We got Agnes the lamb from a livestock auction. A fairly typical one, from what I can tell after reading up on them.
It was the saddest place I’ve ever been.
I am not generally one to be overly sentimental about animals. I’ve had my share of pets die. I eat animals regularly. I was in 4H as a kid and had lots of farming friends. Lots of family friends are hunters and I spent my high-school years living in a mostly rural area.
But I still believe we owe it to animals to treat them humanely, with respect, and like the intelligent, feeling creatures they are. Whether they are destined to live out their years in our yards, or end their lives on our walls or dinner plates.
This auction made it clear that many people do not consider it their responsibility to treat their animals even as well as they treat their cars.
When we started down the “let’s raise our own meat” road, we originally went to the auction looking for pigs. The pigs there were all slaugher-house rejects. And if you have read anything in the last few years about the conditions on factory farms, you should realize it takes a LOT for an animal to be rejected from a commercial feedlot processing farm.
At least half of the pigs had hernias growing out of their bellies the size of their heads. About a third had open sores on their hides. Most of these were the size of a large coin, but one was about 5 inches across. All the sores were caked with dirt and shit. A few of the pigs were lame, and had just enough oomph to be able to drag themselves into the barns, ring, and back again (if an animal can’t move under its own power, it must be put down, as that’s a risk indicator for brain disease).
One buyer was using the pre-auction viewing time to check out the pigs, and was viciously kicking them to get them to move around so he could see all sides of them. A pig doesn’t need more than a solid nudge with a boot or a firm slap on the hide to get up and get going.
Did you know that pigs are among the most intelligent mammals on the planet? They fall between dolphins and dogs. And these 20-ish pigs were hurt, sick and scared.
Most of them went for under $50/head to discount butchers & processors. Do you know where your bacon comes from? Do you buy it based on price per pound? Think about it.
But the pigs weren’t the worst thing I saw that day.
That special honor goes to one very sad looking jersey cow.
She was literally skin and bone. She had sores on her hip bones where the skin had rubbed away because of lack of padding. I could count every. single. rib. in glaring detail. Her over-used udder dragged on the ground, where she occasionally stepped on it.
This does not happen to an animal overnight.
I don’t know the history of the person who owned her and let her get to that state. But I do believe it’s the responsibility of any animal owner to either pass that animal on or end its life before it gets to that state. Even if she were destined to go to the glue factory anyhow, waiting that long for it to get that bad before dumping (because that’s what it is, dumping) her at the auction is just cruel.
We ended up with our lamb, because the young sheep and goats all actually looked pretty good. It’s definitely a reality of farm life that sometimes your animals breed more young than you have space for. Especially if you’re running a dairy operation and only have the need or space for one or two males on your farm. And in reality, sometimes animals do need to go to the glue factory. They are old, and now a financial liability. The auction serves a purpose.
But the upcoming end of an animal’s life should NOT be an excuse to starve, abuse, ignore or otherwise mistreat it.
And the auction houses do have highly visible signs stating that bringing obviously abused and/or neglected animals to auction is an offense under the animal cruelty act and will be reported to and potentially investigated and prosecuted by the SPCA.
Problem is, the auction fills such a need in a world where we care less about the welfare of our food animals than almost anything else, that nobody involved in the system reports the violations, because that would mean this convenient dumping ground would go away.
When economic times are tough, it’s easy to say “I can’t afford all this organic/biodynamic/ethically-raised meat” and that’s a valid point. But that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to buy the cheap stuff if this is how it’s being treated on its way to your plate.
If you wouldn’t stand by idly and watch an animal starve, or go up and kick the legs out from under a lame pig with as little care as you’d kick the tires on a car, or punch your dog in the face (who isn’t even as smart as a pig), then why do you think it’s okay to eat meat from animals who’ve had exactly that done to them in the name of “cost savings.”
Learn to love a lentil, and save up for the happy steak. Please. For the jersey cow.