A Hero's Tale?

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.