At the bottom of this blog, you will find the full text of a public message I read on Facebook. It is eloquent and well written. It makes a compelling case for us to admire the near heroic actions of dairy farmers as they have cared for their herds in the face of the hard winter that is only now making way for the much delayed and long-awaited spring here in Canada.
Clearly, the lengths to which they are prepared to go in order to protect their livestock are considerable. And yet, laments the author, “…despite all these efforts, cattle producers are demonized at every turn”. She is affronted that “Animal rights groups claim we are only in it for the money.” And then she reveals the true motivation of the cattle farmer. “You see the truth is, we really do care. We really like these animals. It's why we do it. Nothing brings more joy to a weary, mid-calving season, sleep deprived soul than seeing a calf that you brought back from death's door buck and play in the sunshine. It's its own reward.”
Isn’t that just heartwarming?
I don’t doubt that in the moment of seeing a helpless creature struggling bravely for life that even the hardest of hearts get melted. I am sure that when the newborns mother’s low pitifully for their babies, it could even bring a tear to the farmer's eye, or at the very least, a deep-seated sense of satisfaction that the farmer has played a role in helping a new life into this world.
But now let's temper this sunny side up portrait with a stiff dose of brutal reality.
The farmers are facing hardship because their cows are calving. Why is that? Could it be because they arranged to have those same cows impregnated? Could it be that they impregnated the cows because the calves bring in more money? Could it be that they care about whether or not the calves survive because if they didn’t, they'd be out pocket?
The sole motivation for what farmers do IS profit. To deny it is asinine. To claim “You see the truth is, we really do care. We really like these animals. It's why we do it” is blatantly dishonest. At best it’s a farcical piece of self-deception. If profit is not their motive, then what is? If “seeing a calf that you brought back from death's door buck and play in the sunshine” is “its own reward” why do those calves then meet such untimely and ghastly fates?
There is no benevolence in assisting in animal procreation if the sole outcome is to exploit those creatures you claim to “like”. The author goes as far as using the word in its transitive verb sense, as if trying to describe an emotional connection or response; but can this really be the case if they are prepared to then subject the objects of this (albeit limited) affection to shameless use and/or a deeply unpleasant and premature death? (Beef cattle are permitted to live a maximum of 7.5% of their potential lifespan; dairy cows may make it to 25%; a veal calf can get 3%; a male dairy cow a tragic 0.02%) The idea that somebody can truly ‘like’ an animal they bring into the world to slaughter and eat, is ridiculously perverse.
The author, perhaps in an attempt to garner further sympathy for the onerous burden undertaken by cattle farmers, then goes on to explain that “compensation for raising cattle is a pittance when compared to the time and effort involved.” Well, boo hoo. Here’s the thing lady, it doesn’t cost you your life, does it? And if money isn't the motive, why raise this point at all?
The overall portrait of the hardships faced by ranchers might be a compelling, even moving one, were it not to be punctuated by the insertion of the mythologising, self-affirming statements of the lengthy fifth paragraph. Yet the imagery of these wonderful, selfless souls doing their simple best for their livestock belies the immensity of the hypocrisy that she seems unable to objectively regard. She paints the farmers as the heroes of the day, endlessly putting themselves out, not only for the benefit of these gentle and harmless creatures, but for the general good of the public at large. How wonderful for us that those of their ilk are in the world.
Alternatively, what an absolute horror for cows that there are those who believe they have licence to do whatever they will with innocent lives that were never their own. What a hideous travesty that theriocide occurs when there is nothing about animal products – bovine or otherwise - that we need. What a bitter shame that in a world sophisticated enough to produce excellent alternatives, there are those who endlessly sponsor and perpetuate vile practices and believe themselves to be acting nobly.
It occurs to me that we all begin as prisoners of our upbringing. We all too willingly accept the societal norms around us. We all face the danger of continuing throughout our lives as unquestioning automatons in our adherence to them, irrespective of how egregious they may be upon examination. How pitiful are we that so few of us are brave enough to explore the truths of ourselves and the rank injustices we commit or permit. How shameful that so few can set them aside, even when brutal honesty should cause us to recoil in horror from what we do.
I cannot help but wonder what the authoress would say to the growing ranks of beef and dairy farmers who are immersing themselves in the shocking waters of the reality they create; those who are waking up to the error of their ways; those who are speaking out against the great harms they have themselves been active particpants in; those who now vow to do all they can to save the endless billions yet to come from despicable ends.
They, surely, are the real heroes.
The article that offends me...
The calving season of 2018 has probably been the worst in recent memory for ranchers across Western Canada. Unseasonably frigid temperatures and extreme snowfalls are wreaking havoc on cattle producers across the Prairie Provinces right to the Pacific coast.
Cows that normally calve on grass are wading through snow to their bellies and finding the furthest snowdrifts in which to have their calves despite their caregivers' exhaustive efforts to stay ahead of the next snowstorm with bedding and feed.
Ranchers are running on precious few hours’ sleep as we race against the clock trying to rescue newborn calves born in snowbanks at -20ºC with a bracing wind out of the North. The calves are often found soggy and shivering and near frozen to death so they are loaded in the calf sled for the 400 yard slog through knee deep snow to any warm spot available on the property including our own houses. All the while we’re praying that we'll be able to find its momma when we are finally are satisfied that it can survive the elements and knowing it's a gamble if she'll even take it after the time apart.
Substitute colostrum is a hot commodity at this point with people traveling hours to pick up the last pouch available at some small town Co-Op 200 miles away. Calf warmers and dryers are sold out with farm supply stores sadly telling desperate ranchers that they won't find one west of the Canadian Shield. Bottles and nipples and stomach tubes and heat lamps are not long on the shelves. Every towel and blanket has been pulled out of every closet on the ranch and is put into service. Hot water bottles and hair dryers are dug out of bathroom drawers for extended service in the barn.
And yet, despite all these efforts, cattle producers are demonized at every turn. Controversy rages about everything from our use of antibiotics to the necessity of eating meat. Marketing campaigns abound extolling this method or that product as being superior to the other. Animal rights groups claim we are only in it for the money. They say the only reason cattle producers go through this turmoil is the almighty dollar. But if ranchers were honest with themselves, on years like this year, the money we will make off what's left of this year's calf crop probably isn't enough to cover all the time that is being spent bringing it to fruition. You see the truth is, we really do care. We really like these animals. It's why we do it. Nothing brings more joy to a weary, mid-calving season, sleep deprived soul than seeing a calf that you brought back from death's door buck and play in the sunshine. It's its own reward. Apparently enough of one that we continue to persevere despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, the controversy and the fact that compensation for raising cattle is a pittance when compared to the time and effort involved.
As I write this, my husband is in the barn trying to coax a weak twin calf to stand and suckle. When it was evident that the calf was going to require a little extra time to get up and going, he milked the colostrum from the cow and tubed it into its stomach to ensure it would survive the day. But it is crucial to this tiny calf's survival that it gets more of his momma's warm milk into it so it will be strong enough to stay with her this summer. So for the eighth time in the last few hours, he gently lifts the calf and helps it balance on shaky legs. He guides it to its mother's udder and supports it, patiently waiting while the calf searches and finally finds the sustenance it needs to fight another day.