Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Food Animals" in Perspective: A Visit to the Stockyards

I've hesitated on this post because I know the words will not convey the actual experience, but I think it's important.

Thursday we (interns) went to a stockyard where animals are auctioned to slaughter or production (and eventual slaughter). Or, as my Mac defines it: 
     a large yard containing pens and sheds, typically adjacent to aslaughterhouse, in which livestock is kept and sorted.

It was a voluntary trip and our intent was not to intervene, protest, or photographically document what we saw. A camera would have seemed quite inappropriate. The stockyard was small and, in the context of the cruel industry where animals are considered "food" and treated as commodities, not horrific. It was horrible, but I know from documented cruelty cases and first-hand accounts from those who have been there, it wasn't nearly as bad as many larger stockyards.

Still, what I witnessed was nearly unbearable. The atmosphere was one of utter stress and panic. From their rigid postures, the torment in their eyes, their confused and terrified bellowing, it was impossible to deny the anguish these animals had already experienced in transport and their consciousness of the dangers to come. 

The grown cattle, newborn calves, goats, pigs and sheep were all irreverently ushered, one-by-one, to the auction show floor where they ran in frightened circles around the pen, desperately 
trying to find an escape. Heightening the trauma were two workers with shepherds canes, corralling and sometimes striking the animals to keep them "in line." The auctioneer stated the animals' genders and weights and began the bidding. The calves, if male were generally sold for $40-$80, the females, if impregnable, for around $500. I had to walk out, overwhelmed, after watching a few animals being manhandled in the auction ring, but the other interns told me that after I left a sheep jumped over the gate and ran toward them, desperate for a way out. The animal was grabbed by the fur and ears and put back in the ring. 

Out in the pens with the calves, we were face-to-face with their unmistakable pain and confusion. Days old at most, the newborns were taken from their mothers before their umbilical cords had even fallen off. They walked awkwardly, still babies wobbly on their legs. The ones who were amazingly not frightened of us (considering the cruelty they had already been shown by human hands) soaked up the affection of soft strokes and comforting whispers, all we could give to them before they moved on to the fate of being slaughtered for veil or beef. 
After a moment of being stroked on the head or behind the ears, the little ones would begin trying to nurse on hands, knees, shirts-- whatever they could reach. It was very painful, the powerlessness of having nothing to offer; not milk, nor the comfort of their mothers who they'd known for only hours before being torn away. The milk that was supposed to be theirs is instead destined for the cereal bowls and cheese sandwiches of humans, the only mammals to consume the milk of another animal (with the rare exception of surrogate mother animals who "adopt" abandoned babies of another species).

It was a sad day. The saddest part is that this dystopian reality exists in the "food animal" industry every day, whether we see it or not. More often than not, it's hidden behind a facade of "happy cows" as logos on dairy products or children's stories where farm animals frolic merrily on Farmer Joe's green pastures. The concrete, cruel truth could not be further from what these images lead us to believe. 

To provide some emotional relief, I will contrast the above with a parting image of a day at Farm Sanctuary. Yesterday some of the other interns and I went to the cow pastures to hang out with the special-needs herd. They are remarkable, loving creatures and I've had no greater joy this week than hand-feeding them apples and looking into their joyful, doe-like eyes. So far from the fear and desperation in the stockyard animals, the animals at Farm Sanctuary radiate love and peacefulness. Their ability to trust and befriend humans after all they've experienced is absolutely inspiring.  

Cattle pictures coming soon!

1 comment:

Samantha Pergadia said...

I know these are painful experiences to write/relive, but kudos for doing it so well.