|The Reds enjoy one of the unseasonably warm days we've had recently |
(R to L): Missy and Little Red, Tramp Stamp
|Goat skull, bird foot on the barn compost pile.|
|Barn compost pile in early spring.|
The fact of the matter is that humans have been dealing with this sort of daily death, animal and, yes, human, for as long as people have been people. It is only now, and only in certain parts of the world, where eating meat does not involve the meat eater or the meat eater's immediate social group actually killing the animal themselves; most people in the USofA have not killed an animal for food, or experienced the kind of routine unplanned deaths that we do on the farm. Deaths of the young and unplanned deaths are certainly never happy occasions, but they are anticipated, and while we continually working to minimize them, we know that such events will always be a part of animal husbandry. Deaths via butchery are also, obviously, an integral part of our business. But these, too, fit into the ethical logic of the farm. We strive to give them the best lives possible, which means letting them live as animals, and not as humans. In that process, it becomes difficult for us to personify them to the extent that humans seem to want to do with everything (see Charlotte's Web, The Secret of Nimh, fables from nearly every culture, Watership Down, Animal Farm, Peter and the Wolf etc. etc. forever). The pigs, if left to grow large, slice each other with their tusks and intimidate the weaker members out of the herd, the meat chickens will eat until they kill themselves if allowed, and turkeys are so severely lacking in brain power that it is incredible to me that they are still around today. What we write and think about animals and their personalities says more about us, as humans, than it does about them. I'm not saying that personified animals in literature is a bad thing at all, in fact I quite like all of the above-cited literary works. But I do think that such depictions complicate and obscure people's ideas about raising animals for meat in a time and place where may people experience these animals only through such literature, and then maybe as dinners, but never as anything in between.
It is also interesting to see how the animals themselves respond to death. Clearly, they do not have the brains to understand completely what happened, that the black pig driven off in the truck will shortly be an entree at a Brooklyn restaurant, that the piglet that stopped moving will, after some time, become rich soil and part of a corn patch. Sometimes, though, in the grand human tradition of personifying animals, I wonder if maybe they aren't smarter than we humans. Maybe they do see the piglet become the grass, and they do not think of life and death as mutually exclusive categories. Maybe they, unlike most of us, understand the small and fleeting place that they occupy in the world, and are comfortable with that. Perhaps they view the rueful way we remove the dead from their stalls with amusement, and pity, that we can't manage, however hard we try, to move ourselves out of the way and see the bigger picture that has terrifyingly little to do with us.