I am writing a second and last blog post from our drive-around-the-U.S. trip, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” This one concerns Cows, which whose presence has been a constant theme of our trip.
Cows have been raised by humans since domestication millennia ago, and from what I can figure out, their major goal in life is to eat. At the same time, one major goal for humans is to eat cows (witness the presence of a McDonalds at lots of the interstate intersections).
In Tennessee we visited two friends who (after being a doctor and lawyer respectively) have been gentleman farmers for several years. They both raise beef cows. The cows looked big and healthy to me, and relatively happy, with lots of room to move around and lots of good grass and hay to eat. We learned some interesting facts about the amount of acreage needed to raise a beef cow in verdant Tennessee (not much), the fact that they have sex once a year with the bull on Christmas Day, so that all the calves come about the same time (that bull certainly has a good time on Christmas), and some of the other interesting technicalities of raising beef cows. Females and the few male bulls are somewhat lucky, in that they get to live a pretty nice life as long as they are reproducing, but all the others get slaughtered, which is (of course) the main point of raising beef cows. I did ask about how they slaughtered the cows, which is kind of a sensitive subject (they get “sent off to slaughter”), since the cows are so nice. In spite of some misgivings, I admit I enjoyed the tasty beef for lunch.
This set me up for a shock when we passed, near Amarillo, TX, the largest “feed lot” in the U.S. At first, when I saw it from a distance, I thought some kind of environmental devastation had occurred, but as we got closer I began to discern acres and acres of cows (all white with black spots). They were packed together, lying in the heat, and could not move. I later learned more about the system of “harvesting” cows, which involves shipping the cows from far and wide to these lots where cows are kept in these crowded conditions to fatten up before slaughter. The smell of the feed lot was pervasive for miles and miles around.
Later I was able to talk to a family at Ghost Ranch who had a ranch and raised cattle in Oklahoma, where it takes many more acres per cow because of the dry conditions. They are very aware of the ethical issues I brought up. One thing they have done is giving up branding their cows (too cruel). Because of all the fencing now, it’s not as necessary–happily for the cows. Still they do not slaughter their own cows, so off to the feedlot they go (same as for the Tennessee cows).
Apparently this is also the fate of the milk cows. We just had the wonderful experience of attending the Iowa State Fair (another bucket-list event, well worth a trip). At the fair, we watched the judging of the Holsteins (milk cows who are judged mainly on the size of their udders, which are truly huge). We chatted with one of the keepers, and I brought up my touchy subject again. Just as with the beef cows, once they are no longer producing milk (about 6-8) years, they are also slaughtered for beef. They get to be hamburger, because of their muscular builds. Off to the feed lot and then to McDonalds, I guess.
After my Amarillo experience I was kind of a low key vegetarian for a while. I couldn’t eat steak or hamburger. I kept thinking about those cows lying in the heat. I have always loved the occasional steak or hamburger, and it just didn’t taste right. Then I got to Omaha, and couldn’t resist. I have to admit that steak was very tasty!
I have wondered if there isn’t a better way to slaughter those cows. Why does everyone, even the small scale farmer, send them off to these cruel (and seemingly unsanitary) conditions before they get to the market? I realize that humans have evolved to eat meat (at least some), and that domestication is better than killing off all the wild animals, but isn’t there a better way to accomplish this?
I went to the PETA website, but they don’t have any proposals other than for everyone to be a VEGAN. That’s not for me. I like dairy too much (which then leads me to realizing that all those young male cows and females who no longer produce meat would be off to the feedlot). I think we need another muckraker, to take this to a political level.
Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention that the Hillary rally I attended in Des Moines was disrupted by animal rights groups. This is apparently a big advocacy group in Iowa. So maybe they will take on the feedlots!