Monday, November 2, 2009

The Hard Truth About Nature

Quite a few times I wonder why I choose to live on a farm. Quite often I am upset by, and stress over, the health of our livestock and pets. I've given names to far too many kitty cats who have met their demise when they were still kittens. I've even personally run over 2 of them, 1 of which used to be a favorite house cat. Just recently I've watched 2 favorite goat does waste away to practically nothing, wondering every day if today will be the day I go out to do chores and find them dead. Last year, I raised a buckling from a bottle, taught him to browse grass, let him hide behind me when the dog frightened him, and cuddled with him in the barn when all the other goats picked on him. 2 weeks ago he started dragging his leg, in a week both his legs were paralyzed, a few days ago he was on death's door, and I have to face the reality that he may not live, and, if he does, he may never walk again. For our wedding, I watched my husband slit the throat of a goat that never did anyone any harm, so that we could have fresh meat for our wedding. A month earlier, we butchered 2 roosters whose only crime was being male.

The reason I live on a farm is this. Before the goat died, he lived 5 or 6 years of "the good life," with plenty of pasture, hay, fresh water, space to roam, and a predictable herd. The roosters similarly had plenty of food, water, space to run, and protection from predators. The grass is chemical-free, the animals feel safe and are allowed to thrive, and death is as quick and painless as possible.

Death is all around me. But so is life. The sad truth of this world is, if you eat, you kill. Every person is responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals. If the meat was killed for you, the blood is on your hands. Even vegans are not without blame, because crops are living beings as well, and every field once was home to animals who have been permanently displaced, if not incidentally killed by the tractors, lack of cover, or pesticides used to cultivate crops. At least, as a farmer, I am also responsible for the quality of life my animals possess. Our meat was worn proudly by animals who had a good life. Even the "scrap" parts of the animal, like the skin, bones, fat, innards, are food for our dog, cats, and the ravens and other scavengers who happen to come by. Nothing is wasted, and, like the Native Americans of old, we hold gratitude for the animals who give their lives to feed us.

I've worked in a commercial dairy farm. The whole place seems haunted. The cows are pushed to their limit and half the calves die before reaching 2 weeks old. They live a bleak and confused life. I feel very bad for those cows, because they are worked so hard and die before their time. The mothers cry for the calves that are separated at birth, and untamed heifers run in terror from people, not knowing what's going on and why they are being chased into small, confining pens crowded with other cows.

Thankfully, our goats happily run to the barn when they see me coming with a bucket of grain, tolerant of my milking them while they happily munch on their treat. Weaning is still hard. Killing is still hard. It's still hard when animals die for seemingly no reason. But that's nature. Death happens as suddenly and poignantly as life begins. Sometimes animals suffer at the hands of the elements or each other. Sometimes confusion is inevitable, sometimes suffering is. No doubt the rats are not happy with arrangement, since they inadvertently drown in the animal's water, or their young are eaten by the chickens, or they are killed by the cats. The dog happily drags around the carcasses of some of our animals who didn't make it. Bones are strewn across the pathway to the barn. I cannot escape the reality of death, nor would I want to. I care for the animals here, I don't enjoy their death, but I do enjoy knowing that I am giving them a chance at a good life.


  1. Suffering is inevitable. So... when I decided to turn veggie I said to myself I'll cause less harm as possible, even though I cannot avoid everything. Unless... something is something, but the guilt is somehow always there, but also a sense of respect.