Loving Animals, Eating Animals
Recently at Shelterbelt Farm, we harvested our first beef. The two steers were shot on-farm, which avoided all the stresses of transport. They lived the high life until the very last minute, content to graze with their herd, free to do as they pleased. But I have had several people express how weird it is that I am okay with killing these animals that I raised on the farm. More disturbingly, I read a news story about Long Island farmers being tormented for telling a visitor that they would eventually kill their family milk cow, once the cow had lived a good long life on their farm. The visitor felt that this was inhumane, and that the farmers should just buy their beef from the grocery store instead – and she created a social media campaign to slander the farmers.
As I tried to articulate my own path from vegetarian to livestock farmer, I came across the following article written by my friend and mentor Karma Glos, from Kingbird Farm in Berkshire, NY. I’m not trying to convince anyone to eat meat; just trying to elucidate the seemingly conflicting perspective that it is possible to both love your animals and enjoy eating them. Here are Karma’s words:
“As a livestock farmer I am commonly asked how it is that I am able to butcher and sell the animals I have so lovingly raised for weeks, months, or even years. This is particularly directed to me since I am so obviously smitten with my stock and concerned with their care. How can the cow named Desdemona, raised under my watchful eye for nearly two years, be cut and wrapped in the freezer? How can the beautiful red hogs, born into my hands, be trucked away to be dispatched by another’s hand?
This is a profound dichotomy in agriculture, which can be difficult for those on the outside, on the consumption side, to understand. I have been on the outside looking in and I have myself scoffed at the farmer’s insensitivity and obvious disrespect for life. I spent my early years as not only a strict vegan, but also a dedicated PETA activist. I have always had a strong attachment to animals of all kinds and as a young person was enraged beyond reason by the ways animals were mistreated in agriculture. I still am.
Now as a farmer I am no less sensitive to the general disrespect shown livestock in conventional agriculture. However, as a farmer, I am also far more aware and in tune with the lives of animals then I ever was when I was so vehemently defending them from the outside. No matter how passionately I protested their confinement and abuse, I had no connection. I had no connection until I held their very lives in my hands. I made a profound leaps in understanding when I stayed up all night to help a tired sow deliver piglets into the world; when I dried off a newly born calf; when raised my first 100 balls of chick fluff into huge, robust fowl; when I selected out the first hogs to go to the butcher; and when I killed my first chicken, by my hand, for my food. There is no life without death. The plant feeds the insect, which feeds the chicken, which feeds me.
So for those of us who choose to be the caretakers and /or consumers of animals we must continue to share this intimacy of life with livestock in a conscious way. I don’t ever want to become complacent with the process or numb to the emotional needs of the animals under my care. If culling a sick hen or sending a steer to the butcher becomes too easy and without emotion, I don’t believe I should do it anymore. When you stop thinking about the livestock as living beings with needs like your own, you start losing your connection to them. This is when abuse happens, when animals enter and leave this world without purpose and compassion, and when we become the senseless brutes.
The Five Freedoms
- Freedom to express normal behavior
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from fear and distress
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
–Compendium of Animal Health and Welfare in Organic Farming, Organic Livestock Research Group, The University of Reading, UK”