill from a field full of stinky cows. And when the wind blew, even the slightest bit, we were reminded as to who our neighbors were.

Living in such rural areas, typical part-time jobs were difficult to come by. My senior year in high school, I landed a coveted job at the County Market and bent over backwards to make sure I was the best cashier they had, so as to not jeopardize my minimum wage position.

My younger sisters, however, were not so fortunate. With no McDonald's or car wash in town at which to seek employment, they were forced to be more creative, or desperate, depending on how you looked at it.

As an Agriculture Economics scholar, my dad always had the beat on local agriculture opportunities. One day he came home with a profitable pile of crap. It wasn't really crap, not literally. It smelled much worse. It was a 5-gallon bucket reeking of rotten cow that he firmly planted on the front porch.

Then he called all the girls outside. With the last screen door bang, we were finally lined up along the railing with our noses in an exagerated pinch so as to mitigate the odor as well as show our disdain for the interuption.

Standing above the bucket, Dad explained that he was able to attain this pile of used cow magnets for free from a nearby butchering facility. The used cow magnets had been salvaged from old dairy cows' stomachs. After some explaining, we understood that every dairy cow had one of these 3-inch missle shaped magnets crammed down their throats to permanently settle in one of their stomachs. Then, for the lifetime of the cow, the magnet would keep small metal pieces of barbed wire, and nails, and who knows what else from wearing holes in the cow's stomach lining. Typically, when the old dairy cows were finally butchered, the used magnets were discarded.

In a moment of pure genius, Dad realized we could clean of the metal shavings and cow guts that coated the magnets and sell them back to the local dairy farmers at $2 a pop. New cow magnets at the time cost double that, so there was a potential for quick sales and good profit

At this point, I loudly excused myself, overly stating I was late for work at my real job.

My sisters balked at the idea of cleaning the powerful, stinky, slippery magnets, but without any other options, after a few days, they finally dug into the bucket. Slowly, at first, they began scrubbing the bodily remnants and carefully removing the metal pieces that stuck like super glue to the powerfully strong magnets.

Amazingly, they got very good at the chore and were soon easily making much more per hour than the $3.35 I received from the grocery store.

Soon we had cow magnets in various stages of cleanliness, filling buckets across the porch and yard. In fact, they were so prolific, when Grandma Terry came to visit, she managed to snag a few and crochet covers for them. They made the dandiest refrigerator magnets ever! You could put a semesters worth of school art work under one of those and it held as firmly as if you had nailed the papers to the fridge.

But mostly those crocheted cow-turned-refrigerator magnets held my sisters' lists. Lists of how many cow magents they had cleaned, multiplied out to determine how many dollars they had earned. My meager County Market checks were held up by the thin, cheap magnets that came with the phone book advertising the town plumber.


  1. I just herd *snicker* about cow magnets recently! How weird. Poor cows, they have enough bulk to carry without the extra weight of magnets :)

    Hey, what do you call a cow with two legs?....Lean Beef!!

    What do you call a cow with no legs?...Ground Beef!

  2. Eve,

    Poor cows indeed! But don't get me started.

    My beef salesman father will never understand how his daughter became a vegetarian that occasionally may eat some fish.

    Great cow jokes, but I'm a little sad picturing the ground beef cow.

  3. It's a joke, Deb! Hey, by the way-I got a gift for you over at my blog...

  4. Eve,
    That post is too wild! I still don't get how you photoshopped that or whatever...

  5. Hi Debbie,

    That is just sheer genius. You tell a great story.

    I am a city slicker, and have never heard of cow magnets until I read this.

    Like you, I have flimsy magnets on my own fridge - but I found it ironic that the ad displayed on your blog is 500 fridge magnets for $219 on your Google ad!

    Seriously, this was the post of the week for me. A very `gutsy' effort and I'm sure the reek that compelled you to head off to your `real' job was merely Odour Cologne!



  6. Forgot to tell you - that was a great headline, too.



  7. Well well well, you sure learn something new everyday around here! I never knew about cow magnets. Did you ever try to get metal to stick to a live cow?

    Great story, Debbie!

  8. David,
    Thank you for the compliments. Nothing ingrained in us the importance of obtaining a college education that the manual labor jobs in the agriculture industry.

  9. Supermom,
    Trying to picture a coat hanger magically stuck to a cow's belly. Very funny picture! But can't say I ever recall seeing anything like that in real life.

  10. All right, Deb. I'll 'fess up (now that I've had my fun). It was a cinch at this link

  11. Eve,
    Let the good times roll!

  12. Never heard of a cow magnet before, but I'm sure if I had heard of it when I was a kid I would surely have tried to stick something metal to the cow to test the power of the magnet!!

    Power to you! ;)

  13. Ozlady,

    I am so glad this blog is providing a level of education to its readers as well...explaining the hidden mysteries of rural life. Who would have known.

  14. Deborah,

    I came through David's blog. As he said, great story and title!

    So you're veg (except for fish) though your father is in the beef business? That exactly parallels the story of my sister-in-law Deanne (my only sibling's wife) who lives in the Bay Area.

  15. Sandip Madan,

    How fun to hear about your sister-in-law. Although on a worldwide scale, vegetarians are not a minority, in Utah they are. Which makes eating family style at PF Changs a bit of a drag since eveyone but me orders Beef and Brocolli, Cashew Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, etc, etc.

    Is her dad a beef guy too? Everytime I get sick, my dad tries to feed me a steak, insisting a little bit of red meat will get me up and going again.

    Thanks for stopping by,

  16. great story, dg. wonder if those magnets would throw off a cow's video game-play.

  17. McGlinch,

    You make me laugh! I never even knew cows could play video games until I visited your site a couple days ago!

    My little brother did get one of those magnets too close to a corner the television screen once. Yep, you guessed it, irreparable damage!

    I would not reccommend any cows attempt viedo gaming with one of those in their belly.


  18. Yes, Debbie, to answer your question my sister-in-law's dad and her sister were both working at the Beef and Veal Council (he for his entire working life.)

    Deanne is as WASP as they come, and I'm sure her parents thought the fact she married an Indian had something to do with her new dietary preferences. When she was going to her parents in Nebraska for the first time in some years and informed them she had become a vegetarian, her mom joked (I hope) that she bring her own food from CA! But they're lovely people.

    About 16 years ago my brother and I stopped eating meat independently and without knowing about the decision of the other. But neither of us has tried to change others around us - my wife continues to eat meat though she occasionally says it is no fun cooking anything just for herself...


  19. Sandip,
    What a fun coincidence! Thanks for sharing.


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