The Ranger (beta)

Fremont County's Daily Newspaper

News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.

Ranger Login

Livestock don't notice technology

Feb 18, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

As for the rest of us, finding a way to watch a movie in the calving shed is a wonderful luxury.

Maybe you know someone addicted to new technology. If they have the latest cell phone, tablet PC or gaming system while they're still making payments on the model from six months ago, then you probably have a techno-junkie on your hands.

The pace of technology is said to be constantly accelerating. It was once claimed in the early 1980s that technology was doubling every 18 months, but that seems slow in the pace of today's burgeoning electronic markets.

The United States was the first nation to create a patent office way back in 1790. Prior to the American system of first come, first patent, regardless of education, background or ethnicity there weren't many patents on Earth. In Europe and Japan you could receive a patent only if you had connections. The king, emperor or duke could grease the skids ,and maybe you could get the rights to your unique idea.

Most likely, you didn't get anything for a new invention once your idea became public. The local royal or magistrate would claim it as his own. You had no recourse but to accept the situation.

As a result, not many things were invented outside the United States until late in the 19th century, when the world adopted America's patent system.

The 19th century was an era of unprecedented technological advancements. Today we live in a time of credentialing and close academic scrutiny, but in those days all the great inventions came from amateurs with little or no formal education.

Steamboats, telegraphs, plows, interchangeable parts, assembly line production, the telephone, typewriters ,sewing machines, harvesters and just about every other significant invention of the 19th century was American.

In America you could become rich on a patented idea, and we responded with thousands of patents each year. Some held lasting significance to mankind. Others, like Abraham Lincoln's idea of using air to lift steamboats on rubber pontoons were just too far ahead of their time to be useful. Lincoln remains the only American president to hold a patent.

Some technologies are introduced but are so expensive that only a handful of people can find a use for them. Others start this way, but through product development and consumer demand the price drops precipitously.

How many people would have purchased the world's first video tape recorder back in 1955 for the reasonable price of just $50,000? Not many, but big metro area television stations grabbed them quickly.

Jump ahead 20 years and we see Sony's Betamax in a war with JVC and the VHS tape. JVC won and the VCR became a symbol of 1980s entertainment.

We purchased a Magnavox for $1,100 back in 1983 and used the old top loader for almost a decade.

You can still find a few VCR/DVD combination machines. Today they sell for well less than $50,000, some as low as $19 per unit.

Garage sales teem with used VCR tapes as well. A generation ago music listeners sold their 8-track tapes in the same manner. Just a few years later the audio cassette met the same fate.

Imagine describing the quality and variety available on NetflixNetlfix to a network executive back in 1955. He would have called security and had you escorted out.

In the midst of this ever-changing technical wave I think back to renting videos at Ernie's on Main Street in the 1980s.

In those days most customers rented one or two tapes, but in late December and January the store stocked large paper grocery sacks for the ranchers who came in during the deep days of winter.

Calving season is changing almost as fast as technology. At one time, it was important to have your cows calve near the first of the year. By the time the calves were old enough to wean the grass was growing well on early summer pasture, and you could demand top prices at

the auction. Year-round price stability has ended the need to put your cattle at risk in sub-zero weather, although many ranchers continue the tradition.

I've spent long winter nights checking young heifers about to calve and watched cows that showed early signs of distress, but my experience pales in comparison to those who do the same thing with hundreds of animals.

A good calving shed or barn has a nice, warm area for the cattle and a nearby area for the humans watching them. The VCR revolutionized the monotonous work of waiting all night for Bessie to deliver. Some ranchers rented a dozen or more movies at a time and put a VCR and TV right in the barn. It was a luxury Charlie Goodnight, Nat Champion or any of the men fighting in the Johnson County War could never have imagined.

But, its day has come and gone as well. DVDs replaced the VCR. Soon they, too, will disappear. Ranchers can now stream video directly on their smartphones or connect a cable to a monitor in the same calving shed.

The Angus, Hereford and Charolais heifers will never know the difference. Technological change is only marked by man.

But necessity is the mother of invention, at least when it comes with a paycheck as it does in America.

Related content: