Somehow I’ve always been connected with cows. My father married a dairyman’s daughter. Dad was born and raised in Mexico. Mom was a child of the Rocky Mountains in the good ole U.S.A.
Dad had planned to make a life in Mexico. Her mother had other ideas: “You’re not taking my daughter to that forsaken country to live!” she declared.
So, they settled in the States and Dad’s father-in-law set him up in the dairy business. That went well for a while until his cows were diagnosed with “Bang’s Disease” and had to be destroyed. Dad became a carpenter but early on we always had a milk cow.
I remember one particular cow—a little jersey. When it came time to register her, we had to come up with a name. Mom wanted to name her Creampot. Dad wanted to call her Bessie. My little six-year old brain came up with Sourdough. She was registered with the unlikely moniker of Sourdough Bessie Creampot.
Mom usually had the chore of milking our little cow night and morning, rain, snow or sunshine. One day she had just finished separating the cream from the milk and had placed the milk bucket on the floor by the sink.
My little brother, Dale, was seated on the cabinet next to the sink supervising the operation. He fell off the cabinet and landed head-first in the milk bucket. Our home movies document the “shiner” he received. You never saw such a colorful black eye in your life!
When I was a freshman in college, my roommate got a summer job with a lumber company in Kamas, Utah. One day while driving through Heber City, Utah, he hit a cow that had ambled onto the roadway. The cow’s owner was furious. “You have killed a prize jersey dairy cow!” he wailed. My roommate countered with, “Your prize dairy cow had no business wandering down the highway being a menace to society!”
In exasperation, they decided to at least exchange information. When my roommate gave a home address of Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, the dairyman asked if by chance he might know the McClellan’s. “I certainly do,” he declared. “In fact, Keith McClellan is my roommate.”
“Keith McClellan is my nephew,” said the suddenly elated cowman. “His mother is my sister!” My roommate was invited to the cattleman’s home for dinner and he later returned to our apartment with a big plate of homemade cookies.
An old dairyman by the name of Will Foster smiled when he spoke of the cow. “The more I study her ways—and I’ve been doing it for 30 years—the more I find she is like people.”
He said that when a new cow is purchased, she is a wise one if she does not immediately move into the midst of the herd. “Rather,” he said, “she will eat on the fringes of the herd until she is accepted. If she tries to move into the herd too soon, there usually is trouble.”*
In all my years in the school business, I found many a new campus administrator that didn’t have the sense of that cow. Many of them wanted to leave a big impression by making drastic changes from the git-go.
They soon found themselves facing ill feelings from the staff. They had not taken time to “eat on the fringes.”
They trampled the “campus culture” and caused hard feelings on the part of the campus veterans.
That isn’t to say that change is bad or that it isn’t needed. I’m just saying that oft-times it can be done more effectively by taking time and using a little tact.
Total disregard of a predecessor’s policies can plunge an organization into confusion and cause heartburn for the new leader. It is often counterproductive to “move into the midst of the pasturing herd too soon.”
The wise incoming cow eats on the fringes until she is sure. Many leaders, men and women, have climbed higher in doing likewise.
*(Wendell J. Ashton, “Counsel from a Cow,” The Instructor, March 1960.)
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