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Life at Zaytuna – Meet Red

Editor’s Preamble: People are increasingly disgusted with the cruelty, disease and pollution associated with factory farms. Events like the recent Swine Flu pandemic, which appears to have originated with the world’s largest hog producer, Smithfield Foods, are helping us to see the error of our corporate ways. Large scale of any activity almost always compromises ecological and ethical principles, and the factory farming of sentient beings is a tragic example of this. The post below, from a recent Wwoofer to Zaytuna Farm (PRI’s home base), decribes a far healthier and more compassionate approach for those who choose to eat meat, and one where there is no waste – as all ‘by products’ are utilised by other elements of the system. It should also be noted that PRI is sensitive to individual food choices of students on courses run at PRI’s Zaytuna Farm, and thus are catered for accordingly.

Thanks to Lindsay Dailey for the submission!

This is Red:


9:30pm

This is Red:


6:00pm

This is Red:


3:00pm

This is Red’s papa, Billy:

And this is Red, a one year old bull, on the afternoon of his transformation – from living, breathing being to food on our plate:

He spent his last day with the goats in the home pasture, while the rest of the herd was sent out to pasture so they would not be traumatized by witnessing his death.

Red was slaughtered in the loving hands of his caretaker and master; it was not very dramatic. He was roped in the pasture, and after a quick prayer quickly sliced through the adam’s apple, and held down by three (strong) men while his muscles spasmed. He bled to death. It was quick and painless, and Red was surrounded by people who knew him in life and honored the passing of his spirit.

We spent several hours cutting up the carcass into separate cuts of meat. It was amazing to see a T-bone, top side, and flank steak miraculously peel away from the carcass under the hands of an experienced butcher. Everything was cut up, labeled, and packaged to freeze, from the liver to the tongue to the legs – if not for human consumption, then for the dogs (they eat well around here).

When we finished, all that was left were the entrails, which were wheelbarrowed over to the chicken tractor. Three days later, Red’s guts are now full of flies and maggots which the chickens are quickly consuming. While the stench of rotting guts is unbearable (if you happen to walk past that section of the farm), it is comforting to know that every last inch of Red is being put to use, or recycled back in to the system. Not a cell of his body is “waste.”

Witnessing little Red’s slaughter and butchering was powerful, especially after having taken care of him for a few days, since my farm duties include taking the cows out to pasture each day.

But the moment when I suddenly felt overcome with emotion occurred around midnight after the slaughter was cleaned up, and our bellies were full of the most delicious steak I have ever had.

Geoff and I took Bluey (the cattle dog) out to the field, and we brought back the herd of nine cows, one less than usual. I was nervous that they would smell the death on us, but they were responsive and docile, peacefully walking back to the paddock where they are kept at night. They passed the site of the slaughter, and kept plodding on.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

The herd had almost reached the shoot to the home paddock, and then as if on cue, all nine of them pivoted simultaneously, and slowly turned around to stare at the site of the slaughter a few hundred meters away. Billy the bull, patriarch, and Red’s papa, began to wail.

And then I witnessed a site I never imagined – a herd of cows mourning. They lined up single file and walked to the site of the slaughter, circled around, and moaned and brayed.

Never have I felt more connected to, and thankful for, the food that I eat. As I stood there in the darkness, quiet and in awe at the herd’s expression of loss, I was overcome with gratitude for the cow that filled my belly, the grass that fed the cow, the soil that fed the grass, the microbes that fed the soil….

20 Comments

  1. Lindsay and Craig, it seems to me that this article explains very well why it is wrong to raise animals for meat even on small farms: because cows are sentient beings and killing them is wrong. I do understand the role of animals on a farm, I drink milk and eat eggs myself, and I do not suggest exluding animals from farms completely. However, raising animals for meat seems for me unethical.

  2. Marcin,
    I see it a bit differently. I was raised in close contact with food animals. My opinion has always been that, if you are going to eat meat, you should be involved in, or at the very least fully aware of, what actually occurs to put that meat on your plate. I think Lindsay has put it into words very well.
    If we are going to eat meat, I much prefer it to be from an animal that has lived well, and been fully appreciated, as well as being dispatched in as humane a manner as possible.
    That said, I don’t eat anywhere near the amount of meat I used to, and what I do eat, is grass-fed, and I have seen the herd / flock and the farm they are raised on.
    Done properly, I have no issue with the ethics of raising animals for slaughter, but I do respect your right to a differing opinion.

  3. Marcin – you may want to consider this comment I made on another post on this site. If I consider your location – Poland – where half the year you can grow very little or nothing, then I see it being difficult to have a well-rounded diet that is entirely vegetarian, unless you purchase products that have come from other parts of the globe at great expense of energy.

    I have the same dilemma, as I try to be vegetarian wherever possible (I was vegan for about a decade), partially because I realise that the energy conversion ratio for how much food you can produce on a given amount of land devoted to either fruit/veg or livestock is starkly different, and partly because of compassion for these wondrous sentient beings.

    Crop production is far more efficient than animal production. (Although this difference is lessened a great deal when implemented on a small scale within permaculture systems that make use of all the animal and its wastes during its life and after its death.) But, at the same time I must think of people in cold country climates like yourself, where it’s impossible to grow through the winter without tremendous energy expenditure, and so you become reliant on at least some animal products. As you say, you eat eggs and milk. What do you do with the animal that is producing those things for you? It will certainly die one day, and we’ve brought it into the world with the direct purpose of harvesting products from it – so its birth and death is directly connected to our consumption needs/habits. Someone who knows how to kill an animal humanely can do so without the animal even realising it’s happening – which makes it far less painful than an oft-agonising death from natural causes. I mention this because, again, if we’ve brought the animal into the world just to harvest milk and eggs from it, then we’re also responsible for its death, whatever form that might take.

    If you were to choose to go completely vegan, and yet simultaneously seek to source all your food needs from within, say, a 100 mile radius, then you’d find your diet becoming seriously limited – particularly in your climate.

    I don’t think this issue is at all black and white, and each person must balance these conflicts based on the land they have and climate they must work within.

    One thing is for sure, as Don has said, if we kill our own animals (‘meet our own meat’), those we have worked and lived with and developed empathy for, you can be sure the animal will be treated with far greater respect than we see in the industrial system (see two clips at bottom of this post for comparison).

    But, significantly, In attempts to work the land and be self-sufficient, we will quickly realise how critical it is to balance energy/space requirements to maximise production. In the course of doing that you’ll find meat consumption will naturally drop to bare minimum levels because of the space/water/feed required to maintain these animals. This is particularly true of cattle, lesser so for smaller-footprint animals like chickens.

  4. 1 in 2 calves is a bull. Yet only 1 bull is required for every 15 cows, with good genetics that can be 1:50. All those extras are there for a reason. They are part of the food chain for other animals such as carnivores (dogs) and omnivores (us). That is the natural system and the predator prey relationship is important for keeping populations balanced and for cycling nutrients through the system as much as possible.

  5. Excellent article Lindsay. Full of respect and care. I was moved to tears by the last couple of paragraphs.

    Wendell Berry said, “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skilfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”

    If we are to eat, the life force of something – plant or animal – must be snuffed out for us to do so. Religion aside, our task is to make the act of eating a sacrament.

  6. Craig, with regards to the diet in a temperate climate, you seem to have forgotten about the storage possibilities and greenhouses. I have eaten bread for breakfast, and I’m pretty sure that the flour to bake it was not shipped from South Africa :) I wish there were passive greenhouses around one day, as I don’t know where the tomatoes in my kitchen came from.

    It is a good point about what happens with milk cows when they are old and perhaps I’m too romantic, but I wish the could retire instead of being turned into pet food. I remember a story by James Herriot about a farmer who kept his horses long after they were too old to work on his farm. He could have sold them, but he didn’t. Instead, he took care of them until they died naturally. That seems humane to me :) There are NGOs in Poland that buy old horses and take care of them. Perhaps one day people could treat cows like that too.

  7. Marcin, your opinion is ignorant of the realities of where eggs and milk come from.

    In order to get eggs, you must have chickens. Those chickens must be allowed to reproduce to replenish your flock as the layers age. Half of the chicks you hatch will be male. You can only keep one male in a flock, otherwise they’ll fight (to the death). So really, you only want to keep the females (and just the occasional male for rooster replacement). What do you do with all those ‘unwanted’ males?

    Large commercial farms use sex-linked chicks, where they can easily identify males and females as day-olds. The males are killed (sometimes even thrown into a mincer live), and the females allowed to develop and become layers. The females are only kept for about a year of laying 1 egg per day, and then they are ‘processed’. So in rough numbers, for every 300 eggs you eat you’ve killed a male chick, and a female chick has been allowed to live for about 18 months and then killed. They certainly aren’t living out their full natural lives.

    Small farms will turn the ‘unwanted’ males they hatch into meat. That’s a much better use of them. They’ll also keep layers around for longer, and if they are killed off then at least they are also eaten.

    As for milk – do you realise that a cow has to bear a calf in order to lactate? And that they must do this every year? A small proportion of the female calves will be kept for herd replenishment, but what do you do with the males and the unwanted females?

    In a large commercial farm, these unwanted calves are simply sold off to be fattened up and killed for veal.

    On a small farm like Zaytuna the farmer is taking responsibility for his ‘unwanted’ calves. He’ll usually wean them and run them for longer, slaughtering them as yearling beef and utilising every part of the animal.

    Don’t think for a moment you’re not killing animals because you’re just eating eggs and drinking milk. They haven’t explicitly said above that the Zaytuna cows are bred for meat only – I’m pretty sure they’d be milking too. It sounds like Red was one of those ‘unwanted’ males that are a byproduct of having a dairy herd. He was killed respectfully after a very happy life, and nothing of his body will be wasted. That is the absolute ideal model for animal welfare in the dairy industry – if you’re buying commercial milk, then what you’re supporting isn’t likely to be offering anything close to that type of outcome for its calves.

    In short, if you’re not comfortable with the slaughter of Red you need to stop drinking milk.

  8. (Keep It Simple Stupid & Dumb As Dogsh*t Technologes). All cattle are beautiful, specially with plenty of greens, spuds, carrots and pumpkin roasted in the same pan. Thanks, Bruce.

  9. Marcin, if you are in Poland, than the grain for the bread you eat came most likely from Canada. Russia, Poland and many other countries from the former USSR are major consumers of Canadian grain. While you are thinking about your food sources, you might want to consider that as well.

  10. Darren, I agree that the vegan option is best. For cows, there is a technique to determine the sex of an 6-7 days old cow embryo, so you can avoid having too many bulls (I don’t know if it is used in Poland though). I admit that I don’t know how to solve the issue of having too many milk cows, but I wonder how they do it in India since in most states it is forbidden to kill a cow (including calves).

    With regards to chickens, there is a research undertaken to determine the sex of chickens prior to hatch. As I am told, however, this method is not available commercially yet, but it would be great to introduce it in hatcheries to avoid killing of male chicks. As I’m also told you can design a system of raising chickens where you keep the male chicks, it all boils down to the price of an egg. You can also let the hens live after they no longer lay eggs, some small farmers in Poland do that (most of the hens end up in the soup, though).

    Maureen, I called a bakery in my city and I was told that they use Polish wheat only. Around 85% of wheat consumed in Poland is grown locally, the other 15% is imported mainly from Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraina, Slovakia and Lithuania. Canada is not mentioned in the report.

  11. Marcin, some interesting research there. It’s kind of trying to work around nature, though, and will ultimately lead towards genetic tampering (e.g. making sure all chicks are female). I worry that that will be the ‘solution’ that big corporations will come up with if there’s too much backlash about the killing of male chicks.

    The problem with keeping all the male chicks alive is that they’ll fight with each other. I’m not sure how anyone could do that without basically locking them in cages – unless of course you butcher the males before they develop to that stage. But that’s not where you’re heading with this line of inquiry, obviously. I can’t see any commercial operation keeping unproductive males or past-prime females around – they’d be feeding 5-10 times as many birds as a commercial eggery for the same number of eggs.

    There’s no real point in making sure your cows only bear females if you aren’t going to keep them all anyway. The excess still has to be dealt with, and butchering is the only sustainable way to do that. Again, I worry that big corporations will come up with some kind of ‘solution’ where they can inject cows with drugs and hormones to induce a phantom pregnancy and kick-start lactation on-demand.

    I’m not sure where your ethics will lead you, but would you regard it as wrong to exploit these animals in any way? I mean, we’re keeping chickens locked up (yes, even free ranges have boundaries) and stealing their eggs. With cows, we’re again fencing them in and keeping them lactating after their calves are weaned so we can steal their milk. Is that exploitation wrong?

    Personally, my ethics lead me to believe that animals increase the productivity of a system and it’s fine to use all their products (including manure, wool, eggs, milk, meat, leather, blood and bones, etc), so long as they are allowed to live a happy life and express their natural habits, and are treated with respect and thankfulness. Joel Salatin likes to say that his chickens are able to express the essence of chickenness, and I think that’s a great way to think of it.

  12. Darren, there are still small farms in Poland where free range chickens means free range – no fences at all. My girlfriend tells me, however, that they had to introduce fences on her family farm because chickens would go to the neighbour’s land and lay their eggs there. If you treat your chickens well, provide food and water for them, as well as a veterinary care when needed, then I don’t see taking their eggs as stealing, it would be more an exchange. However, if you find a nest of wild swans and take their eggs then it would look like stealing to me.

    With regards to terminating the embryos that are 6-7 days old, it seems fine by me, I don’t see it an embryo as a living animal yet (please, let’s don’t get into a discussion about abortion).

    If you reduce the number of unwanted male chicks by determining their sex prior to hatching I don’t see how it would affect the genetic pool. You can still have male chicks, however, in a smaller number. I agree that keeping male chicks on large-scale farms would not be cost-effective. You’d need a lot of space for it, and you’d need to find a breed with roosters that are less likely to fight each other. However, it seems to me, that on small farms, where your main source of income is e.g. growing vegetables and you keep only a small flock, than it could work out (the interesting thing I read is that the green-legged breed of Polish chickens can walk around a farm up to 1 kilometer and come back to the chickenhouse by itself). Would I pay more for “ethical eggs” from a farm like this? Yes, I’d be happy to.

  13. About the chicken: in my country (Bulgaria) no one raising them ever eats old unproductive hens. It’s the young ones that are eaten, which have far delicious meat. The real problem here is not birds getting old and laying less eggs but keeping away predators (foxes, hawks, weasels) from eating them. Of course, this is valid for small farms and households poultries only, not for industrial operations.

    Eating meat in the past was considered a luxury and most of the people on the Balkans could afford it on big holidays exclusively. In the pre-fossil fuels era bulls (and not horses) were farm’s engines – they were pulling ploughs and carts, taking water out of wells, rotating wheels that pressed plant oil etc. Only well-off villagers could afford culling calves for meat. Fasts in Eastern-orthodox tradition require not eating anything of animal origin (meat, fish, eggs and milk) for their duration, effectively imposing vegan diet for approximately half the year. And many people abided them not out of religious reasons but of economical necessity.

    However if you raise sheep you have to cull the lambs regularly, because when their numbers raise they can damage badly the landscape, especially in mountainous regions (like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sssr/2453562001/in/set-72157604806543036/ ). So if you wear a woolen pullover, someone have to eat the surplus stock or it’s not sustainable.

  14. Good points Sava. People are so used to eating meat once or even three times per day now that we forget that it was a luxury in many or even most cultures historically.

    Re eating young or old animals, I’ll throw one more spanner into the works for interest. This ‘spanner’ has only been created in recent times due to our creation of chemicals and their now almost universal dispersion throughout our ecosystems, but it is another factor we must take into account. I’m talking specifically about bio-magnification, which is where an animal (including ourselves) accumulates chemicals in its body over its lifetime. This makes eating older animals more dangerous than eating younger ones, and this difference can be significant.

    You can get a more full understanding on this via my Pesticides, and You post.

  15. Hi Marcin,

    I read this article when it was published and have waited until now to post a comment to see which way the conversation went.

    I have been vegetarian for 15 years – and it started because meat did not agree with my digestive system. And also I have a love of animals.

    I raise chickens and eat the eggs – and I also have my own milking goats for dairy products.

    This article maes me feel very proud to be vegetarian – I am so glad no being that is aware or has feelngs has been killed for my consumption in the last 15 years.

    I hope others can see the trauma that killing these animals creates – not just for the animal being killed but for its friends and family.

    Very sad.

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