14 April 2004

From the Mailbag


I am not sure what your policy is on reader-to-reader discussions, but I would like to respond to Joanna's criticism if I may. I was unclear in my post and do not want to leave the impression that I deny the individuality of the steers I raise.

What follows is a bit lengthy, so feel free to cut and paste as you see fit—I also posted it on Mike's blog. I hope Big Hominid and Naked Villainy are ginning up some more site traffic for you.

Dear Joanna,

I'm always happy to bring happiness, humor, and joy to others. You should see me dance. Unfortunately, your amusement at my failure to recognize that meat comes from "individuals" arises only because I did not specify my background in my brief post. I am a small-scale organic farmer who sells a few (seven this year) custom-raised, humanely treated, grass-fed baby beef in the Shenandoah Mountains and certainly do not deny the individuality of the animals I raise. In fact, my blogosphere handle, "Smallholder," is taken from the English term that not only denotes someone who traditionally farms a small patch of land, but also lives in close harmony with his animals. I know each animal intimately, spending one or two hours in direct, hands-on contact with my boys every day.

If you were to drive up the hill at Sweet Seasons Farm at 5:00 AM on any day of the week, you would find the barn light on and yours truly inside, feeding the boys with hand-mixed milk replacer. As they drink, I rub their sides, talk to them, scratch their ears, and lift their tails to make sure they don't have runny manure. They particularly like chin rubs. As I clean out the night's manure, the only real difficulty I have is the lads throwing me off balance as they seek even more attention. The same process gets repeated each evening as well. In fact, one of the little scamps was too affectionate last night—I had forgotten the egg basket and carefully placed several eggs in my front pants pocket. One of my twins didn't think he had gotten enough love and butted my hip—breaking four of the eggs.

In fact, the close association with the individuals can get even more intense. Last year, a snowstorm coupled with freakish wind swirling through the hills pushed snow through the barn's second story, around the hayloft, and into the pen. I went out at eleven in the evening to check to see if my boys were snuggly warm in the midst of the blizzard and found them standing forlornly with a quarter inch of snow on their backs. Intellectually, I understand that cattle are built to survive this sort of thing—I have seen my neighbor's cattle with an inch of encrusted ice all over their hides—but I didn't want my lads to be cold. I jerry-rigged (look at me ethnically slandering myself) a tarp over the calf pen, rubbed them all over with a blanket, changed the straw bedding, and then proceeded to sleep in the barn to add my body heat to their pen. It was cold, nasty work. But I kind of enjoyed waking up at three in the morning with calves snuggled up to me on each side, their heads tucked between my shoulders and face.

This year I had an outbreak of pneumonia. I had one calf that I tube-fed three times a day for a week, cradling it in my arms and massaging its ribs to aid digestion.

I could provide many, many more examples.

I'm sure Joanna will object that it can't be humane because the guys must be terrified at the end of their lives. I'm sure the slaughtering process is hard on 99.9% of the steers destined for hamburger, but the kindness I have shown the boys and the mutual affection we have also help their ends come cleanly. They follow me right up to the truck and I drive over to a Mennonite Farmer who slaughters on the side. He takes the animals in the order that they arrive, so I shoot to get to his place at 4:00 AM so I am first in line. They calmly walk down the ramp and into the facility. He was shocked that they would just follow me like little lambs—normally unloading and moving is accompanied by a fair amount of yelling and shoving. He hits them with a .22-caliber bullet to the brain and they are down—no muss, no fuss.

Ah, many animal-rights advocates might contend, there is still cruelty because they die in the end. While I am in agreement with animal-rights activists in their critiques of unnecessary (mental and physical) cruelty, they typically lose me when they make that judgment. If the goal of animal-rights activists is to eliminate as much animal suffering as possible, attacking humane farming is not conducive to their end. My animals lead TREMENDOUSLY better lives on my farm then they would in nature.

The PETA crowd seems to misunderstand that "Mother Nature" is, as Gene Logsdon puts it, often "Old Bitch Nature." Animals aren't living out in a state of Disney Technicolor utopia. Animals in the wild are perpetually fearful, subject to predation, parasite-ridden, frequently sick, and constantly hungry. Most die young and their deaths are ugly, traumatic affairs.

Professor Burgess-Jackson has stated that the art of persuasion is based on making people realize that their basic beliefs are in conflict. I have a challenge for his readers.

If my beliefs are:
A) Suffering should be minimized.

B) Animals in my care, provided with meals, shelter, health care, and protection from predation, suffer much less than they would in the state of nature.
Show me where these beliefs are in conflict. Please do so without using the "don't use others as an end" arguments. I'd buy that in person-to-person relationships, but don't accord full moral (human) weight to animals.


No comments: