I’m used to talking to people with all kinds of perceptions about farming. People who are afraid of farm animals, people who want to learn more about where food comes from, people who see livestock as pets, and people who see pets as livestock.
Recently, I had a commenter on a social media feed whose agenda I didn’t really have a ready response for. She started out by stating that she was upset to see the “instruments of exploitation” in response to my posting a photo of some lambing supplies. Some conversation revealed that she’s a vegan, and pretty upset by the idea that animals die by human hands for any reason. The “Instruments” upset her because they reminded her that the sheep would be bred and some would one day be eaten.
I don’t want to set up a strawman just to take down, so I won’t rehash the whole discussion. I’m not anti-Vegan: the diet has many excellent points about sustainability. Humane-itarianism, which I practice as best I can, has borrowed many ideas from veganism. My vegetarian friends and I get along fine. The idea, though, that we would be better off without any livestock and the crucial manure, labor and nutrients they provide to us seems completely wrong to me. Saying “No” to animals is saying “Yes” to petrochemicals and deforestation seeking land for ever more beans.
I am not ashamed or sorry that animals from my farm are slaughtered and eaten, including ones that I like very much. It is part of taking responsibility for them, just as owning an emergency lamb-puller, ear tags, iodine and other medical supplies should be. Regarding slaughter: animals don’t worry or anticipate death. They don’t realize they are at a slaughterhouse until they reach the kill room, and then they don’t have long to spend there. I watch the employees there thandle the animals with gentleness and respect, even as society treats them without respect and the job is typically viewed as “unskilled.”
I found it meaningful to have other farmers join my argument during the multi-hour discussion, pointing out weaknesses in the other person’s argument and helping me remember the values that guide what I do. Special thanks to Jen at Allsorts Acres who joined me in refuting some of the silliness thrown our way. It’s a funny way to finally meet a fellow shepherd, but I’m grateful for the camaraderie. I hope that the person who was so affronted that we would ever eat an animal and that we think it is okay to raise livestock one day recognizes that there is more to kindness to animals than just avoiding killing them at any cost.