The Mexico LedgerJul 19, 2018 at 3:02 PM
On a scorching July afternoon, Melinda Bastian walked through the pasture of her 350-acre farm on the outskirts of Mexico, which she owns with her husband, Mike, spreading feed in the dry grass. She coaxed the cattle, mothers and calves, out of the pond — at least, what remains of the pond. The cattle stood stomach-deep in a pool depleted by weeks of drought and high temperatures in mid-Missouri. Bastian’s children — Jesse, 23, and Chris, 25 — have grown and moved out of the house but the cows still demand her full attention.
Bastian and her husband, Mike, moved to the farm in 1994 and bought the portion they now live on from her brother-in-law a few years later. Mike worked in Fulton while Melinda stayed home, overseeing the daily operations of the farm and homeschooling their sons. While it was difficult working opposite her husband, who worked a night shift at the time, Bastian said she appreciates the freedom this lifestyle has afforded them.
“To me, that made it worth everything,” she said, “the freedom this lifestyle afforded us to become a strong family unit, that we could do school together, we could do life together, [the children] could interact with people 50 years older than them, and they could interact with people 10 years younger than them with the same ease and confidence.”
Bastian also works in a real estate office and draws upon her experience from farm life when making business decisions. She grew up through the farm crisis of the 1980s and said she knows what decisions could be risky.
“I don’t want to be in that situation again in my life, of watching loved ones have to sell off parts of the farm just to survive,” she said.
Show calf competition
Bastian Show Calves and Bastian Cattle Company supplies cattle to families looking to compete on the show cattle scene. Calves are raised on the farm and selected based on a variety of qualities that could potentially make them good show calves — ranging from the cow’s structure, depth of body and spring of rib to their ability to walk to the feed bunk.
Show cattle vary from commercial livestock in several aspects, most notably their “prettier package,” as Bastian refers to it. “It’s just basically a beauty pageant for the cattle world,” she said.
Only about ten percent of cows at Bastian Cattle Company are considered for show calves. Twenty-one calves have been selected for the show calf sale in October. On this afternoon, though, they spent quality time with their mothers in the pasture as they are gradually weaned.
Bastian fed the cattle and bottle-fed a calf in the barn before heading to Auxvasse for the Callaway County 4-H and Youth Expo on July 13. She helped prepare cows led by Reed Benne and Selestia Angell for the show.
“We enjoy watching our calves grow and develop but we love watching the kids grow and develop through showing our cattle,” said Bastian.
Despite intense heat, the bleachers behind Auxvasse elementary school filled at about 6 p.m. A man on a tractor pulled kids around the grounds in a makeshift train as they waited for the main event to begin. Participants ages eight to 21 — some even younger with parents to help them — washed, blow-dried and clipped their calves in holding areas before guiding them to the ring. An announcer called classes, separated by age groups, over the loudspeaker, and participants led (or sometimes pulled, with all the strength they can muster) their cows into the ring. They lined up before the crowd as the judge walked between them, examining the animals.
“What’s your name?” the judge asked one young contestant. “Where did you get your calf from?”
“From her mother,” the young girl responded.
A lot more goes into preparing cattle for the show than meets the eyes. After children initially go home with the calves, they work on brushing, washing and becoming familiar with the animals. When it comes time for the fair, the calves will be clipped to perfection.
“Some calves naturally have a lot more hair than others, and that’s part of the show calf thing, the hair,” she said. “We’ll clip their heads, we’ll clip some off of their bellies just to make it level, some off their tops and then their leg hair ... they’ll pull that leg hair up to make it look more substantial and then clip that down to make it look like it’s smooth so that you can’t tell what’s hair and what’s not.”
The calves are judged on a variety of things, from thickest muscle to best walk and, as Bastian puts it, which calf “looks the part of what’s gonna make a nice, tasty steak on your plate.”
Family farm blog
Fairs and shows are documented on Bastian’s blog, called “Farm Livin’ is My Life.” She credited a Facebook group of fellow bloggers in Missouri, saying the women in the group “have challenged [her] a lot to tell the story of agriculture a little bit more and give people an insight into what farm life is like.”
Bastian uses the blog to explore daily aspects of farm life as well as obstacles faced by rural communities. After her sons lost a good friend to suicide several years ago, she decided to write a post about suicide prevention.
“That was one that just kept nudging at me and saying, you know, this is a very real subject that people need to deal with,” she said. “We got a lot of feedback from people that said we never really thought letting our kids as teenagers have that first drink would be a problem. And now we see that maybe we need to watch that a little closer, not encourage it so much.
At a time when ‘factory farm’ is used as a buzzword and consumers have less trust in their food sources, Bastian hopes the public remembers farmers are just regular people.
“We’re trying to provide a good quality, safe source of food for everybody, because we’re eating the same stuff,” she said. “It’s families producing food for more families.”
Through all the highs and lows, Bastian falls back on her strong faith. Even though she doesn’t consider herself a patient person, she believes that everything will work out eventually.
“That’s what we’ve just held on to,” she said. “[Satan] can take your happiness, but he can’t take your joy.”