My husband and I live directly across from a "cow and calf" operation. On the surface the farm presents the perfect pastoral scene: green rolling hills fall away to a creek that meanders along the edge of some woods. Birds flit in and out of the trees, deer emerge and browse. We've seen 5 kinds of woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings, Redstarts, Blackpoll Warblers, and enough other kinds of birds to wear binoculars many days that I walk with my neighbors and our dogs through the woods. There are even nesting owls and hawks within the little forest.
Cattle navigate in the sea of grasses, content to eat, sleep, chew their cud and tend to their young, who are born right there in the field. Sometimes you can see them minutes after they enter the world. You could even see them being born, if you knew when to look.
The cows udders swell with milk for their babies...just a little though, not like those hideously stretched, distended and painful looking udders on the poor milk cows. The young calves play amongst each other, literally kicking up their heels, nuzzling faces and forming friendships. Sometimes they follow us, as we walk the dogs along the fence line, the bolder ones making a big show of coming closer and closer then suddenly, expolsively, eyes rolling wildly, losing their nerve and wheeling off, arcing clots of dirt, grass and manure through the air. These "meat" cattle enjoy a relatively peaceful and natural existence, until the calve are "weaned ": rounded up and herded onto a transport trailer and hauled off to feedlots or other "finishers". The mother cows bawl heart-breakingly for days, calling for their calves. The calves are all of 4-5 months old. Where ever the calves are , they must be terrified. The cows are already pregnant with the next calf. This process will continue for several years until the mother cow herself will hauled off to a feedlot or slaughterhouse.
The latest mass calf removal happened to fall on the day we hosted the Vegan 101 class on the 7th of September. ( see previous entry by Tanya...thanks for taking and posting the pictures, Mark ! ) I was unaware of the frantic calling, bawling, crying of the mothers...calling their babies over and over and over....until i stepped outside to walk one of our dogs in the early evening. I was all aglow with how well the class went... we had shared stories, recipes and food completely animal-free, and got to introduce some of the great food to people new to veganism. So it took a few minutes for the mothers' cries to penetrate.
Inside my head I wailed, " I am SO, SO SORRY ....." over, and over and over again. I can still hear them, and my own voice.
Scratch the surface of any food animal enterprise, no matter how "humane", and you will find an endless stream of needless suffering imposed on creatures whom we feel entitled to use. Going vegan alleviates the direct connection to the meat, milk and egg industries ( and going vegan is a direct action ), but it heightens your awareness of a horribly skewed food culture that views a simple, peaceful, nutritious plant-based diet as radical and extreme.
I'm only two years into being vegan, and every single day delivers new ( and many distressing old ) examples of why I continue to advocate for a vegan diet on behalf of the animals.
This evening I noticed down where the hill levels out and meets the stream , at the edge of the woods, 8 brand new calves and their mothers resting in the sea of grass. A few of the babies stared at us with wide-eyed curiosity as we walked by.
To the cows and their calves whom I share the sky, the rain and the Earth with, I can only say, again, I am so, so sorry.