{I thought I had posted this a month ago, and find it sitting in my drafts folder…}

After my last post about killing and eating animals we “knew in real life,” I had some additional thoughts to share.

I wrote that it was mostly quality and purpose of their lives that made it easier to contend with their demise. I didn’t write much about context, perhaps because it’s fairly ingrained in me at this point and I don’t realize it’s not that way for everyone.

If you want to be more comfortable raising and killing your own meat animals, this could be a good exercise for you: I would recommend reading up on the industry standard, the ‘conventional’ practice, what is ‘normal’ for the vast majority of our nation’s protein supply.

It’s not pretty.

And I’m not talking about PETA propaganda, or those internet photos that are out of context and complete anomalies (the pigs in individualized cages they carry around with them under what looks like a bombed out freeway overpass). I’m talking about the regular, typical practices. Because they’re bad enough in some ways, and we don’t need to use the freak episodes as education. 🙂

I live next door to a small Jersey dairy. The dairyman has done it his entire life, and only milks 30-some cows at any one time. He was recently inducted into a local hall of fame and is nationally recognized for his herd’s genetics. He has blessed us more than once with a good trade for a bull calf, and ditched our field last year (effectively enabling me to irrigate properly, feed my cattle and therefore my family). However, he’s definitely conventional in his practices. His cows are penned in a big square area adjacent to the (new) milking barn (which milks 7 at a time), old ton straw bales along one side as a windbreak, and feed gates (the metal things through which they stick their heads to access a long trough for feed) along another side. They live in this paddock all year round, and occasionally a front-end loader is used to scrape, pile, and remove mountains of manure. The younger heifers/dry cows are in a similar paddock not far from the first, and the yearling heifers are in a cement corral, or sometimes a small corral that ends up belly-deep in manure and straw, depending on the season. The bottle calves are in little individual sheds that they can poke their heads out and look around, all in a line.

I don’t share any of this as criticism of my neighbor. He at least is both the owner and the operator, knows all the names (yes names, not numbers) of his cows, can mentally trace bloodlines through decades of his beasts, and is still going at this at 70-some years old. Any criticism I offer is of a system, of a paradigm, of practices that could be so different…

My neighbor farms a good 60-80 acres (owned and leased). The cows and associated buildings are on a very tiny percentage of this acreage. The balance is used to grow feed for his cows. Alfalfa for hay, corn for silage, triticale for hay… And in every season of the year his cows are fed the dried/fermented/whatever stuff in their feed trough, and in every season the manure is managed from that paddock, and in every season the cows stay in their one spot. Mucky rain, wind, beautiful sunshine… they are never on pasture, they are never outside those two paddocks (and ten months of every year they’re in the one). When it’s wet and miserable, the cows are up to their bellies (and udders) in mucky manure. I’ve visited his milking parlor on several occasions and he’s careful to wipe the teats with a bleached towel, and then use an iodine dip before attaching the equipment, and some other dip for afterwards. His is a decent operation.

Hubby frequently works on dairies, mostly with their waste and irrigation systems and “sh*t pond” pumps (that’s fun, no doubt). He sees inside the milking parlors that are part of dairies that own and manage cows numbering 30, even 50,000 (not counting the dry cows or upcoming heifers). With hundreds of employees, the milking and field work is often done by mexican laborers. Hubby has watched cows (who just spent twelve hours in a pen full of other cows and tons of manure) file into a parlor covered in manure slime up to their hips. They cross an upward-spraying device that is supposed to help, and the workers take (what looks like) a 2-gallon weed sprayer to their teats as they enter their stalls, knock the bigger chunks of manure off with a towel, use the iodine dip and hook up the machine. Even before we were “weird” when it came to our food, Hubby thought to himself that he would really not want to eat food or drink milk from those dairies, raw or otherwise.

You can use google earth to zoom in on massive dairies and see the acres of paddocks that are manure-brown, the huge loaders and spreaders and flush systems and settling ponds – ALL to ‘make it easier’ and more efficient. Which, it is, if we’re talking straight value of inputs vs. pounds of outputs.

Here is a street view of a milk and beef producer I know who rotates pasture, feeds grass and hay, and sells organic raw milk at an ungodly price. You can see some cows in the distance (in one paddock):

(I had to take photos of my screen; there was a problem uploading screen shots for some reason, so I apologize for the weird quality.) From the satellite view (this looks like late summer/early fall to me) you can see where his permanent wires run (the variation in grass age). The road from the street view is to the right, by the barns/buildings:

Here is a street view of a “regular” dairy:

And the same operation from above:

The street view was taken along the road at the top of the pic. You can see partitioned corrals, and a manure mountain in each one. On the left are some of the heavy machinery and [sh**] ponds. The large rectangles are shade roofs, sheds without walls kinda. You can see a part of the irrigated fields growing corn and hay.

Now, I know these examples are of dairy operations, but the truth is, if you’re eating animal protein (whether milk or meat or eggs), there was an animal somewhere that provided that to you. Our system makes it easy to be divorced from this truth, but it’s truth nonetheless. The next question might be, “what kind of life is that animal living? (or did it live?)” Because it DOES exist, somewhere. Once you go down that road (and unless you’re willing to give up animal protein entirely), the thought of raising and killing your own becomes a lot more palatable.