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A Farmer Reflects on Raising Animals for Food

24 April, 2012

My son, Troy, has been a vegetarian for years, largely out of compassion for animals that are raised and slaughtered under industrial and sometimes horrifying conditions.  Although he has begun to add some meat to his diet, his concerns remain.  He says, “Just check out the movie, Food Inc., if you want to know what I’m talking about.”

Recently he found a local farmimg couple who offer humanely raised and ethically slaughtered meat products, and he asked them directly about their practices.  The reply is so remarkable 1 that I got their permission to reproduce it on this website.

Lisa Clouston and her partner, Greg Wood, run Spring Creek Farm, Manitoba.
Lisa Clouston and Greg Wood in their pasture
Lisa and her husband, Greg, in their pasture

This is what Lisa has to say about raising and killing food animals:

Great questions, Troy.

For beef, we do not use a huge provincial slaughter house.  We go to Killarney, which is provincially inspected, and it has a new, state of the art, low stress handling facility, and the meat inspector there has taken the provincial course.  The cows walk off the truck, into the nice clean building and are gone before they have a chance to get stressed.  Often it is only our cows that go through there in a week – like 6 to 10 a week of ours, and maybe a few more of other people’s, so it is not like a nightmare of hundreds of cows waiting in line for their death.  Our cows are not harrassed by mean handlers, they do not smell death and have to wait there trembling.  I like that our cows have a gentle and peaceful life, and in their death, they are not afraid.  This is the next best thing to being shot quickly and quietly at home in the pasture while they eat.  Unfortunately, the laws do not support this practice.  So please know that the cows do not feel stressed, or wound up, or afraid.  I would hate that for our cows.  I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that they do have a dignified death to the best of our ability, or God will have a lot to say to me when it is my time to walk through the gates.  I (we) have to respect His/Her creatures.

The man who owns the abbatoir is very grateful that we use his facilities because he is struggling to make a living as well.  He built this beautiful new facility and then the cattle market dropped – I think it was just before BSE hit that he built it.  Since then, the market for cattle in the area has dropped tremendously as cattle were no longer worth anything.  A cow that was worth $1,200 one day was suddenly worth $85, and it stayed that way for many years.  (There were a few people who committed suicide over it, as they were collecting cattle to sell for their retirement, and then all of a sudden, they had nothing— after all those years of hard work.) It is just now that cattle prices are up again for the first time in 8 or 10 years.  We hung in becuase of my job off the farm, owning the meat shop and having a tiny bit of grain land – but it was very tight for many years.

I hope this helps to clear up your thoughts on how our cattle are killed.

By the way, our pigs go to the same facility.  The pigs and the cows both have to go to the abbatoir, rather than be processed at home, in the pasture, if we are selling them to others.  We can do that for ourselves for personal use.  Even though our animals are healthy and safe enough to do at home (which we feel would be more humane and less stressful for them) we do have to take them to an inspected facility.  We have never had a problem with the health of any animal that has gone for inspection.  However, there are people who do put sickly or old animals through the abbatoir to get rid of them.  We do not do that, nor would we.  Even if we were able to legally process the animals at home, we would not feed anyone an unhealthy animal.  The inspectors look at their organs and glands after death, and assess the overall health of every animal.

We have really healthy animals because they live very natural lives.  They eat well, are outside, are warm in the winter, get lots of exercise and sunshine, and have their needs met with no chemicals in their systems.  The more I tell you about our animals, the prouder I feel about them and how we raise them. 

Another little fact that you might want to know is that we have a “closed herd” which means that we keep the mothers year after year and breed them to our bulls that we keep here.  We get to know them all, and they get to know us.  Many cattle producers will buy, say, 300 cows every year, fatten them up, then sell all 300 to market in the fall – maybe keep a few of the smaller ones through the winter.  The cows are always “new;” they can bring in all kinds of diseases because they come from all over the place.  They do not know each other very well; they do not know the pastures and where to find water, where the hazards are, etc.

a newborn calf with its mother
A newborn calf, with its mother
“Our cows are basically born here in the pastures”
Our cows are basically born here in the pastures.  Their mothers show them where to graze, where the water is, where the fence lines are, where everything is.  We have 2 bulls that live with the herd except for a few months so the cows won’t calve out in the dead of winter (gestation is 9 months).  The herd is actually like a family.  In fact, when we did buy a few cows from a neighbor, to increase our herd (South Devon breed), those we bought came as a group.  When we bought several more the following spring, the new cows immediately went to the ones they knew from the previous farm, years prior.  We have seen this with pigs as well.  It is amazing.

We have a “boss cow,” right now, named “Spider.”  She is in the teens as far as age goes.  Our previous boss cow, “Cougar” was here for 22 years.  She was gentle and smart.  In her last year of life, she was so old that she had no teeth.  Greg made her a special little pasture so she wouldn’t have to walk far for water, and so he could take her some treats every day, for the entire summer.  Then in the fall he had a friend come and shoot her because he couldn’t.  Then he dug a big hole in the pasture and burried her there beside some of our favorite pets.  There were a lot of tears that day.  Many a farmer would have sent her down the road for burger.

Not a lot of people know these stories, as most people do not care that much about the food that they eat.  Eating, and the ethics of eating, is a complicated matter in my mind.  Yes, we care about our animals, and yes, we eat them anyways.  We respect them, and we appreciate them as we eat them.  I think we can do it both ways.  I think human beings were designed to eat meat, just as wolves, cats and other creatures have been.  I also think it is our responsibility to raise them as they were intended to live (and not mess around with their bodies, genetics and the food that we feed them), to give them the best life possible in a reciprocal way, similar to the traditions of Aboriginal culture at its best.  I feel the exact same way toward my chickens and everything else we have here.

Lisa Clouston
Spring Creek Farm
& Cypress Meats
Cypress River, Manitoba

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1  Let’s face it, I’m a city-dweller.  This article is fascinating to me because of the glimpse that it gives of genuine agricultural life.  But I have also been aware that the industrial processes developed in North America for raising and processing meat products are not always kind and gentle to animals, so that – and I will confess it – although I shall probably continue to buy some meat from the grocery store, I think I'm going buy from Lisa and Greg now and then.  I just feel a lot better about eating meat that originated in a place like Spring Creek Farm.
For another take on this subject, see the weird and wonderful newspaper clipping that I posted here.
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