Last month, en route to Washington, I spent a couple of days at the Midland ranch near Boulder, Wy.
To say that Lou Arambel is a polymath would be an understatement. Fifth-generation rancher, pilot, avid outdoorsman, professional party-starter (I’m not joking – that was actually his first job during college), volunteer EMT, proficient in animal care, fluent in Nepalese, educated in New Zealand, Lou defies easy categorization. He was gracious enough to let me tag along on two cattle drives – and, as is his wont – to task this total rookie with real responsibility.
His crew this summer is made up of two women (one from California, one a Wyoming native), a guy from Chihuahua, and a New Yorker who had never been around a horse or cow in his life before coming to the ranch. As tends to be the case when a capable, determined person is given a challenging task and invested with confidence, the city boy from Queens rose spectacularly to the occasion – I had no idea that he hadn’t been cowboying his whole life.
Herding cattle across the vast plains of southern Wyoming, I gained some insight into why I prefer eating beef to any other cultivated meat. Midland’s cows, although they’ll probably end their lives in a grim feedlot somewhere, at least will have spent most of their days ranging free through a wild and beautiful landscape. The pigs and poultry who are born and die in windowless factory farms aren’t so lucky.
To be clear, I have intensely ambivalent feelings about animal agriculture; I eat meat sparingly, and when I do, it’s almost always game or home-grown. But these cows – and the people who move them from place to place, working twelve-hour days in the saddle, returning home completely worn out, only to get up at 5 am the next day and do it all again – seem to lead a pretty wholesome life.