When Livestock Becomes Meat.

Oscar at 24 months
Oscar at 24 months

Recently, following a blog posting about our Dexter cattle, I received this question-

“Will you retire your old cows and let them live out their days when they no longer produce or will they be sent off?” In response I posted “ This deserves its own blog post as there is no simple or short answer.”   Here is that blog post-

This is a great forum to open a dialog. There are many people, many thoughts and beliefs, many ways of doing things. If you you wish to join in on the discussion I ask that you please be respectful of others differing opinions. This is a discussion, not an argument.

We are a farm, a very small farm, a diversified farm raising many different crops and animals. The farm is a system, each part playing a role in the whole. We raise livestock animals as part of that system. The livestock supply food but also fertilizer, mowing, soil improvement and a whole lot of pleasure along with the work. We take good care of them, love and respect them for what they bring to us. But the bottom line, the harsh reality, is that we are a farm and at some point in the lives of livestock sentimentality must be set aside and the animal is harvested for food. We have taken responsibility for the lives of these animals, as well as their deaths. We are there for them thru health and sickness, thru all the seasons and all of the weather those seasons bring. We provide clean, safe, comfortable housing, good feed, pasture, minerals, clean water, shade and shelter. We are there for their births and their deaths. We enjoy the daily interactions with them, laugh at their antics, and honor the lessons they bring to our lives. We are invested in their lives and they in turn provide us, and our customers, with healthy, high quality food.

Birth, Life, Death… it is the road we each will travel. Lets make sure the Life between the Birth & the Death is valued. That care is taken. Not just the basics of food, shelter & health care but also love and affection, respect and humanity.

When raising livestock, the fate of most individuals is known from the beginning, except for the occasional outstanding individual that becomes breeding stock, most are being raised for food. A grayer area, in our minds, is the laying hen, the milk cow, and the breeding stock. Animals who have given a life of service, animals who are with us much longer, animals who we have developed even more of a connection with, an affection for, a bond with. The eventual fate is the same, unless ill, they also become food. A bull calf becomes beef. Fryer chicks become fryers. And so it is for pigs and lambs and goats and multiple other species, they sooner or later become food. They are farm animals. Farms raise food. Whether it is apples, tomatoes, walnuts or beef, it all becomes food.

I was raised on a small farm so I always understood this fact. To those looking in from the outside this may seem cruel. What is actually cruel is the life lived for so many livestock animals raised in the industrial agriculture system. The stark reality is that the lives of many of these animals is deplorable from beginning to end, and we should all be upset with their plight. This is the price paid when the desire for quantity and cheap prices overrides the quality of the animal’s life and the quality of the resulting food product.

On our farm, and many other small farms everywhere, ensuring our animals have a good quality life is paramount. A good farmer concerns themselves with the many details of good livestock husbandry. They provide good quality nutrition, cleanliness, preventative health care (not prophylactic antibiotics), they enhance the environment with their actions not degrade it, treat the animals humanely and with kindness and are very concerned with food safety. There are large numbers of small producers that care deeply about the animals they raise. Support them. It is the purchasing habits of the consumers that determine the lives of the animals they consume. The choices made by the consumer dictate what the market delivers. Abundant and cheap meat often equates with horrific conditions. To take the time and care in the raising of food, whether crops or livestock, is more time consuming, more costly and therefore the end product is more expensive. We vote with our wallet. We pay more for what we value. The consumer ultimately decides-

Know your Farmer…Know your Food.

Feel free to comment on this posting.  Express your opinion but Remember- Please be respectful.

3 thoughts on “When Livestock Becomes Meat.

  1. Interesting. I was curious. I come from a long line of farmers (though my father opted not to farm and joined the business world), so I’ve seen a variety of takes on this. I’ve known some farmers who, for example, will retire “special favorites.” My grandfather bred Flemish Giant Rabbits. Most were culled for meat as they aged out of his breeding program, but he retired a few who did especially well for him. My aunt allows laying hens to retire.
    And I know a few heritage hog breeders who consider their breeding “girls” to be safe, though their purpose is to produce offspring who will be slaughtered.

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