Michael is one of the lucky ones. Born on a small dairy farm — one of the “good ones” — he would have been taken away from his mother a day or two after birth, sent to auction and subsequently slaughtered. That’s the fate of male calves in the dairy industry. (The female calves actually have it worse: they’ll be raised to be “milking machines” like their mothers, forcibly impregnated as many times as their bodies can stand, usually three or four times before they too are slaughtered, and have every one of their babies taken away soon after birth.) Mothers and calves alike bellow piteously for one another, often for days, when they are separated.
But when the time came for Michael to go to auction, 48 hours after his birth, the farmer couldn’t quite let him go. Something about this little brown and white calf appealed to her. Maybe it was his beautiful eyes with their ring of dark “eyeliner,” or his extravagant lashes. Maybe it was the softness of his muzzle, or just the simple sweetness of a baby animal. The farmer kept him for a bit.
But keeping a male calf does not make sense for dairy farmers; the boys are not profitable, certainly not if they’re nursing. The day he was scheduled to go to auction, he was instead rescued by a kind soul and taken to Farm Sanctuary.
Shy and scared and missing his mum, Michael arrived with diarrhea and giardia, common ailments in dairy calves. That was several weeks ago. He received treatment at the sanctuary’s small animal hospital and today, Michael is living in a barn and getting bigger and stronger. Although he’s still too small to hang out with the adolescent two-year-olds, they do share a fence and the older boys spend a lot of time looking at Michael with curiosity, and greetings are mooed back and forth. And Michael has a mighty moo for a little calf! While he frolics and plays like any young’un, you can see in Michael’s eyes that he’s lonely and misses his mum.
I met Michael last weekend and while I’m so grateful he’s found a new life at Farm Sanctuary where he will make friends of his own species and learn to live as part of a herd, being with him was also heartbreaking. He’s a bit shy of people and yet aching for affection; he’ll regard you warily, but once you get close, he’s all about the love. And he suckles. Anything. He suckled my hand endlessly, waiting for milk that’s never going to come. He got some milk replacer in a bucket with a giant nipple placed in it, because it’s the only way he’ll drink it. When he overturned the bucket in his zeal, a caregiver righted it immediately, but I accidentally stepped where it had spilled and he suckled the toe of my shoe. He still has no teeth and the inside of his mouth is warm and soft…when he took my hand to suckle it again, I felt as though my heart would leave my chest.
Michael is so desperate for his mum, and the only reason he can’t be with her is because people want her milk for cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter. For this, Michael has been taken from his mother…and perhaps worse, his mother has lost another baby. Dairy isn’t just a harmless product on the grocery store shelf. It has a face and a name. It’s Michael’s mother, who by now has been impregnated again against her will, and will have her next baby taken away from her, too. Dairy is Michael, two months old, suckling my hand, and wanting the comfort of his mum. Michael is the case against dairy.
By now, surely everyone reading this is familiar with the horse-meat-in-beef-products scandal. The latest news this morning is that horse meat has been found in Ikea’s famous meatballs in 13 European countries. People are aghast. Every time I read a comment after a news story or when someone mentions it on Facebook, there are outcries of “disgusting!” and “horrifying!”
To be perfectly honest, I’m still trying to figure out what people are so upset about. Certainly there is some alarm about the drugs that are routinely given to race horses (and that’s where most of the horse meat is coming from), most notably phenylbutazone, or “bute,” a anti-inflammatory painkiller that has been widely banned for human consumption, though it was originally designed for humans. Some people seem appalled about evidently lax standards in slaughterhouses. But by and large, they seem most upset that they may have consumed part of an animal that in their minds is more often considered a kind of companion animal — they put horses on a higher moral level than other farmed animals and it offends them to think of horses being used as food animals.
So here’s a little primer.
Antibiotics are routinely added to animal feed for cows, pigs, chickens, sheep (yes, that’s your lamb souvlaki) and goats (no, not that many people eat goat, but most people eat goat cheese). In fact, by some estimates, as much as 70% of all antibiotics produced in the United States are destined for animal feed, not human use. These drugs are necessary to keep animals alive when those animals live in such intensive confinement that a state of perpetual illness is unavoidable. It is widely believed in the scientific community that this is a large part of the reason we are now dealing with antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs” — we’re ingesting so much antibiotics from the meat we’re eating that our bodies have become used to them, making the drugs ineffective when we really need them. So if you eat meat, I don’t know that you should be all that alarmed by a smidgen of bute that may be in it. You’re already consuming plenty of drugs through your food.
Lax standards in slaughterhouses? This is nothing new. This is nothing new at all. See Gael Eisnitz’s shocking and powerful exposé Slaughterhouse, first published in 1997. While I am unfailingly shocked and sickened by the cruelty that routinely takes place in slaughterhouses every day, the only thing that shocks me about meat production at this point is that more people don’t get more sick more often.
Which leaves us with the general sense of horror many people have that they may have inadvertently eaten Seabiscuit. Horses are elevated in our culture, viewed as pets, companions, partners. They are the farm animal most city people have actually had some contact and possibly a relationship with. We see our police riding them, we may have gone riding at a stable ourselves, they pull carriages for “romantic” rides through the city for tourists or brides and grooms. (Note: I find nothing romantic about this at all: please Google “carriage horse industry” for more info.)
News flash: in terms of character, personality, their relationships with other animals — including humans — horses are absolutely no different from cows or any other farmed animal. Regular readers will know that I have favourite, cherished cows who live at Farm Sanctuary in Upstate New York, including notoriously antisocial Meg and the late, great Larry, a rescued veal calf who grew to 2500 pounds and was the sweetest, most gentle soul, and Thunder, another massive, gentle steer who wants nothing more than to be loved. I am also head-over-heels with Rufus, a beautiful red cow who lives at Wishing Well Sanctuary in Bradford, Ontario. What’s so special about Rufus? Nothing and everything. He is funny, sweet, gentle and affectionate. When I visit him, he rests his head on my shoulder while I stroke his face. He’ll take half a carrot from my fingertips as gently as a lamb. I know many cows who are a lot like him. If they are somehow significantly different from horses, I don’t know how.
Bruce Friedrich has just published a very important article in the Huffington Post about U.S. ag-gag laws. He begins by referencing a story that shocked the nation in early 2008: the largest beef recall in American history, the result of an undercover investigation at the Hallmark slaughter plant in California that revealed horrific abuse of farmed animals. The meat recall occurred because it was discovered that potentially diseased cattle were entering the food chain, but that’s not what got my attention. I had no idea at the time that anyone, anywhere, ever, could possibly treat an animal the way the cows were treated at Hallmark. It was one hell of an eye-opener.
At that time, I was an uneasy omnivore; I felt bad about eating animals and deliberately chose not to think about it too much. I still believed there was such a thing as “happy meat” and I went out of my way to make sure that was what I ate. The Hallmark investigation really shook the foundations of that (false) belief. I realized that no matter how well an animal lived, how well “it” was treated before it died, the happy cows — and chickens and pigs, et al — were going to the same slaughterhouse as everyone else.
What happened at Hallmark, most shockingly, was not that exceptional. Undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses all over the world consistently reveal the same unspeakable cruelty and callousness. It’s not the exception, it’s the status quo. Hallmark woke me up, and indirectly introduced me to Farm Sanctuary, which I’d never previously heard of. I started reading a lot on the internet, clicking from one article and site to the next, all the while feeling increasingly uncomfortable with my carnivorous habits.
Two years later, while reading Gene Baur’s book Farm Sanctuary, I finally became vegetarian. It was the best decision I’d ever made and the easiest thing I’ve ever done. A few months later, I went to Farm Sanctuary for the first time and fell in love. I met dozens of animals I’d been reading about online for ages and I felt I already knew them — as individuals. All of them (save for the few who were lucky enough to be born at the sanctuary) had known terrible abuse at the hands of humans, and yet their capacity to trust people again, and their obvious joy and contentment at being alive and free from fear and the constraints of factory farms, stole my heart and changed my soul.
The ag-gag laws that exist in some U.S. states and are being fought for in others are real and we should feel very threatened by them, regardless of where we live. They seek to protect the abusers and punish those who would expose them. Undercover investigators can (and do) go to jail for exposing the truth. Perpetrators of animal cruelty are protected. Federal inspectors were at the Hallmark plant, as they are at all plants in Canada and the U.S. Most of the inspectors don’t care what goes on; they’re not there to oversee how the animals are treated, they’re there to make sure nothing too appalling gets into our food system (what is and is not deemed “too appalling” is another story). The few who do care are ignored or have their jobs threatened if they dare to speak up.
The animal agriculture lobby is very powerful and very rich. Many prominent people in animal agriculture manage to find their way onto the boards of the bodies that are meant to regulate the industry. They have tremendous influence with government. They stopped the USDA from openly promoting “Meatless Monday,” even though it would benefit not only human health but non-animal farmers, too. Instead of working to change the system and stop the egregious abuses that are so much the norm, legislators are working to hide the abuses and to stop anyone from exposing them. And they are succeeding. This is a very dangerous precedent for whistle-blowers in any industry. Please read Bruce Friedrich’s brilliant article for more detail and to better understand the implications of ag-gag laws. No one can afford to keep allowing these laws to pass.
Wishing Well Sanctuary in southern Ontario recently welcomed four new residents: young steers rescued two-by-two and given a new chance at life and a loving home where they will never know exploitation.
In March, Patrick was born on a “beef” farm six weeks prematurely and wasn’t doing very well. A kind neighbour named Janice, distressed to hear this news, offered to care for him. And care she did. She went over every day, and under her attention, over a period of months, Paddy thrived. Some tender part of the farmer’s soul came out long enough to tell Janice she could keep Paddy if she wanted to. What a gift! You see, Janice is a vegetarian and was understandably upset at the thought of this beautiful calf she’d been hand-raising and had bonded with going one day to slaughter. But Janice wasn’t the only one who bonded with Paddy. So did Moose, another Black Angus steer and Paddy’s best friend. Separating them was virtually unthinkable. Unfortunately, Janice wasn’t able to keep the calves herself, and so began Paddy and Moose’s journey to Wishing Well. Many phone calls and emails and help from numerous people later, Paddy and Moose arrived at their new home last month.
They were joined by Indie and Gogo, two beautiful calves who were being sent to slaughter because the farm where they were living was shutting down and there was seemingly nowhere else for them to go…until Wishing Well learned about them and opened its heart and pasture to the young boys.
Last weekend, I was honoured to take part in a very moving ceremony celebrating these cows’ new-found freedom. They were to have their numbered ear tags removed — a significant moment in their lives, because they no longer need ear tags for identification. They are not commodities, they are individuals and they have names, emotions, preferences and relationships, and we can (in time, given their physical similarities!) identify them by their names. They don’t need numbers, because they are someone, not something.
As it turned out, removing their ear tags was not successful – they’re still a little unsure of their new surroundings and didn’t quite know what to make of their “audience,” so ear tag removal will wait for the vet on another day. Brenda Bronfman Thomas and Wendy Sunega — the president and vice-president of Wishing Well — made the symbolic gesture of cutting a chain instead. I was asked to read a letter from Paddy’s rescuer, Janice, because she wasn’t able to be there. This is what she wrote:
I wish I could have been there in person to mark Patrick and Mooses’s final step into freedom — the removal of the tags that falsely mark them as ‘un-beings.’ These little steers were two of many that won my heart over almost a year. Knowing they have a safe and loving home will be a never-ending gift to me every day I draw a breath. I want to thank everyone who made this possible, from those whose hearts were touched enough by Patrick’s story to reach into their pockets; to the completely awesome transport team — Kelli, Louise and Michelle — who stepped up to the plate with such compassion and enthusiasm; to Brenda, who truly made all my dreams come true by offering the boys a home; and to everyone who offered advice, answered my endless emails and questions, forwarded me to their contacts and tolerated me hounding them relentlessly for eight long months.
And now, Patrick and Moose, with a big scrub on the chin and a virtual kiss on both your foreheads, go be free…
Life is hell on earth for most farmed animals — more than 10 billion of them in Canada and the United States alone. It is an unimaginable, unfathomable number. Yet every one of them is an individual and they deserve so much better than lives of deprivation, fear, intense confinement, neglect and cruelty, and deaths of terror, torture and pain. I’m not overstating it. That’s the way it is.
But for these four growing calves — Paddy, Moose, Gogo and Indie — and thousands of lucky animals like them who have been rescued and are living out their lives free from pain and fear at sanctuaries across the continent, there is, finally, some peace on earth.
Wishing all my readers a peaceful and compassionate holiday season, and peace on earth for more animals in 2013.
For the animals,
There is nothing I would rather do than spend time with animals and I feel lucky that I’m able to do so with farmed animals in particular. Whenever an animal responds to me, it feels like such a privilege, especially when that animal has known neglect or abuse at the hands of humans. That they somehow know I’m safe is very humbling.
Most people today have no opportunity to interact with farm animals. The majority of us live in cities and the majority of farms are enormous, industrial complexes, often surrounded by barbed wire these days. (Those bucolic family farms you see as you drive to the cottage or another city are not the norm; they may have been 60 years ago, but most have been put out of business by “big ag.”)
Because I’ve made a point of going to farm sanctuaries and getting to know the animals there, I know farmed animals in a way that most people don’t — I don’t see herds and flocks; I see families, social groups, and individuals.
We are conditioned nearly from birth to see some animals as food and others as “pets” or even family members. I believe that this conditioning persists because most people have never met a farmed animal or ever really had any reason to think about them beyond considering them dinner. Part of my job as an animal advocate is to show people that farmed animals are individuals and as such, they feel pain, joy, sadness, despair and nearly any other emotion you’d care to name. They have social and emotional relationships with members of their own species, and other species too. They have their own quirky personalities. And they are just as deserving of kindness, consideration and the basic freedoms that our beloved dogs and cats enjoy. They really are no different.
Last weekend I went to Wishing Well Sanctuary and met Winston and Maurice for the second time. Winston and Maurice are a couple of young pigs who fell off a transport truck and were lucky enough to wind up at Wishing Well instead of a slaughterhouse. I got a greeting from them that I can only liken to the kind of greeting you’d normally expect from a couple of six-month-old Golden Retrievers. Still just adolescents, they squealed and snorted with delight and were instantly up on their hind legs, putting their hooves first on the fence of their pen, and then on my shoulders. They nuzzled the side of my face, put their snouts in my hair, and flung mud everywhere, all while making the most incredible, joyous racket. Those are happy, well-adjusted pigs, in spite of having their tails amputated and their testicles ripped out without benefit of anaesthetic when they were first born. Maurice in particular was skittish and very nervous of people when he arrived at the sanctuary, jumping in fear if you touched him. Now, he’s all about the love.
I also met three beautiful rescued chickens, Camilla, Filomena and Freida. After watching them for 15 minutes, they were pretty easy to tell apart. Freida, who came to the sanctuary after being terribly neglected, is quite friendly and enjoys being patted; it’s like she’s happy you’ve noticed her. Filomena is more dominant and very food-oriented — if there is a pecking order in this tiny flock, Filomena is clearly at the head. Camilla is a bit more shy, but also very sweet. All three of them adore cooked spaghetti, and they seem to like it best when you hand-feed it to them one strand at a time! And they do all love the attention.
Rufus is my new bovine love. Another case of terrible neglect, Rufus never knew kindness or love from people before arriving at Wishing Well. Now, he thrives on it. He is so sweet, and very affectionate. Yes, cows can be affectionate! He loves to be petted, especially on his neck, under his chin and on his cheeks. He’ll tilt his head and close his eyes a little. If you stop before he’s had enough, he will gently nudge you with his very large head. He may even rest that head on your shoulder, or dip it down and push a little into your chest. That is cow affection. Cows also show affection for each other: I saw two of them grooming each other’s faces like a couple of cats.
The most extraordinary thing about all of these animals is simply that they’ll never be slaughtered and eaten, that they are loved and appreciated for who they are. To know basic freedoms, such as not being confined and abused for your entire life, having the ability to engage in natural behaviours, being able to form relationships with others, to be free from fear and from harm…these are not, sadly, freedoms afforded to farmed animals. They are treated like inconveniently shaped blocks of wood. They are referred to as “units” and they do not meet their premature deaths at slaughter; they are “processed.” The animal agriculture industry has seen to it that we are so divorced from our food that we don’t even consciously recognize that our meat was once a living, breathing being — never mind that when he or she was alive (yes, that’s right, dinner had a gender, too!), their life was most likely complete misery from the day they were born. And if by some slim chance our dinner had a “nice life,” it most assuredly had a terrifying and agonizing death.
This is what happens when you get to know farmed animals: you see them as individuals, no different than your cat or dog. As photographer Jo-Anne McArthur has said, once you start seeing, you can’t stop. They are someone, not something.
Last weekend was one of incredible contrasts for me. On Saturday I spent the day at the wonderful Wishing Well Farm Sanctuary just north of Toronto. Sunday, I attended a protest at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
Now in its 90th year, there are shows (kind of like beauty contests) for chickens, cows, pigs, you name it. There’s a rodeo and there are animal auctions. There’s a butter sculpture contest. I’m sure the cows whose milk was used to make the butter didn’t mind being forcibly impregnated (restrained in a device the agricultural industry actually calls a rape rack) and having their babies removed from them as soon as they were born…After all, it was for a butter sculpture contest. The animals are all on a scale between nervous and terrified. I cannot describe it any better than We Animals photographer Jo-Anne McArthur did two years ago, so with her permission I am reproducing her blog post here.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair: A One-sided Story
I spent Thursday afternoon wandering around the annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, which is one of the largest indoor agricultural shows in the world. I would say that one of its principle target audiences is children, whom they are educating about Canadian agricultural practices. I picked up many brochures, read a lot of corporate spin and many “fun facts” about animals used in agriculture.
In the brochure entitled “The Real Deal About Veal!”, published by the Ontario Veal Association (www.ontarioveal.on.ca), I learned that veal calves come in many colours! I learned that a cow is pregnant for about 9 months – the same gestation time as humans – before she gives birth to her calf. From there, the calf is taken away from its mother within an hour of birth and “moved into a pen so that farmers can care for them properly. This means feeding them colostrum, which is the first milk their mothers produce.” The calves never get to drink from their mothers; that’s our job. From there, calves go straight to an auction where other farmers can buy them.
I’ve been to these auctions and I can’t tell you how horrific they are. Seeing day-old calves being hit with sticks so that they parade back and forth so that the bidders can see the calf from both sides in the auction ring. Quite often the umbilical cord is still bloody and dangling from the baby’s center. The calves cry out in these noisy auction halls, perhaps out of fear or in search of their mother.
I also learned that calves quickly learn to walk, eat and explore the world around them. They didn’t mention that the world around them is a tiny crate that they will live in until the are slaughtered.
At the cow displays, I learned some “amoo-zing facts”; a cow’s life expectancy, for example, is 6 to 7 years. This isn’t true. A milking cow is slaughtered after 6 or 7 years, when her body is exhausted by the pregnancies and a lifetime of being milked. Cows can actually live up to 30 years. I learned some jokes as well. Q: Where do cows go on a Friday night? A: To the moooo-vies! No they don’t. Cows live out their lives in cramped spaces, on hard cement, being inseminated, having their babies yanked out of their bodies and then taken away from them, being milked until they can no longer be milked. Their hooves become warped from the cement and their udders become distended from the constant pregnancies and milking. Then they are transported to slaughter and turned into low grade beef or dog food.
There are many other exhibits at the Fair, one of which is called “Journey to Your Good Health” comprising a few dozen booths advertising their products. It was laughable. McDonalds was among them. Enough said.
As I walked around I saw cows and sheep tied tightly by their faces, getting sheared and blow dried in preparation for showcasing. As they were walked through crowds on smooth cement, many would slide and fall. One cow looked wildly afraid and refused to move. I asked if the cow was afraid and the owner’s reply was “No, she just doesn’t want to do what we want her to do.” The depth to which we put our superficial needs before theirs is disheartening. I doubt the cows care if they win “best in show.”
The Royal Fair exhibits are educational in that they give us insight to the values of animal exploitation industries. Today’s agriculture is built to feed the masses at a low cost to humans and without consideration for the animal. If you’d like your kids or classroom to have a more compassionate look at animals used in farming practices, there is tonnes of literature out there by authors such as Jeffrey Masson, and from organizations such as Farm Sanctuary, that allow animals formerly abused on farms to live out their lives and behave in a way that comes naturally to them.
You can check out some of Jo-Anne McArthur’s photographs of The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and other fairs here.
At Sunday’s protest, many people drove by, honked their horns and gave us a thumbs-up. A few gave us the finger (we generally respond by smiling and waving). We had a lot of people roll down their car windows to yell “I love bacon!” I’m sure they thought they were very funny, never mind original. I used to love bacon too. Turns out I love pigs more.
In my next post, you’ll find out why I love pigs more than bacon — and why I love cows more than steak and chickens more than chicken.
The other day — actually, the day of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and in many parishes, the traditional day for the blessing of the animals — an acquaintance who is a devout Catholic posted a link on Facebook to an essay about animals and he tagged me on the post, saying he was interested to know what I thought of it.
It was so filled with scripture that (being a devout atheist myself) I would normally not even have taken the time to read it, but this acquaintance is a very nice person and he asked me specifically, so read it I did.
The effect of the scripture was very much like the sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher to me; because I don’t believe in “God,” it was pretty difficult to get my head around it. However, this passage, which appears early on in the essay, did jump out at me, and it was seemingly the basis of most of what followed it:
“We have to delineate the suffering of animals from the suffering of humans. Humans can suffer in a number of ways – physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. Animals’ suffering is more limited. They do not have an intellect, will, or immortal soul as we do.”
I see no need to differentiate between the suffering of animals and the suffering of people. I do not believe they suffer differently or any less than we do — I have witnessed too much of their suffering to believe that. Science has proven and is increasingly broadly acknowledging that animals do have an intellect and a will. As for the immortal soul, I don’t believe anyone has one — all the more reason to live one’s life with as much compassion and as ethically as one can. I’m not relying on an opportunity to square things up later.
God or no God, I believe it is wrong to inflict suffering on animals. They are at our mercy and as a society, for the most part, we show them none. Because we are able to dominate them, because we have a choice, we have almost limitless opportunities to show them kindness rather than callousness and brutality — and yet we do not. I find that despicable. I choose not to eat animals (or products produced by them), use them, participate in their exploitation for “entertainment,” and I’m doing my best not to wear them (replacing worn out shoes with vegan alternatives, etc.).
I don’t believe in the concept of dominion. This planet is not ours alone, to do with as we wish. We share this earth with other animals and owe them much, much better treatment than we currently accord them. I will advocate for them for as long as I have to, because they cannot defend themselves, and because the only voice they have is mine, and the voices of people like me — like you.