Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Affection for Livestock

Jonathan Bryan and his pig Ruthann during the Junior Livestock Auction at the San Diego County Fair, courtesy of HAYNE PALMOUR IV staff photographer at the North County Times

At the ripe age of 23, when I was a roving reporter at the Preston Citizen (the same town that inspired the film Napolean Dynamite) I wrote a cute lil' story about some kids at a local livestock auction who had grown attached to their animals after raising them in 4-H. It's an interesting counterpoint to the last post, where I discuss the glaring issue of KNOWING where your beef (or even chicken, turkey and pork) comes from may give you the assurance of knowing that what you're eating was treated humanely while it lived.
Is that important to you?

Image from the Internet:

Kids Say Goodbye to Loveable Livestock
By myself as a staff writer for the Preston Citizen

Dusty Kids in Wranglers and cowboy boots with sunburnt faces and wind-blown hair said their last goodbyes to their cows, pigs and lambs at the Preson Country Fair on Friday night.

But eleven year old Adam Swann wasn't ready to say goodbye to his friendly bucket cow Big Red. Adam was planning on sleeping overnight at the fairgrounds with his cow before they took him away, but the man who bought Big Red had to leave town, so he took the cow earlier than planned.

"Adam asked where his cow was," Adam's Dad Lyle, said. "So I told him, and he was just broken-hearted. He didn't get to sleep until 11 p.m. and it was out of exhaustion."

Adam said it was hard to let Big Red go because he had become a friend.

"He'd put his nose up to me. He didn't care if I put my arms around his neck and hugged him or kinda leaned against him if I was tired," said Adam.

"Everywhere he went, the cow went with him," said Lyle.

Christie Owen, who won Reserve Champion with her steer, Dusty, said she'd been working with her cow all summer. Owen spent time Thursday hair-spraying and combing her cow's hair for the upcoming auction where Dusty would be showcased as one of the finest to bid on.

"His hair won't go right," said Owen, brushing the bovine's hair between its ears into a kind of mohawk. Not only was Dusty's hair stubborn, but he was stubborn too.

"He was either kicking me or licking me," said Owen.

Buckey J McKay, 14, had raised his steer Wild Thing since its mother was killed when the calf was two weeks old.

"He's the tamest pet," said McKay. "He will follow you around and eat right out of your hand." Wild Thing ate anything he could find including paper and sometimes, said McKay, the cow was cannabalistic, eating hamburgers that McKay fed him.

"It wasn't too sad giving him up," he said. "What you gonna do with a 1200 lb. steer hanging around?" McKay took second place in showmanship with Wild Thing.

Shauna Jepsen, 11, changed her 250 lb. pink pig's name from Wilbur to Mike Tyson the day she took him to the fair and put him in a pen with the other pigs.

"He got into many fights with every pig he could find," said Jepsen. The pig has a split-personality: soft-hearted Wilbur at home, but a fighter in public.

"They think he is just trying to protect me," she explained. "He is gentle at the house. You could rub his belly and he would roll over like a dog."

The pig was auctioned off Friday night and Shauna had to say Goodbye to her friend. Now, when she gets homesick for Wilbur/Mike Tyson, she pulls out photos of him so she's not so sad.

Stuart Parkinson, extension agent for Franklin County who has seen some of the children say goodbye explains it this way:

"Letting go teaches children a valuable lesson. It's when they have to walk away (from their animals) that they learn about life, about attachment and how to deal with sadness."

QUESTION OF THE HOUR: Is is RIGHT to eat something that has the capacity of forming attachments with humans? Is it right to kill an animal that could potentially become a pet? Even as I ask it, I realize that's a selfish question, one that looks at animals only through the lense of how USEFUL they are to humans, whether as pets or as food. PETA calls it murder. I grew up eating elk meat and didn't really think about it much. I grew up actually seeing a dead elk hanging from the shed in the backyard. It was gross, but part of the hunting experience so it felt normal. My father was a carpenter and I had 6 siblings, so bagging an elk every year was a nine-mouthed necessity. I didn't see it as sport hunting. It wasn't a trivial thing to us, nor to my Dad. My sister Cara hunts now.

For me, there's a difference between eating animals from a feedlot and elk or wild game. I feel better about eating something that comes from the wild. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that for the span of that creature's life, it roamed free in the woods eating forest plants and grasses and I imagine, not suffering much. Whereas, these poor fat cows trapped in feedlots on industrial farms seem to live a life entirely devoted to suffering just so we can do lots of of marinating and grilling in the summer, dust off the old BBQ and get fat on ribs and perfectly cooked steaks. What do you think? It's hard to argue that by and large most cows on industrial cows are miserable. Maybe you should consider buying your meat from a place like Prather Ranch that's become cerified in humane treatment of livestock.


Michelle said...

I think for me, it's not whether or not I would eat a pet-like animal, but whether or not I NEED to eat a pet-like animal. If I were starving and my species were at risk of survival, sure, yes, I'd probably eat your arm! But otherwise, why even go there?

On the rare occasion I eat meat, I do like to know that it came from a happy, healthy, well cared for animal. I'd rather not be consuming a poisoned, antibiotic ridden, stressed out cow.

Jen said...


Thanks for commenting, that's a great point.

I think many people don't think they have the time to investigate what they could eat besides meat to give them the protien that they need. I've been eating more nuts and legumes and tofu. Would you recommend anything?


bmark said...

Hi Jen,
I have an uncle in Preston ID who hired a consultant from New Zealand to help him establish a dairy farm that uses mainly pasture fed cows (except during some of the winter). The whole operation is quite different and much more humane than the typical grain fed cows on the majority of US farms. My Uncle says the adjustment has taken a few years but as a result the animals are healthier and happier.
PS Thanks for the comment on tune-guide :)