My apology in advance for being a one hit wonder

The blog has been on a bit of a hiatus since I wrote “A Picture of Death”.  I’d like to say that it was because I was super busy or I was focussing attention on amazing new projects but it’s not true.  The hiatus was pure and simply because I’m a wuss and the reaction to that post intimidated me and I was scared to write anything else.

That blog post had a huge impact on me.  I honestly cannot express the effect the reactions and support from around the world had on me. The stories people shared, some of which had never been shared before, moved me so much. Like this email that I will forever treasure:

“Hi there,

My name is ***and I am the 5th generation of our family ranch in ****. I came across your article “The Picture of Death” a few months ago and was….overwhelmed. The emotion and logic and experience you conveyed could have been read off my heart. I cried, printed it to share with my colleagues, we all cried.

Last night…

My dad is the man of course, big, brave, wise…..Last night I went up to have dinner with him and we got sharing calving stories. We are in the midst of it now and pulling lots of heifer calves. We shared a books worth of stories last night, lots of them are about being chased or going to extreme measures to save cows or calves.

I remembered about your story and pulled it up. I read it allowed and managed to mostly keep myself together….I was the only one. Dad cried. Cried with sorry for every cow or calf, or horse, dog or cat for that matter, that has died. He cried for joy of all the miracles when something lived that shouldn’t have. We sat there on the couch and remembered all the joys and sorrows. I knew this was in my dad, he is a wise man who shows his love for all things. But to see him let it loose and share it on his face was a beautiful thing for us all. We mourned and rejoiced together.

He asked that I contact you to share what happened last night. We both want to share our gratitude for what you wrote. It is a gift, you are a gift to be able to put in words what we can only express in our hearts. I don’t know how to convey the depth of feeling we have to you and your words. We have all experienced being seen as cold hearted ranchers. The only thing cold about it is caring for every one of the creatures bestowed up on us when it’s -30 out!

I am at work in town today and dad is home in the barn after tagging calves. He is telling his cohorts today about “The Picture of Death” and it is something we will share our whole lives.

Thank you, thank you!”

That and so many other stories left me speechless. Literally speechless.  And moved. And emotional. I cannot thank you all enough.  I honestly am forever changed by that post.

The downside was I struggled to write another post. How could I ever follow that post up? The post and stories and emotion people shared are sacred to me. I felt like anything I wrote about would just bomb. That I would destroy the sanctity of that post some how.

I’m still inspired to write and I would like to share my story so I’m starting up again. Please accept my apology in advance for my lame future blogs.

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The Picture of Death

On #farm365 I keep hearing vegan activists cry “You only show happy calves and cows!  You never show death! Stop hiding the truth! Show us everything!”

I don’t have “death pictures” to share on request because I see death regularly and it is hard emotionally.   I don’t need pictures to remind me.  I can recall the exact details of many a death on our farm.  I don’t need photographic reminders. I remember checking the herd and every one is happy and healthy then you go out the next morning and your favourite cow is dead.  I remember finding a sick calf, spending days trying to care and treat it, doing everything in your power to get it healthy only to watch it die.  I remember birthing unresponsive calves.  I remember a calf dying because its mother cleaned it’s back-end first, leaving placenta over its nose so it suffocated.  If I was only there it would have lived. I was in the pen when an adult cow stepped square on the head of a calf who was only a few days old (that one survived miraculously but I remember the horror at seeing it’s little limp body not moving).  I carry all of these images with me.

About 4 years back we had a calf late in the calving season off a bred commercial cow we purchased.  He was a little runt and we noticed early on he wasn’t quite as lively and bright as the other calves.  We knew he would be a special case we needed to keep an eye on.  Weeks went by and we kept an eye on him.  It was time for the cow herd and their calves to go to pasture.  He and his mother and a handful of other cows stayed home.  We knew he wasn’t ready to go to pasture.  He needed to stay close to home for us to keep an eye on. One day I picked up supper after work in the city to drop off to Iain as he was cutting hay.  After an 8 hour work day and a 45 minute commute home I was looking at an additional 20 minutes past my house to the hay field just to deliver supper.  It was a long day and I was starving. All I wanted was to eat, lay on the couch and relax.  On my drive by our field to drop off supper I noticed 3 crows standing on a pile of dirt.  A few seconds later I realized the pile of dirt was in fact a calf.  I pulled the car over and climbed through the fence to check things out.  As I approached what I assumed was a dead calf I noticed it wasn’t dead.  It was the runt and he was at the end of his life.  The herd and his mother had left him and he was too weak to stop the crows pecking at him.  This is Mother Nature in all her beauty.  A calf that never got a good start in life.  A calf that we did everything we could for.  Abandoned and alone in a field with crows pecking at him.  Did his mother stand over him and protect him from pain until he passed away? No.  She had cared for him for weeks but recognized he was done and moved on to focus on her survival and her next baby.  Did the crows show any empathy or compassion for the calf?  Acknowledge that pecking away at him while alive was cruel and painful? No.  They only cared for a meal.  Did Mother Nature look down on her creation, her miracle of life and heal the calf? No.  The only living being in that entire field who cared for that calf and showed it any empathy or compassion was me.  Me. The cruel farmer with the heart of stone.  The rancher that only sees commodities and dollar signs when they see an animal.  The cattle person who must have no understanding of pain. I was the one who kept the crows away.  I was the one who sat in the middle of a field and talked to the calf in its last moments.  I was the only thing in that field that cared even the slightest about that calf in those last moments.  I cried when I got back in the car.  I still tear up when I think about that poor calf.  Next time you try to label me as a monster think of me sitting in a field keeping crows off a dying calf.  I knew there was no saving him.  I wasn’t going to make any money off of him. Sitting there was, in all honesty, a waste of my time. I could have driven right by, had my supper and said “meh, such is life.” But I didn’t.  I couldn’t just leave that poor little bugger.

This year I will see more death.  I will see Nature at her most cruelest.  But I will also see Nature at her best.  I will see the birth of life. I will see calves run around in the sunshine and play king of the hill.  I’ll hear cows moo their soft, low bonding sound.  I will see those calves grow.  None of them would exist and have lives to enjoy and frolick in the sun and enjoy fresh grass if it wasn’t for people like me.  Yes, I will see them go to new farms.  Yes, some will die and become food. Their lives will go to support the lives of many individuals through food, medicine and critical products and materials.  Families will gather around a table to celebrate life.  They will do it around a roast that I cared for in life and raised.   It is a noble end to a life I have the utmost respect for. Eventually I will die.  I will become the grass that feeds the next generations of cows.  We are all connected and a part of each other.

A huge and heartfelt thank you to the #Farm365 Hijack Campaign

This post is dedicated to the members of the Vegan Campaign to hijack #farm365. I would like to extend a huge and heartfelt thank you to you.  You and your campaign have had an amazing, life changing effect on my life.

When I first heard about the #farm365 project I thought it was an amazing idea.  When I joined twitter in 2012 my feed was filled with people I knew and accounts that focused on beef cattle.  In 2014 I was introduced to a really cool account that had different farmers host every week (the cranberry week was incredibly amazing btw).  This expanded my twitter contacts and I started following a lot of dairy farmer accounts.  Thanks to this group I learned so much about dairy and got to see inside their barns and operations daily.  They even answered my stupid questions.  After experiencing this I was excited to follow #farm365.  I had zero intention to participate in #farm365.  I viewed it as a personal project to observe and limit my contribution to asking questions and retweeting.  I already posted pictures and information from our farm on my account and had hashtags specific to our program. I was already sharing my story.

Within the first few days the hijacking campaign by the vegans/animal rights groups became apparent.  Instead of hijacking the hashtag and silencing the story for agriculture the campaign became a rallying call to people from around the world to post their story and combat the hijacking campaign.  I also heard this call.  I continued to post pictures from my farm but began to add #farm365 to add my voice.  Had it not been for the hijacking campaign none of my tweets would have included the #farm365 hashtag.  Little did I know the impact adding that hashtag would have on my life.

Firstly, I need to thank the vegans for the new connections and friends I’ve made. Through posting pictures to #farm365 and joining conversations I have met so many new, amazing and hilarious people in agriculture.  The vegan hijacking campaign is single-handedly responsible for me meeting all of these amazing people.  Thanks to my new tweeps I get a front row seat to so many agricultural operations.  I now have more access to farms around the world.  I get to interact and ask questions strengthening my knowledge of all things ag.  This education not only arms me with more knowledge and facts but it also fires up a desire to learn from and support all these people. The campaign has also caused me to gain an amazing number of followers. This has increased the reach of my voice and my story.

Secondly, I need to thank the vegans for igniting a passion that I had lost a few years ago.  I am not a farmer born and raised.  I am the support system to a farmer born and raised. Yes, I have curiosity and desire to learn about and participate in our operation.  Yes, I believe where my food comes from is important and I try to learn as much as possible.  As a city girl and science nerd my passion truly lies in genetics and molecular biology.  This passion got squashed by the real world a long time ago.  Even though I live and rely on a farm I’ve long felt I have real contribution to agriculture. Thanks to the vegan hashtag hijacking I have been inspired.  The passion I have seen from fellow farmers has inspired me.  The support and respect I’ve received from people in agriculture around the world has validated me and given me confidence in my voice that I lost long ago.  These past 21 days has made me want to become more involved in agriculture.  I makes me want to speak up and learn all the things!

Learnallthethings

My Ethics Code

We are 14 days into the #farm365 project.  The media attention the this open sharing agriculture project caused the Animal Rights Activists (ARA) to descend in a swarm with a single goal of hijacking the hashtag.  They’ve called farmers and ranchers murders, rapists, sociopaths, psychopaths, unethical and immoral to name a few.  The unethical and immoral claims inspired this post. (Note: this post is a quick, superficial explanation of why I believe it is ethical to eat meat.  I would need a novel to provide all my views and supporting evidence and no one would want to read that, LOL!)

One reason the debate on eating meat is so volatile and passionate is that it is based on the human constructs of ethics and morality.  Ethics and morality are not a universal fact.  What is considered moral or ethical can be (and is) different between individuals, cultures and time periods.  Ethics and morality can be debated, discussed and studied but as it is based on a person’s view of the world cannot ultimately be proven right or wrong. One only has to look at the moral code of “Thou shall not kill” to see the flexibility of morality in humans.  Everyone has their line in the sand on what is or is not morally acceptable.

Ethics is defined as follows:
plural noun
1. (used with a singular or plural verb) a system of moral principles:the ethics of a culture.
2. the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.
3. moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.
4. (usually used with a singular verb) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

Morality is defined as follows:
noun
1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.
2. moral quality or character.
3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.
4. a doctrine or system of morals
When I was in university I studied molecular biology and genetics.  Back then I could see the moral and ethical snake’s nest that the field could lead me too.  As a result I studies ethics, morality and critical thinking.  I probably could have declared philosophy as a minor.  In those classes I was exposed to many different points of view and arguments to support and disprove them.  I’ve studied the ARA’s bible, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.  I’ve studied Consequentialism which states only the outcome determines if an action is moral (commonly refered to as the ends justify the means).  I disagree with both.
My ethical code can be summarized as- everything living on this planet is food for something. Life requires death. Life is sentient.  Everything on this planet feels and responds to its environment.  Every living thing has a will to live and its ultimate goal is to live as long as possible and produce as many offspring as possible. By eating food we say our needs supercede the needs of that living being and cut its life short. That I take life for my food is not a license for cruelty.  As individuals raising farm animals, farmers and ranchers have a moral obligation to care for those animals to the best of their ability and give them a quick, painless death.  Eventually I will die and I will provide food for many living creatures.  You are free to chose a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or “I only eat green and red things” diet.Humans are true omnivores.  It is natural for humans to eat meat. Our ancestors domesticated crops and animals and started and agricultural way of life that we still benefit from today. Agriculture allowed humans to create society.  Agriculture gave humans the time to develop culture, the arts, science and the time to sit and ponder what it is to be human and what is appropriate behaviour.  With the development of society we created moral standards to give order to our lives.  Moral standards guided our behaviours so we could function as a society.  Many cultures had and still have moral standards that differ from each other.

I acknowledge animals are sentient. I define sentience as:
1. The quality or state of being sentient; consciousness.
2. Feeling as distinguished from perception or thought.
Sentient being defined as:
1. able to perceive or feel thingsI extend my definition of sentience to include the Eastern Philosophical definition of sentience being a metaphysical quality of all things that requires respect and care. Which is why I belive ranchers and farmers have a moral obligation to care for domesticated animals and plants as well as nature on the whole.
I do not believe it is unethical to eat a sentient being. I believe you can kill to eat and still be capable of showing that being care and respect.  I believe ensuring death is quick and painfree is an integral part of showing care and respect to that being.
Humans are fundamentally different from others in the animal kingdom.  Studying biology has shown me the many ways jellyfish are different from cuttlefish are different from chickens are different from cows.  I agree with Daniel Dennett’s view that:“Consciousness requires a certain kind of informational organization that does not seem to be ‘hard-wired’ in humans, but is instilled by human culture. Moreover, consciousness is not a black-or-white, all-or-nothing type of phenomenon, as is often assumed. The differences between humans and other species are so great that speculations about animal consciousness seem ungrounded. Many authors simply assume that an animal like a bat has a point of view, but there seems to be little interest in exploring the details involved” (Animal Conciousness: What Matters and Why, Daniel Dennet http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/dennett_anim_csness.html)
I believe these differences make it difficult to decide what is ethical to eat and what is not for many. Some believe it is only wrong to eat animals with a central nervous system as they believe they are the only ones that exhibit pain.  Others believe it is wrong to eat any animal be it pig or jellyfish. Some can eat fish but not beef purely because cows are cute and fish are not.  What is ethical or not to eat is obviously not a universal fact but depends on your personal views and cultural backgrounds.
“Sponges are animals, but like plants they lack nerves or a brain. Jellyfish, meanwhile…have no brains, only a simple net of nerves, arguably a less sophisticated setup than the signaling systems coordinating the lives of many plants. How do we decide how much sensitivity and what sort matters? (No Face but Plants like Life Too, Carol Kaesuk Yoon, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/science/15food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
I define sentience as the ability to perceive or feel things, I also believe plants to be sentient. Many ARAs think this is a ridiculous claim as they believe plants do not feel pain like we do.  I believe this thought is the very definition of speciesist.  The field of Plant Neurobiology is uncovering the complex life of plants.  We are learning that plants communicate, that they respond to predation and injury in ways analogous to pain in animals.  They recognize their offspring and relatives and prefer helping those they are related to.  ARAs argue that eating meat is unethical because killing a living organism that wants to live is wrong.  I find this argument strange as we do not have any evidence that a plant does not want to live:
“When a plant is wounded, its body immediately kicks into protection mode. It releases a bouquet of volatile chemicals, which in some cases have been shown to induce neighboring plants to pre-emptively step up their own chemical defenses and in other cases to lure in predators of the beasts that may be causing the damage to the plants. Inside the plant, repair systems are engaged and defenses are mounted, the molecular details of which scientists are still working out, but which involve signaling molecules coursing through the body to rally the cellular troops, even the enlisting of the genome itself, which begins churning out defense-related proteins … If you think about it, though, why would we expect any organism to lie down and die for our dinner? Organisms have evolved to do everything in their power to avoid being extinguished. How long would any lineage be likely to last if its members effectively didn’t care if you killed them?…
Plants don’t just react to attacks, though. They stand forever at the ready. Witness the endless thorns, stinging hairs and deadly poisons with which they are armed. If all this effort doesn’t look like an organism trying to survive, then I’m not sure what would. Plants are not the inert pantries of sustenance we might wish them to be….
…scientists even reported evidence that plants could detect and grow differently depending on whether they were in the presence of close relatives, a level of behavioral sophistication most animals have not yet been found to show.” (No Face but Plants like Life Too, Carol Kaesuk Yoon, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/science/15food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
In summary,  I believe life depends on death.  I believe sentience is not restricted to advanced animals.  I believe that eating sentient beings is not a license for cruelty.  I believe in treating animals with a high level of care and giving them a quick, painless death. I have reached these conclusions both through my education in philosophy and biology and from my personal experience interacting with animals. You are free to disagree with all or part of my beliefs.  As I stated previously, ethics and morality are human constructs.  They are heavily influenced by personal experience and cultural influence. As you are free to disagree with me please respect that I am free to disagree with your beliefs.  I do not force my views on anyone and I expect the same in return.
“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right.  We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death.  We owe the animal respect” – Temple Grandin