by Laura Crum
Warning: this post is not horse related (though it is about livestock) and may be upsetting for some. If you don’t eat meat and are repulsed at the thought of eating animals for food, please click on the little “x” now.
I have an ongoing dilemma. I’d like to lay it out there and see what others think. It bothers me at some level all the time, and I can’t come up with a solution that works for me. Here’s the problem.
I do eat meat. My young son, a very slender child, loves meat, and I think he needs it for his overall health. My husband enjoys meat. We are a meat eating family. Not being totally in denial, I accept the fact that eating meat means I support the slaughter of animals. But because I care about animals, and I want to eat healthy meat, and I own a sixty acre pasture in the foothills, I decided to start raising my own grass fed beef.
By “raising” I do not mean that I am breeding cattle. I mean that I am buying “used up” Corriente roping steers that would otherwise be going directly to the sale and on to be slaughtered, and turning them out on my pasture for several years. When they are somewhere between five and seven years old, we “harvest” them.
Sounds pretty, put like that. But what we are really doing is killing them and eating their meat. And I just can’t feel solidly okay with it.
I know all the reasons to support what I am doing. I did not bring these cattle into the world, and if I did not buy them and give them several years of retirement in my pasture, their end would come definitely come much sooner and be FAR less pleasant. And I do ensure that their end is painless. They are not hauled anywhere. When the time comes, they are shot by a professional ranch killer while they stand there grazing. One minute alive, the next gone. No hauling, no feedlot, no disruption, no suffering. Its very important to me that I am giving these steers a good life and a peaceful end.
I also know that when I buy beef in the market, the average age that steer lived to be is eighteen months. Contrast that to my cattle, who live to be five to seven years old. Beef you buy in the market comes from cattle that are penned up in crowded dry lots for months and fed corn. My cattle live their last years turned out, eating only grass. Corrientes are well adapted to this as a breed, and rarely need supplemental hay, but when they do, we feed them. They are never allowed to get thin. We take good care of them and give them a healthy life. In return they give us healthy meat. As a family, we thank the steer for the gift he gave us every time we eat his meat. I tell my son that we gave the steer a good life and now the steer is helping us to have a good life.
That’s what I tell myself. That’s what I tell my son. And I believe it. But look at the photo below.
This is the steer whose meat I am currently eating. He was a nice, easy to get along with critter—I choose the steers that I “retire” very carefully. They are selected not just because they are well made, but also for the attitude. I buy them from the proprietor of our local practice roping when he deems that their days as a roping steer are done. Those who have been good, cooperative roping steers (and believe me, some steers throw in with being roped, just like some horses throw in with being ridden), get the call. We called this speckled steer “Roany” and he was a pleasant animal-- easy to gather from the pasture and move from here to there. Its hard for me to look at his photo and not feel sad that we killed him, despite all the logic behind what I am doing.
The steer would die eventually, of course. If I kept him until he died of old age (very impractical) he would simply be faced with aches and pains, overgrown feet, and other maladies which I would be unable to treat, and his flesh would be of no use when I would finally have to kill him out of mercy. The end result would be much the same for him. Just a few years in the future. Of course, I would not have bought him and given him three peaceful years on my pasture had I not had a purpose. That purpose being healthy, humanely raised meat for my family. And yet, I still wonder if I’m doing the right thing.
So I’m stumped. I don’t think its better to buy my meat at the market. That distances you from the process, sure, but you’re actually supporting something that is MUCH less humane than what I am doing. The only answer seems to be to become vegetarian, and, for a variety of reasons, I’m not ready to go there yet. But still…
Here is next year’s uhmm, “candidate”. Or victim. Or however you want to phrase it. He is happily running around the pasture as I type, and has been for the past three years. But eventually it will be June, when it is his turn. I always dread that time, when we schedule “the day”.
I am still struggling with this process, even though I have been doing it for seven years, and logically believe it is the right thing to do, if I want to eat meat. I am giving the cattle a gift, in exchange for what they give me. They have a healthy, relatively long life; we eat their healthy meat. I don’t believe what I am doing is wrong. In my heart, I ask permission of the steers, and I think they are OK with it, if that doesn’t sound too new-agey. But it still makes me sad. I have moments of wanting to give up doing it, just to escape the emotional burden. But how is that a better, more responsible choice, unless I then become a vegetarian? And even then, by making that choice, I deprive a few cattle, who already exist, of the possibility of some happy, peaceful years in my pasture. Don’t you suppose that these steers would prefer I continued eating meat?
Even now, as the roping season comes to a close, I am contemplating buying a nice brindle steer who has been a solid citizen all year long. If I do, instead of going to the sale and on to slaughter, he will be hauled to my pasture to live for three or four years with the other steers that are currently there. What a good deal for him. But eventually the day will come and I will feel sad and somewhat guilty, despite everything I just told you.
As I said to begin with, the whole thing puzzles me and I'm still not in a place that feels completely right. Any thoughts?