I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. While I am technically a rancher, having the land and owning the cattle, I don’t spend much time ranching myself. The land was the draw, the cattle are the way to pay for keeping the place tidy. But we do raise cattle and we produce all the beef we consume. As a city dweller most of my life, I never thought much about cattle. Now living amongst a herd of 400, they are ever present, especially those chosen few who will end up on our dinner table. In fact, the strange feeling is that you actually come to view them not as pets but certainly as much more than economic assets. These animals do what nature tells them to do. They produce calves that are like most babies are, quite adorable with their long eye lashes and playful behavior. But you know where most will end up. So when I look pleasantly on the scene of cattle peacefully grazing on lush green grass in springtime, I am often jolted back to that reality.
Delivering these calves up for sale is not that hard since their sale provides the money needed to pay for the ranch operation. However, to those special few calves that get to stay for the family’s use, the uneasiness persists. Questions persist. The moral quandaries are compounded by my conversion in middle age into an animal lover. We have 8 dogs at the ranch, not counting our children’s five dogs that are often running about the ranch. To this list you can add two miniature donkeys, three dozen horses, and barn cats galore. How do I choose to eat these animals when I care so much for my pets and for that matter for all the creatures found on the ranch? Well, like all humans I can certainly come up with a justification whether persuasive or not.
Calves on our Ranch
My justification for the systematic slaughter of cattle for human consumption is that since I didn’t create the system, why should I be responsible for it? Ok, ok, I know, your right, that idea of not taking responsibility for my decisions is a bit against the tone of my themes on this website.
Try this rationale. If we didn’t use these cattle for food then there wouldn’t be any reason to keep them around. They would become curiosities in petting zoos because 55 million cattle are not going to be kept to mow the grass. Raising cattle costs serious money and wouldn’t be anything most ranchers would do except for those using them for use in the rodeo circuit. Besides much of this land would need to be put into raising crops. But would that end our moral quandaries? Plants are certainly alive and while they don’t have neurons, they are still highly complex and adapted organisms. They are certainly not rocks. So what is one to do?
Well, what I do is make someone else feed these special calves and most importantly, I make sure they deliver the calves to the butcher. I just don’t like to see those creatures in the pen before they head inside. The best I can do is to pick them up after they have been conveniently and cleanly packaged into frozen bricks. If it seems I am overly sensitive, you would be partly correct. I don’t lose a lot of sleep over the moral implications of the cattle I raise. If you are around cattle very long you see that they are not especially smart or cuddly. After you have been chased across a field by a bull or you have experienced the frustration trying to herd cattle, second only to herding cats, you have a more properly informed view.
But I do take it quite seriously that we should show respect to these creatures that die so that we can live. I feel a great degree of reverence or at least thankfulness is appropriate. I zealously guard my cattle against any abuse in their treatment or living conditions. Living on a ranch, close to your food, gently nudges you to consider these thoughts. There probably will come a time when our food is made from protein content assembled in a food 3-D printer like in Star Trek. The calves may very well lay down with the lions at some point in future, but until then, let us all be thankful to those who raise our food, and do those distasteful tasks, to make sure that this food gets to our table.