Round-up’s dust jacket promises that “you’ll be right there in the middle of the action “ for the “busiest and most exciting time of year” on a cattle ranch—the time when the cowhands get to “roping a calf, then throwing it for branding, ear-notching, de-horning, and inoculation.” With that in mind, we take a look at this children’s nonfiction selection.

The book begins with an introduction to life on a cattle ranch, and the Hereford “beef” cattle grazing the range. The calves have been born, and now the cowhands are ready to capture them and identify them as property of the ranch. The action begins as we see both in photos and text just what it means to be a piece of property.

First, the cows and their calves are separated. A close-up photo shows calves looking piteous as they cry for their mothers on the other side of the fence. Next, the baby animals are roped, one by one, and dragged to their fate as the others watch. A photograph shows a grinning cowhand dragging a calf via a rope around his hind legs toward the branding fire. They obviously aren’t going willingly.

A photograph shows a calf being held down by cowhands as children in cowboy hats look on. Smoke rises from the calf’s seared flesh as a branding iron is pressed against his hide. We are told the calf is at this time branded, dehorned, castrated, and inoculated, though we are assured the branders “don’t want to hurt the calf.”

Readers are next shown a calf being dehorned. A child has his knee pinning down the calf’s neck, but we can clearly see the baby animal’s mouth opened in a cry. A few feet away, another pinned calf raises his head to watch. Two other children watch, as well, but do not participate. A boy stands with his hand against his face, looking uncomfortable, and a little girl scrunches away from the scene. I was struck by this scene depicting the children of two different species watching the branding process, one in abject fear and the other in ambivalent discomfort. In my opinion, both were experiencing cruelty.

The following a photograph is a close-up of a calf being castrated with a pocket knife. Like the other intensely painful procedures, this is done without anesthetic, of course. A calf silently screams once again as he is shown being ear-notched. A cowhand presses his knee into the calf’s neck and shoulder to hold him down.

Finally, the baby animals are released back to their waiting mothers, and the cowhands go home to fill up on a meal of “beef with home-made trimmings.”

While I find the content of Round-up deeply disturbing, it gets two stars. Why? Because much like the similar Stockyards, this book pulls no punches about the reality of the meat industry. Hamburgers don’t grow on trees. They come from bawling babies and frantic mothers, from the sort of scenes depicted in the photographs within this book. There is no glossing-over here. Young readers who read this book will have ample opportunity to ponder the process by which meat gets to our plates, and it’s not kind or pretty.

(review originally appeared at

2 Comments (+add yours?)

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    Oct 24, 2011 @ 16:42:40

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    Oct 27, 2011 @ 05:04:05

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