The Legend of the Cash Cow

12 Jan

(I wrote this many years ago for a professional newsletter as a protest to the way adjunct instructors were treated, but I think its relevance speaks volumes these days. In many ways, those of us who are left standing in our jobs are definitely cash cows, if anything, the situation is perhaps more widespread and prevalent today….)

Once upon a time there was a young boy who had a cow.  The boy was poor and decided to take his cow to the market to sell it.  At the market he met a man who dealt in dairy cows and asked the man how much he could get for his cow.  The man looked at the boy, and went about his business of inspecting the cow.  The cow was a beautiful and gentle creature that had soft and kind eyes which gleamed when the man approached her.  Her black and white coat was silky and smooth.  The man reached down and tugged on a teat to taste her milk.  It was rich and creamy.

Looking at the boy, he said, “You really should keep this cow because you’ll make more money milking her and selling the milk than you would selling her right off the bat.”  “Really?”, responded the boy.  “Oh yes, said the man, she’s what we call a ‘cash cow’, gentle yet strong, rich milk, good disposition.  If you keep her and take good care of her, she’ll bring in a lot of money.” “Wow!”, exclaimed the boy.  “That’s great!”  The boy took the rope tied around the cow’s neck in his hand and started to lead her away.

The man reached out to the boy and firmly laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “I must warn you, though, that when you have a ‘cash cow’ you need to take care of her.  Make certain that she has enough to eat, is properly sheltered and that her health is good.  Give her a nice pasture to exercise in.  Don’t over milk her, as, if you do, eventually the milk will become rancid and those who drink it may become sick.  If you don’t take care of her, you’ll suffer dire consequences.”  The boy’s eyes rested on the cow, only partially catching what the man was saying.  In his mind he pictured the look of the jealous villagers as he walked down the street with gold coins jingling in his pocket.  He thought about the things that he could buy for his family and the envy of his neighbors.  The words of warning from the man in the market were quickly forgotten.

When the boy returned to his village he told his family what the man in the market had said about cash cows.  His family was impressed that they had a cash cow in their midst.  They settled the cow back into the old dilapidated cow shed and drew up plans of what they would do once the money came in.

Many months and years passed.  The family was soon the richest in the village and the milk of the cow was touted as being the richest and most nutritious in the land.  Some people even said that the milk had magic properties.  One legend was that if a person were to drink the milk long enough, they’d be able to speak in another tongue and communicate with people from other villages.  Another story was that the cow’s milk enlarged the brain and people who drank it were able to learn better and do better in school.   Many had seen this happen with their own eyes, and soon people were coming from beyond the kingdom to partake of the cow’s milk.

While the family was reaping the wealth of their cash cow sitting comfortably in their warm large house working now only as needed, the cow was kept out in an unheated shed in the back.  The family had employed a boy from the village to milk the cow as much as 30 times a week to keep up with demand.  They also realized that if they bought the lowest grade feed for the cow, they could turn a nice neat profit.  Keeping the cow in the shed was also profitable and skimping on the heating (especially during the long cold winters) really kept the family in the black.  They cut corners wherever they could in terms of the care of the cow, so that they could get more and more gold coins.

After a while (and especially during the winter), the cow started continuously mooing.  At first it was a low-pitched moan, but after a while it became much louder.  The family heard the moos, but were too involved in spending their new found guineas.  The mooing grew progressively loud enough so that the neighbors could hear.  They mentioned this to the family, but to no avail.  The family ignored the cow thinking that she was one of god’s lower creatures, and continued to count their coins. The cow grew weaker.  The sheen of her once lustrous coat was no more.  Her  udder hardened from being over milked.  By  the end of each day she could barely gather enough strength to stand.  After a while, the milk she had produced was sour and bitter.  The customers who came to the family from far and wide, upon tasting the rancid milk, grew unhealthy and became sick.

The family paid little attention to the physical decline of their cash cow.  They were still getting a steady flow of gold streaming into the family coffers, and they didn’t even think to realize that the amount of gold they took in was in any way related to the health of their cash cow.

Eventually people stopped buying the family’s milk.  Their gold quickly ran out because they were still spending lavishly on almost everything but the care of their cow.  Their neighbors and former customers were upset because they had paid high prices for the legendary milk but found out that they were only buying spoilt milk.  Many of them demanded their money back from the family, and soon the family fell deeply into debt, selling off their prized possessions just to make ends meet.  Once more the family was poor.

The dairy salesman, who had previously warned the boy about what would happen if the cow weren’t properly taken care of, happened to be passing by the village and had heard about what had happened to the family.  He went round to the shed where the once beautiful cow was kept.  Lying on her side shallowly breathing, she silently let out a last moan and laid her head down to die.  The salesman took her head in his hands and shook his head from side to side thinking that it was truly a pity the family didn’t take his advice, and had exploited the cow for their own gain.  Now the family’s life was in tatters…and their cow was dead.

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