We fell in love with her instantly. She was so small, adorably white, and cuddly. I gave her a bottle full of milk which she took with relish and snuggled into my arms to sleep. Her name was Elsa.
A friend of ours gave her to us out of sympathy. Our first two goats were Katrina, who after giving birth would not have anything to do with us and we were not able to milk her, who went to live with someone new, and Loretta. Loretta was a rotund black dwarf who came to us pregnant. We did not know this at first. She loved my husband. She followed him incessantly, attempting to help him with chores. She just adored him and we loved her too.
We were excited, as new goat farmers, that she was pregnant. We would make some money off of her babies and then milk her. The buckling within her womb was too big for her and his foot punctured through her uterus. She died a rather painful, screaming death. Instead of deciding that perhaps animals shouldn’t be used for milk, we decided to get a gun in case we needed to put future animals out of their misery. (We sold it a year later.)
Elsa was placed in our arms. A three day old doe will melt anyone’s heart. She loved to ride in our truck, windows down, music playing; she was like a puppy dog. She went with us to speak at inner schools. She introduced dozens of children to farming and the joy of goats. She pranced about the living room. She ate geraniums and loved farmer’s markets and attention. We loved her.
Here’s the thing about farming-even sustainable, humane, compassionate farming-it’s not any of those things. No one was more compassionate and affectionate as my husband and I, yet when you have a farm, your perceptions change. Animals are expensive to keep, and there comes the mentality that animals have to earn their way.
We bred Elsa-because we had a small dairy- and she gave birth. We whisked the baby away. She cried and we told ourselves that animals don’t feel the same as humans, she won’t even miss the baby. She got mastitis and huge scabs on her udders made it so that we could barely milk her. I had to hurry because if she was in milk she was worth more than not. I sold her for two hundred and fifty dollars to someone who drove out from New Mexico, loaded her into the minivan and was gone.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that I just sold and got rid of our beautiful Elsa. It is not that we were heartless, we just fell into the perceptions of a small farm. Our friends all had the same mentality, and it was just the way things were.
The roosters were friendly. All of our chickens were. They had all been kissed and carried around by us or our children since they were two days old, freshly home from the feed store. But they were not kind to the hens. Their roughness trying to mate the chickens caused gashes in the hens’ necks and a lot of stress. There is only one way to get rid of a rooster. We placed them in dog kennels and took them to a nearby freelance butcher that would take care of them. We joked and laughed and said they were heading to freezer camp. We put up the filter, the barrier, the wall, the ignorance, that all farmers put up. Two living beings were about to be killed.
My husband drove by and saw that they were still in their kennels two days later. No water. No food. They were delivered to us in plastic bags.
We thought chickens got their heads cut off and it would be quick and easy. But that is not so. Chickens are bled out. Upside down they hang while their necks are slit. The blood runs across their face, up their nostrils, into their eyes, until at last they succumb.
Laverne was a beautiful black hen, whose feathers shimmered green in the sunlight. She loved to sit on my lawn chair next to me as I read. All chickens have personalities.
“The animals die quickly,” we told ourselves. Hanging by one leg, having their necks slit, fearful, swinging from overhead, not understanding. We could hear the cows lowing frantically a mile away at the slaughterhouse. Not even the few that are dispatched by gunshot die quickly.
I had been vegetarian for twenty-seven years and vegan for two years. I was fiercely passionate about animal rights. We dreamed of living in the country and our friends around us all had small, sustainable, compassionate farms. We started drinking goat’s milk. We got our own goats. We prayed for all girls. Because there is no other use for male goats. Most don’t even become dinner, they are killed and dumped in most operations. “I don’t want to hear if the males are becoming meat!” If you knew how many times I have heard that from goat farmers. Ignorance makes us lose our empathy. It makes us lose ourselves.
It is easy to put up walls so that one cannot see the personalities or the lives that are being taken in the name of country and farm living. I told myself that it was hypocritical to be vegan because everything causes harm. Our ancestors ate meat. So and so is ninety and he’s fine! Oh the reasons we come up with. And there we were eating meat. And in that time I watched our health flutter downwards in a spiral that could not be blamed on anything else.
Many people will decide that gluten is actually their health downfall. Perhaps it is chronic disease, inflammation, hereditary. I have found as a Clinical Herbalist that there is not an ailment out there that cannot be benefited by adopting a plant based diet. In fact there is not an ailment out there that is not caused or worsened by eating meat.
But the idealic countryside of cows grazing in the hazy dawn of a country morning would not exist. Farm animals have many good days and one bad day! It’s the circle of life. It’s healthier. I never really believed the last statement as my lymph nodes grew larger and larger but one does tell themselves many things in order to justify what is not right. I have been on both sides of the spectrum. I can see the romanticized farming lifestyle. But I can see and feel the karmic and physical and emotional and spiritual disaster that inevitably follows by consuming animal products.
You see, the mothers do cry for their young. The cows do wander out of the fields and down the street looking for their babies. We get upset that kittens are boiled alive in China for food but not when a lobster does. Society gets upset over a dog being eaten, but doesn’t bat an eye at lamb. When the word cow becomes beef and sheep becomes mutton and we begin to make them less than sentient beings in our minds, we begin to fool ourselves. We might be outraged that dogs are experimented on for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals but then feel hopeless and be a consumer anyway. We may not wish to harm any animal but then feel overwhelmed and purchase the packaged, bleeding, unnamed meat in the grocery store. Or maybe we buy from a sustainable, humane, compassionate farm. Well, now you know how that turns out.
It took me four years to realize what I was doing and what I had done. The word “vegan” has a negative connotation to it and I thought I’d rather be ignorant than angry. But it is not anger, you see, it is compassion. It’s realizing what is actually going on. It is realizing that our health and our spirit and our life will be more peaceful, and more beautiful, and healthier, and more vibrant once we let those illusions leave and let the wall down. But I will warn you, you will begin to see things with new eyes. You may be horrified, angry, empathetic, passionate, saddened, but we as humans were never meant to murder. Imagine telling a small child to kill a rabbit. It does not come naturally to us. It is time to let the old myths go and the excuses and step into a more enlightened way of living. Just wait and see how it changes you.