This past Friday I took a tour at a local cattle ranch. The county I live in holds a yearly "farm tour," where local farms open their doors for one hour so the public can take a free tour. While there were about 10 farms that I could have toured, I only made it to one. I had a lot do to that day, but the cattle ranch was the first one of the day, so I went there before doing the rest on my to-do list.
My tour was of Deep Creek Preserve, which is a large piece of land that has been purchased by the county. They purchased it to preserve and protect it, which is a great thing. A portion of it (it's a big piece of land) is leased to a cattle rancher who is a sixth generation rancher in this county. His family owned the land before the county purchased it. Anyway, we make our way back to where the cattle are, which is a couple of miles off the main road. The scenery is beautiful. There are wild flowers, long leaf pine trees, and just natural beauty in every direction you look.
We come to a clearing where we see the cattle. The area where they are is expansive and beautiful. There are probably 50 female cows standing on the other side of the wooden fence. When we walk up there are already a good 25 people who beat us there and are crowding the fence to look at the cows. They are taking pictures and marveling at how cool and interesting they are. What I notice is that the cows are standing there looking back at all the humans. They are studying us every bit as we are studying them. I feel as though they wish they had a camera as well, so they could snap pictures of us.
The entire place is so peaceful and serene. While they say there are no happy cows, these cows look perfectly content. They have a large piece of beautiful land to roam, blue skies, wonderful weather, and all seems well. The tour attendees marvel at them, smile, and like what they are seeing. Slaughtering these animals for steak and hamburgers are the farthest thing from their mind.
We then listened to about 30 minutes of information where a couple people talked. The first one talked about the land and how the county purchased it and how the rancher is leasing it. Then it came time for the rancher to speak. He was a young guy (his father also works the ranch, but wasn't there), and had such a pleasant disposition. The guy seems really nice, gentle, and talked about the cows. He sounds as if he cares about them all so much. He explains the entire process of what they do. They breed the female cows, raise the calves to around 600 pounds, and then the calf is sent to a feedlot, where they are fattened for the market.
He explained that they do castrate the males and he seemed so apologetic about that fact. The one thing that really bothered me is that he kept referring to them as a product, rather than the sentient animals that they are. A product, as if they were like t-shirts, records, or strawberries.
But you couldn't help but to like this rancher. And you couldn't help but to look around and think that these cows here had it made and where living a pretty decent life, at least from what we could tell. There were probably 40-50 people there that morning and without a doubt they all walked away feeling good about that operation.
When people fight for animal welfare they fight for better conditions for the animals. These animals had those better conditions. And you know what? People didn't walk away feeling empathetic that they would become hamburger or steak. The cows have great conditions as far as I could tell on this tour, so everyone seemed like it was a good thing that was going on t here. One person even joked about getting a steak for dinner. In the end, all the cows will be slaughtered, but most people are not going to feel bad about a cow getting killed for their table when the cow got to live a good life up until that point. That's the problem with fighting for animal welfare. All animal welfare does is make people feel more comfortable about eating the animals.
The focus, in my opinion, should not be on making more comfortable conditions for these animals. Some animals, like the ones at this ranch, have beautiful conditions. Does that mean that what is going on there is perfectly fine? The focus needs to be on not using animals in the first place. Not seeing them as a product. The focus needs to be on seeing them for creatures who have feelings, interests of their own, who want life, and who's life should not be based upon what we want to use them for.
Not bigger cages or cage free, but on not using them to begin with.
Below are some pictures from my cattle ranch tour. As you look at these pictures, ask yourself if you feel sorry for these animals or not. These cows are in good living conditions, something animal welfare strives for. Do you think that this setting will prompt people to not want to eat meat? Or do you think it will help people feel better about eating meat, thus perpetuating them doing it longer? Learn more about animal rights verse animal welfare here.