The Carnivore’s Conundrum

I don’t eat meat but my little pickle does which means that I have had to get a lot closer to meat and a lot more involved with where it comes from, and, as a farmer, where it goes.

I believe that if you must eat meat you need to have raised it, fed it, loved it, looked after it, and attained its agreement to the kill.  And then you kill it or at least be there at the end to ensure it is killed humanely, kindly, with compassion and care.  After all, these are living, breathing, feeling beings with soul.

This week two of the boys went to the fat sale.  Hector has been avoiding this for years.  Mainly because each time my resolve has failed or the river has flooded or the bank balance has been boosted some other way.  Each time I have gone and talked to him and cried with him because his ending has always been inevitable yet somehow he and I had to make our peace with it.  At the end of last year he told me that he gave himself in the ultimate sacrifice and I understood that animals do this for us – not willingly, not happily, but nobly they give the ultimate gift in service to us humans.  For love of us.

And I understand and ‘get’ that – I really do.  But to get cattle to the table, first they are separated from the herd and mustered which can be long, hot, hard work and confusing to yards which often are places of fear – what happens next?  Then they are loaded on a truck – where am I going now?  There is grief at leaving their home, the land they love and their friends and family – both human and herd.

Road travel must be terrifying and then they finally arrive at the saleyards where strangers prod and poke and sometimes hit them.  They are tired, hungry, thirsty, dazed and confused.  And then they are loaded into huge trucks, crammed in together for often long journeys to the abattoir where they will smell the blood and fear long before they are stunned and killed.  Imagine how terrified they must be, how their last moments are filled with fear and the killing frenzy before them.

And yet when Hitler did this to humans it was called The Holocaust – a blot upon our human history never to be forgotten.  I remember it well.  In another life I was in Auschwitz where I scrubbed floors and the lust of two SS officers kept me alive longer than most.  But before we got there we were herded, isolated, starved and prodded and poked and cramped into ghettos then cattle trucks as we travelled to unknown destinations and destinies.  We too were full of fear.  No one, no living sentient being should be treated like that.  It isn’t right that we do this to cattle and sheep and pigs and chickens.  What have we become that we think this is OK?

We have legalised horror and industrialised death and it is not OK. We have to get back to grass roots and get involved with where our food comes form – where it is grown and nurtured and raised, where it dies and how it is treated every step of the way.  This isn’t just about chemical free or biodynamic food or farming, it is a moral dilemma and soul choice.

If we eat meat we have a moral responsibility to those animals we feed off to ensure they are treated with dignity, compassion and yes, love.

I have cried so many tears for Hector this week.  First he sulked and refused to speak to me.  Finally I reikied him on his way to the abattoir and he said ‘I have lived a good life, a happy life, I have loved my life and my ‘girls’ .  Everyone has to die eventually and I have lived longer than most.  I love Ben and would do anything for him’ and finally he and I were at peace.

It doesn’t stop the tears because I miss him and probably always will and the girls are so so sad without him.  He was the best babysitter and the proud and constant friend and protector of his herd.  Hector the Protector, rest assured that we loved you so much and this was not the end I wanted for you.  You have served us in your ultimate sacrifice and for this we sincerely thank you.  Hector, my darling, rest in peace and thank you from the bottom of my ever more vegetarian heart.

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4 Responses to The Carnivore’s Conundrum

  1. Angie says:

    Sophie.

    Thanks for writing this.

    I hesitate to say that I’m not convinced Hector acquiesced through love of Ben. I expect he screamed in terror, and had to be electrically prodded into the death stall.

    You ascribe valiant self-sacrifice, while I imagine that pet farm stock feel so damned betrayed when they realise where they’ve been sent – in that instant before abject panic sets in.

    But, maybe we’re both attributing too much human emotion?

    Then again, the more time you spend with animals, the more we can’t deny their individual complexity and amazingly human way of interacting. It’s not anthropomorphising, it’s just observing without prejudice.

    I wish we highly evolved creatures would stop pretending abattoirs are okay. They are just barbaric.

    We need to develop a humane on farm euthanasia.

    Nice dream…

    But, good on you and I, I’ll risk saying. Vegetarianism is one simple solution to the dilemma, so I’m proud of us both!

    • sophie says:

      Angie, I love your on farm euthanasia idea, which is how farms operated before the Government deemed everything even vaguely organic or natural to be dangerous in terms of germs, sanitation etc. Have you read ‘You can Farm’ and ‘Everything I want to do is illegal’ by Joel Salatin? Fascinating. The animals that go in the freezer for my little carnivore boy are taken off farm to a local butcher man and processed one at a time on a farm in a very humane way with my husband there at all times.
      I very much doubt that Hector screamed. The farm animals, unlike us humans, know very well that life is a transient, fleeting thing. Life can be destroyed in an instant. Premmie babies die, animals die in childbirth, snakes, ticks, wild dogs, eagles etc all kill. The humans heal and nurse them, and grieve when they are taken before their time. I spent a year crying with Hector and talking to him (he was 5) before he went to the sales. Of course he didn’t want to go, but as he said ‘we all have to go sometime’ and he and I had both come to a place of acceptance about the inevitability of what was going to happen. Hector had a beautiful life, I had saved his life when he was younger and sick. We all miss him and I will always regret that finances forced us to sell him. I cry over every animal we sell or lose. But we talk to all of them and I hear their voices clear as day. We know them very well and they are fully sentient beings with the full range of emotions we ascribe as ‘human’. The difference is they feel them and then let them go whereas we cling on! I think the truth is that my body needs to eat meat even though my mind and soul won’t let it. The longer I am here on the farm and see the brutality of nature the more comfortable I feel with carnivores!

  2. Angie says:

    Thanks Sophie.

    I hope you are right, that Hector came to terms with his end, and that farm animals understand and accept their destiny. But gosh, the footage certainly shows them struggling not to die?!

    I suspect we’ll never know how graciously Hector walked to his death, unless your husband can recall and give an honest account. Would you ask him please?

    It’s difficult stuff all this. I think we should be brutally honest and admit that no-one, including farm animals, want to be butchered; otherwise we’ll just keep on rationalising the horror and never collectively “evolve” past the practice.

    But if you don’t agree, that’s cool. At least you say sorry!!

  3. sophie says:

    Angie, remember that a lot of farmers do not communicate with their animals, do not think they need to, do not think they have emotions or souls or suffer. Just muster them, load them, send them off. Hector did not go into our freezer, he went to the abattoir BUT he knew for a year beforehand that this was going to happen and it didn’t happen until he had communicated he was ready. It’s the same with people – given time to prepare oneself for death, one has dignity and can reconcile oneself. We are all going to die. The longer I live here on the farm the tougher I get because nature is so cruel. In the past few weeks we have lost two sheep (one cause unknown – snake, lambing, tick, one disappeared, presumably wild dog) A wild dog took my two day old baby lamb yesterday and my husband thankfully shot the wild dog (which has had 3 ducks, 4 chooks, a lamb and a ewe over the past four months it has been hunting us) and yesterday we had a fresh new lamb and are desperately trying to keep it safe from eagles, dogs etc. It’s a tough, dog eat dog world. I’m still a vegetarian but seeing how fragile and tenuous life is, how constant death is, how cruel nature can be, I become ever more comfortable with carnivores. But I do believe that if you eat meat you should rear it, feed it, know it, communicate with it, love it. It’s all any of us can ask for. None of us WANT to be butchered, but if I die I hope someone else can benefit from my organs. That’s basically what Hector said. ‘We’re all going to die sometime, at least let me die for a good cause.’

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