WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

The Wisdom of Cows

My wife and I have a small vegetable garden, and each year we get manure from my parents’ farm to use as fertilizer.

This past weekend, the weather was unseasonably warm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. So during our visit to the farm, I went down to the barnyard to bag some manure.

Mom and dad rent the farm to a neighbor who raises beef cattle. As I began shoveling, several of the cows gathered in the barnyard.

One was the neighbor’s pet cow. Frankly, I don’t need a pet that weighs 1,500 pounds and has a head as hard as concrete.

At the same time, I don’t want an animal that runs like a scared rabbit. What I want is one that will come up to me out of curiosity, but if I reach out or step toward it, the animal moves away.

The Godfather adage — keep your friends close and your enemies closer — does not apply to cattle.

Too close is too dangerous. They could step on you; a cloven hoof across your foot is mighty painful. Or they could get spooked and kick. Believe me, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that either.

Or they could swing that big, concrete-hard head to shoo a fly but hit your ribs instead.

I was thinking about all these things as I shoveled the manure. I also started thinking about the magazine and the business of government contracting.

And there are parallels:

  • We all, on occasion, shovel some manure or do some other dirty job to get our work done.
  • We’ve had customers, co-workers and partners who just get too close or can’t seem to stay out of our way. 
  • Sometimes there are things much bigger than ourselves that get in the way, so we have work around them.
  • Just because a job stinks — in this case literally — it doesn’t mean that the benefits aren’t worth it.  (We grow some great tomatoes each year.)

I was glad I was in the barnyard shoveling manure on a warm February day and not a hot July day, which brings me to my last point:

  • Whether it is work or life, if you can, it is always good to pick your battles.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Feb 09, 2009 at 7:22 PM


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