“Why do you do this?”
While the question may not be phrased in exactly this way, we’ve gotten this vibe from many people who learn that we raise our own beef, pork and lamb. Particularly the idea that I milk my own cow and consume raw milk dairy raises the eyebrows. This is most common in people who have come from farming families. They couldn’t wait to get off the farm and have a life that wasn’t as characterized by hard work and never being able to go places.
I will say that because my husband works an off-farm job we don’t have to work quite so hard. We’re able to pay for people to build fencing and barns rather than slaving away at that. Some of the work is made easier by upgrades that other farmers who are doing it for a living may not be able to do.
However, the idea that we limit our disposable income because of investments in the farm, and that travel and family activities will be somewhat curtailed because of farm responsibilities is different to many people.
There are many reasons that we farm. We love the outdoors. We love the animals. It’s just a very calming, fascinating way to live. Yes, it’s loads of hard work, but for me it’s worthwhile.
The biggest reason, though, that keeps me going when it’s discouraging is that when we raise our food, I feel really good about it.
Pick up any newspaper or visit any new site and you’ll eventually find a piece about farm animals. Whether its chickens who never see the sun or peck at a bug or sows (female breeding hogs) who can’t even move around in their farrowing cages, people are becoming more aware of the problems found in factory farming. While many people may not mind the idea of eating meat, they do want to feel good about the animals who sacrifice to feed them. Many people understand that to eat meat an animal must die, but they want the animal to have the best possible life and then to die in a quick, painless way.
This a huge reason that my family farms.
We raised pigs for meat last fall. We’d never done it before and I really enjoyed it. I had no idea that pigs were so smart and so entertaining. They just seemed so HAPPY! They enjoyed rooting in the dirt, laying in the sun, and were so glad to see anyone with a pail of food scraps for them to eat. The idea of commercial pigs being trapped in small cages, unable to root in the dirt, sun bathe, play in the water, and do all the things that our pigs loved doing is depressing. The day we hauled our pigs to the butcher, I told my husband that I feel really good about eating that pork. Our pigs had a wonderful life; they had only one bad day…and their end was quick and painless.
We feel the same way about raising beef steers for meat. They live in grassy fields. The steers get to eat plenty of hay, watch the chickens, and scratch on trees. They live lives the way that nature intended for cattle to live.
My dairy cow is another example of feeling good about food products. Right now, I’m milking a 4 year old Jersey. She’s not being overfed concentrates to boost her production to its maximum level. She gets to raise her calf. She gets to enjoy scratches on the head and standing on soft dirt and grass rather than hard concrete. Dixie gets a varied diet and has someone looking out for her all the time.
Our hens live like hens should live. They are safe in their coop at night where coyotes, raccoons, and opossums can’t kill them. But during the day, they scavenge far and wide, eating bugs and seeds.They return to the henhouse to lay their eggs and at night, they leap up onto their roost where they will be shut up until the next morning. They have all the sunshine and green grass they want.
Of course, many many families can’t live like this. I don’t know of any apartment dwellers who can house a dairy cow! However, even if you don’t have the ability or interest in raising your own food, you can make a difference to the lives of animals.
Your first option is to support the farmers who do raise animals in an ethical way by buying their products. Don’t just read the labels at the grocery store. Visit your local Farmer’s Market and talk to the people who are selling to find out how they grow food. Support those farmers who raise food in ways that reflect your values. By the way, it is much more expensive to raise animals this way. The farmers are not getting rich doing this, so you should expect to pay more. Also, beware of the deception of meaningless buzzwords. There are many farmers who are raising produce in organic methods but they’re not certified organic because that takes years and lots of money that they may not have.
Another option that helps animals is to reduce or eliminate your consumption of animal products. If you can’t afford farmer’s market produce, grass-fed meat and milk, and it’s super important to you to make a statement on this issue, you can reduce or eliminate your consumption of animal products, dairy, eggs, and meat. However, do this wisely. Don’t just start consuming processed starches and cut out those nutrition rich foods. Replace them with a variety of veggies and fruits. Branch out and learn to eat unusual grains like amaranth, quinoa, and bulghur. Also, make sure that your diet includes the fatty acids that traditionally come from animal products. And, if you start feeling bad, talk to a dietician or physician to figure out what’s missing in your food.
I know where my food comes from and that feels pretty good. But if this isn’t an issue that is hugely important to you, that’s okay. I can’t muster up the energy to worry about food production issues, slave labor in places where clothing is made, health care for the poor, the education gap, carbon emissions and the thousands of problems that our world and the people on it are facing. There are hundreds of issues that are meaningful for people. If this isn’t one that you’re passionate about, that’s perfectly fine too. I’ll still be friends with you.