How Do I Feel? Revisiting a Great Question…

Almost two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled How do I feel?.  This post addressed one of the most frequently asked questions that I receiveDSC04809

How can I send my animals to their death at a slaughter facility after caring for them on my farm for several months?  

In addition to this question coming up frequently in conversation with friends and readers, I have to admit that it is something that personally worried me when I went to work at the feed yard.  Prior to June of 1997, I had never taken care of an animal that was not a pet — I had never been introduced to the concept of a food animal.DSC07890

I soon figured out that a food animal, one raised solely for the purpose of making human food, was very different than any pet that I had ever owned.  I was required to care for the animal’s needs on a daily basis without becoming emotionally attached to it.  Additionally, it was paramount that the care that I offered to the food animal was focused not only animal comfort, but also on the priority of growing safe food.IMG_3207

While I initially worried that I would form lasting attachments to my cattle and have difficulty sending them to slaughter, I never have.  Mentally I have been able to place my bovines into a unique category where I feel responsibility toward them and care about them but do not form individual love attachments with them.  I have been able to do this because I believe in raising animals for food production.

I place the importance of growing a healthy protein food source above my cattle’s right to life.

That statement may seem harsh, but it is the reality that I made a personal choice to become a part of when I went to work on our farm.  I believe that it is an honorable vocation to raise and slaughter food animals.  I nurture my cattle so that each one of us can nourish our bodies with a flavorful and healthy beef meal.2013_09_27_mr_Will Feed for Drovers-113

I both care for and care about my cattle, but I recognize that they exist to grow beef.

When I load my bovines up on the truck to ship to the packing plant, I accept that I am sending them to their death.  As I serve their beef to my family, I recognize the gift that my animals gave with their lives and I feel very thankful for their sacrifice.


Filed under CAFO, General

8 responses to “How Do I Feel? Revisiting a Great Question…

  1. Dawn

    This is the hardest part of raising a food animal. And as I do it on such a small scale, a handful of animals at a time, it is always a struggle for me. But as I care for them, and yes scratch their ears or bellies, even give them hugs, ( I can’t help it), I always remind myself why I am raising them. As I lead them onto the trailer the final time, I always thank them for their life, knowing that I have cared for their comfort and needs to the best of my abilities and knowing that they have lived the best life possible.

  2. I think one of the biggest differences between raising cattle in a feedyard and having a cow-calf operation is the length of time of the relationship between the animal (in this case the cow) and the farmer or rancher (in this case me). All my cows were born on my farm and I have cows that I have known longer thanmany people. You get to know them as individuals, their personality, their quirks, and while I have a “contract” with my cows – that is basically we expect our cows to behave well, calve annually, and take care of their calves, we expect our cows to understand the difference between a coyote and a stockperson, and to act appropriately – in exchange you great bovine life. I always feel sad when a cow turns up open and has to go – I understand the sacrifice she has made to provide humans with protein. I also understand that on my farm she had a life worth living. And while I enjoy all bovine babies, I can tell the difference (behavior, attitude etc) between steers, heifers and bulls at a very young age and I find myself (in general) much more attracted to the heifers – many of whom will stay on the farm for years. While perhaps not a universal feeling, I know many cattle people who have that one special cow or bull – an animal that will be buried on the farm. I will admit thought that getting up at 3 am to check cows is this frigid miserable snowy cold windy weather is getting a little old and making it a bit of a chore to maintain my sunny outlook : )

    • Rex

      I love ” we expect our cows to understand the difference between a coyote and a stockperson, and to act appropriately”. made me chuckle.
      Size is less important than attitude. At one time, my step father had 1,700 mother cows, a thousand sale barn yearling steers, and
      Spookie who raised 17 calves and was buried on the ranch.

      Thank you Anne and Lana for your insight.

    • Bobbi

      I LOVE “the contract” you have with your cows…I we have the similiar thing at our ranch but I tell our cows that it is their “job” to have and raise a calf every year, behave properly, and be a proactive participant in our “calf kindergarden” program (I like to think we give our calves an education in proper behavior, how to move through our facilities calmly, how to graze pastures/corn fields). I also tell them it is my JOB to make sure they have a proper diet, top of the line health care program, and calm handling. I do admit there always seems to be 1 or 2 cows that the day they get to perminately leave the ranch (usually because the get a poor attitude) I secretly do a happy dance that they have found a different place to work (providing lean ground beef for the grill). All the sacrifices we make dealing with less than optimal weather, pulling all nighters in the calving barn, struggling with volitily commodity prices is worth it when you get to see new calves running in the evening sunset, momma cows and calves grazing green pastures, and even though I get sad I love to see our calves as they walk off the trucks at the feedlot because I know they are going to provide someone a healthy and tasty meal and I gave them the best life possible.

      • Great comments Dawn, Doc. Lana, Rex and Bobbi–I love what you have added onto the discussion! Thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate it.


  3. This is one aspect of the cycle of life. God said in Genesis 1:28 that we are to subdue and have dominion over all of creation. He placed man on a higher level than all of the rest of creation. With that comes a high degree of responsibility. Although we have frequently failed throughout history to be good stewards of what we are blessed with and responsible for, it is refreshing to read how you take responsibility for these creatures. You set a high standard for your profession and give us city folk a glimpse of how and why you do what you do.

    • Bruce,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and support. I really appreciate hearing from you, and am glad that I am sharing something valuable with you and others. Some weeks I wonder if what I write and share makes a difference, so it is always good to hear that someone is benefiting from it!


  4. Rex – very often when talking cows I’ll get someone (usually a man) who says something to the effect of “I don’t care if she is a “little protective” the first day or two after she calves – to which I say “I expect my cows to let me handle their calves with a minimum of fuss – if they can’t tell the difference between me and a coyote then they do not have the IQ to be employed on my farm”

    Bobbi – the whole contract is on my web page – – I also like your notion of “proactive participants in calf kindergarten”

    Bruce – I have just returned from several hours outside where for the first time in a long time I haven’t had to use the hairdryer to thaw the frozen hydrant and actually felt a “little overdressed” by one layer – one of the biggest “chores” in this weather is the repeated putting on and taking off multiple layers of clothes – kinda like putting a kid in a snow suit repeatedly – but you are the kid LOL! I do chores in the am and pm and check pregnant cows afternoon and the middle of the night – it is kind of amazing what one can wear under Carharts!

    this has been a fun and interesting discussion, thanks Anne

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