Posts Tagged ‘cows’

When I went down to Florida to visit my sister, we made a trip to Ocala to visit the Kindred Spirits Sanctuary. Here are some of my pictures!

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I heard this, or variations on this, a lot when I first went vegan. And you know what? Not long ago, I was saying the exact same thing – so I totally get it. I thought I could never, EVER give up my beloved cheese. I used to eat a LOT of cheese – mozzarella, cheddar, blue, pepper-jack, goat cheese – basically any kind of cheese I could find, I would eat. I loved it. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that they can’t imagine me ever giving up my cheese. I mean, I used to have entire parties that were centered around wine and cheese.

Honestly, cheese was one of the reasons I didn’t think I would go vegan. Well, that and milk chocolate, but that’s another story. I thought “ok, maybe just being a really strict vegetarian who eats cheese here and there is enough”. And you know what? That surely would have made a difference. I lowered my carbon footprint significantly just by giving up meat, and in not eating animal flesh, I was saving the lives of countless animals. Awesome, right? Well, I felt pretty good about it, to be honest.

But the longer I kept eating dairy, the worse I felt about it. I was helping a lot of animals, sure, but I was still contributing to the suffering of countless, helpless, beautiful, individual “dairy” cows – cows that I didn’t NEED to harm for my own benefit. I ate cheese because I liked it, and possibly because I was addicted to it. According to research done by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM):

Several scientific teams have shown that the principal protein in cheese, casein, breaks apart during digestion to produce abundant amounts of morphine-like compounds called casomorphins. Biologically, these opiates appear to be responsible for part of the mother-infant bond that occurs during nursing.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nature designed breast milk to be highly desirable (addictive, even) so that babies will want more of it and can keep growing big and strong. And humans continuing to consume casein in dairy products makes us big too – except we grow fatter, not stronger.

At any rate, the point is that I DID give up cheese. I broke the addiction and finally went vegan and I’ve never felt better. And eating vegan? It’s really not that hard. You just have to commit to it and do a little research and voila! You’re vegan! If you’re struggling to go vegan, just know that the cravings for animal products do go away, and please know that you CAN do it. If I can give up cheese, you can give up anything. Seriously.

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I’m finally getting around to reading Skinny Bitch, the New York Times Best Seller about losing weight on a healthy vegan diet. I just started it, but skipped ahead to read the chapter on dairy called The Dairy Disaster because I was curious what they would say. Here’s an excerpt:

When a woman gives birth, her body produces milk and she nurses her child. Breast milk can grow an 8-pound newborn into a 24-pound toddler. Sounds pretty fattening, huh? It is. By design, it is intended to allow for the biggest growth spurt of a person’s entire life. Breast milk alone can accommodate for a 300 percent weight gain in a 12 month period. When her child is anywhere from 12 to 24 months old, a mother stops breast feeding. Her milk dries up. The child will never drink breast milk ever again.

Cows, like all mammals, are much the same. Their bodies produce milk only when they give birth. Contrary to popular belief, they do not need to be milked – ever. Their udders, like women’s breasts, exist even when there is no milk in them. There is one major difference, however. Cows’ milk, by design, grows a 90-pound calf into a 2,000-pound cow over the course of 2 years. It allows calves to double their birth weight in forty-seven days and leaves their four stomachs feeling full. Sounds even more fattening than human milk, right? It is. It should be. Cows are bigger than humans. And the inner workings of their bodies are completely different than ours, which they should be. They are cows. We are humans. Duh.

The authors go on to discuss how humans aren’t meant to drink milk after childhood because we lack the enzymes necessary to process lactose, and yet everyone is convinced we need to drink milk and consume dairy products to be healthy. Even my doctor the other day asked me how I was getting calcium if I wasn’t eating dairy. Um, my DOCTOR asked me that. That made me sad. It just goes to show you how great of a job the dairy industry has done at convincing us we need dairy.

As the authors state a little bit later, “We are the only species on the planet that drinks milk as adults. We are also the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species.” Interesting, isn’t it? When you look at it from that perspective, it’s really WEIRD that humans drink cows’ milk. That was kind of the thing that got me to quit eating dairy – I mean, not only is it horrible for the cows both physically and emotionally to be constantly impregnated and milked by machines instead of getting to nurse their young, it’s also really unnatural thing for humans to do. I’m sold – how about you?

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I thought it would be kind of fun/interesting to post a couple of the ridiculous questions I’ve gotten since I became vegan. These are my two favorites:

“If you were stranded on an island with only your dog, and you ran out of all other food, would you kill your dog and eat him?”

Um. No. No, I would not. I also would not eat any children that I may have given birth to on that island – I mean, he is like my CHILD. Secondly, though, why am I stranded on an island with only my dog? And how long was I there that I ate EVERYTHING the island had to offer? Didn’t I pick up any agricultural skills while I was there? Does the island have powers that make people stupid??  Regardless, no, I would not eat my only companion, thankyouverymuch.

“Let’s say you had a cow and you really loved your cow and treated her really well. Then let’s say that cow gave birth, but the baby died of natural causes. Would you milk the cow and drink the milk?”

At the time, I couldn’t think of a good comeback to this, but a friend of mine later gave me this: “If your dog had a litter of puppies and all the puppies died, would you milk the mother and drink it?” Too good–and I really wish I had thought of this in the moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am more than willing to answer questions for people who are legitimately curious about being vegan….but these particular questions just didn’t strike me as “legitimate”. Call me crazy. No, really, I don’t mind.

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The basis of all animal rights should be the Golden Rule: we should treat them as we would wish them to treat us, were any other species in our dominant position.
~Christine Stevens

Simple as it is, “The Golden Rule” is basically how I try to live my life. In my personal relationships, I try my best to treat others in a way that reflects how I want them to treat me. I don’t always succeed, granted, and I’m no saint, but I really do try, and I think most of the time I do all right. This philosophy has always extended to dogs and cats as well. As a kid, I was insanely in love with our farm cats and couldn’t get enough of them. I’d spend so much time outside in the summers and loved to pet them and play with them, and yes, probably squeeze them a little too tightly at times. As an adult, I have had a pet kitty for 7 years now, and got my dog 3 years after that. They’ve been like my children. I think about what I would like to do if I were a dog or a cat, and I make every effort to bring those things into their lives. My dog LOVES going on walks and being outdoors and going to dog parks, so I walk him a couple times a day, take him to the dog park as much as I can, and we sit outside and enjoy the weather when it’s nice out. My cat loves chasing around these little toy mice, so I make sure she has plenty of them (though they always seem to disappear…hm…).

Anyway, it was only in this past year that I extended this same empathy and compassion – the Golden Rule – to all animals. If I were a cow, what would I want to do? Would I want to be forcibly impregnated year after year, and have my baby ripped away from me so that humans could steal my milk? Would I want to spend my last few months of life in a feedlot, forced to eat food that makes me sick, and to stand in my own waste day after day? If I were a hen, would I want to have my beak cut off? Would I want to be crammed into a cage with several other hens, some of them dead or dying, so that humans could steal my eggs? If I were any other living being, would I want humans–a supposedly more “advanced” animal–to kick me, poke me, prod me, kill me, and eat me?

I don’t think anyone can actually imagine reversing roles with a cow or a hen and saying “yes, that sounds like exactly how I’d wish to be treated if it were me!” Animals of all kinds deserve fresh air, sunlight, clean living quarters, the ability to raise their young, to walk and run freely, and to LIVE.

At the very minimum, I think the Golden Rule requires this, don’t you? It’s simple: treat them as you would wish to be treated were they in the dominant position. More concisely: stop eating them; stop wearing them; and stop buying products that were tested on them. I promise it’s not as hard as you think.

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The Humane Society of the United States has unfortunately uncovered more abuse of dairy cows. This time the abuse occurred at an auction house in New Mexico. The following video shows some of the offenses, including kicking a weak cow in the head, sticking cows in the eyes with pokers, dragging them by their legs with chains, and other egregious acts of cruelty. I urge you to watch it:

After release of the video, livestock industry officials immediately began spouting off excuses:

John McBride, spokesman for industry trade group the Livestock Marketing Association, disagreed with the Humane Society’s claim that the filmed incidents represented widespread practices in the industry…..”You have to put this in context of the number of cattle handled in markets annually,” McBride said.

I don’t care if there are eleventy billion cattle handled each year and only ONE endures this kind of abuse–even if only a small percentage of cows are tortured, that doesn’t make it acceptable, and it surely doesn’t mean anything to that one tormented cow. She still feels pain, even if billions others aren’t subjected to this same treatment.

“There were no downed cows that went into any packing house or into the food,” said Bouldin [owner of the Portales Livestock Auction]. “I don’t know where (HSUS) got their information. They are obviously misinformed.”

You know, this guy sounds a lot like the owner of the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co in California, who SWORE up and down that downed cattle did not go into the food supply, despite the fact that the HSUS had video footage of that happening. Oh, and PS. They’re out of business now. Woohoo!

[Agriculture Secretary Ed] Schafer said USDA has asked the packing industry to voluntarily ban slaughtering downer cattle that go down after initial inspection. He also denounced any chance the animals shown in Wednesday’s HSUS video were ever slaughtered…..”These cattle were too weak to rise and walk on their own, and would not have been accepted upon delivery to a slaughterhouse,” said Schafer.

Really? I guess I am wondering if Mr. Schafer (a native of my home state of North Dakota) was there at the time these cows were being abused. How could he know so confidently that these animals weren’t slaughtered? Just because they should not have been accepted to a slaughterhouse doesn’t mean that they weren’t, as the Westland/Hallmark case showed us.

Lastly, if I hear one more time that this was an “isolated incident” I am going to have to unleash the Crazy on somebody, because SERIOUSLY? The HSUS has released videos taken at facilities in Maryland, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and now New Mexico. How many more videos will it take before people in the industry and people in our government stand up for these poor animals who are unable to do so for themselves? When is someone going to take responsibility for these appalling acts of cruelty?

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I know I just wrote a post about being a joyful vegan, and while I really, really do plan to be as joyful as possible, when I hear that a dairy operation (it’s not a FARM, that’s for sure) in northern Minnesota caused local residents to evacuate their homes over the weekend due to unhealthy levels of hydrogen sulfide, I don’t feel very joyful. In fact, I feel pretty angry. When will the people who operate these dairies finally own up to how incredibly awful these facilities are – for the animals involved, the people who live nearby, the workers, and the environment?? This isn’t rocket science – it’s just common sense (trust me, I cannot do rocket science).

So, as I said, the people living near this facility actually had to EVACUATE their homes to avoid the negative health effects of breathing in the toxins, such as irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat, headaches, difficulty breathing, and if high enough, neurological and brain damage. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Brain damage! Especially in children! Apparently the residents have been complaining for years, and nothing gets done about it. Before I get in to talking about how the animals must be suffering, let’s talk about workers for a minute:

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), farm workers are risking their lives every time they enter a manure pit. The…atmosphere which can develop in a manure pit has claimed many lives.” The manure pits are so dangerous because of the gases produced by the animals during digestion:

  • Methane
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Ammonia

The accumulation of these gases within the confined space of the manure pit can produce an oxygen-deficient, toxic, and/or explosive environment. Doesn’t that sound like a nice place to work? Check it out:

Modern Dairy Barn

I’ll never complain about my desk job again. Ever.

Worker deaths are real: in August of 1992, a 43-year-old dairy farm owner and his 23-year-old son died from asphyxiation after entering a manure pit; in July of 2007, 4 workers at a Virginia farm died of asphyxiation when they entered a manure pit. There is case after case after case just like that – sad, unnecessary, preventable deaths.

So, now let’s imagine what the animals are going through. Stuck indoors all day, every day, living in close quarters, standing in their own manure, unable to eat a natural diet of grass, these poor cows are impregnated year after year, and deprived of raising their babies so that humans can steal their milk. Just imagine how horrible that must be. Now imagine being pumped up with growth hormones so that you produce 10 times as much milk as you should, being milked for hours a day for several years, and then being sent to slaughter when you’re no longer “productive”.

How does any of this sound like a good thing? These money hungry corporate farms are destroying the land, polluting our water, forcing people out of their homes, creating unsafe workplaces, and torturing animals. And it’s all for profit. How these people can look at themselves in the mirror at night is beyond me. Maybe when you make all that money you can afford a special mirror that convinces you you’re not a terrible person no matter how many people and animals you hurt. I really can’t imagine how you could live with yourself otherwise.

Ok. Now it’s time to go back to being joyful. I swear.

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I know this is basically un-American to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: I’m not a huge fan of the never-ending TV show “The Simpsons”. I don’t know why, but I just have never been able to get in to it. Sometimes I see it and I think “why don’t I like this show?” but then I never make an effort to watch it again. That said, I know they tend to tackle some pretty big issues in a funny, but thought-provoking way, so I like the show in that respect. And guess what? They did a show about feedlots and slaughterhouses!

In “Apocalypse Cow”, Bart joins the 4-H Club and unexpectedly falls in love with his hand-raised calf named Lou. Bart takes Lou to a 4-H competition, where Lou wins first prize. Bart thinks that means that Lou won’t have to be slaughtered, but becomes determined to save him when he learns that it really means Lou “gets to go first” to slaughter. With the help of Lisa and her hippy vegan friends (one nicknamed “Composte”, which cracked me up), Bart breaks a much fatter Lou out of a feedlot. To explain Lou’s new size, Lisa tells Bart, “His food is laced with growth hormones!” At that moment, Lou licks Bart’s arm, which immediately sprouts hair growth on the pre-pubescent Bart. Gotta love those growth hormones!

Anyway, the show brought up some important points in true Simpsons fashion, and reached a wide audience, though I have no idea if it was at all effective in getting people to change their habits (probably not). My favorite piece of advice came from Homer when Bart was begging his parents to buy Lou back so he wouldn’t have to be slaughtered: “Never work hard and don’t form emotional attachments. Also, don’t be a cow.”

Touché, Homer, touché.

If you feel like my recap is insufficient (it is), you can watch the episode here for free.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about a global food crisis. Food prices on such staples as rice, wheat and dairy products have sky-rocketed, affecting several already economically struggling countries. “Meanwhile world aid groups continue to reel from the jump in food prices. World Vision, one of the globe’s largest humanitarian organizations, said it may have cut 1.5 million people, or 23 percent, from its aid program because of a strained budget.”* Protests have erupted over rising food prices, and people have reportedly begun hoarding whatever food they can find.

Hunger is nothing new in the world. There have been “starving children in Africa” for as long as my parents have been able to tell me so in order to guilt me into cleaning my plate, and for many years before that. And while surely there are starving children here in America too, for the most part, Americans are living fat and happy. We clean our plates and then some. What most people fail to realize, however, is that we could feed all the hungry people in the world if only everyone reduced or eliminated their meat intake.

Think about this: Every one kilogram of beef produced requires 100,000 liters of water and 10 kilograms of feed. Compare that to a kilogram of potatoes produced, which requires only 500 liters of water. In terms of land use, one hectare of potatoes planted would feed 22 people per year, whereas one hectare of land dedicated to beef production would only feed one person per year.** The inefficiencies are staggering–and I could cite a million*** other statistics along these same lines. I first read about this in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and was floored. Despite the fact that the world’s poorest people don’t even have enough basic grains and water to sustain themselves, we produce “feed-grain” for cows and pigs and other farmed animals so that we can buy (cheap) meat. So why don’t we just eat the grains directly instead of feeding them to animals which we then eat?

Animal rights issues are increasingly becoming inextricably linked to human rights issues. The food crisis won’t be resolved over night, and the starving children of the world won’t be fed tomorrow because I’ve given up animal products – I get that. But if enough of us made a commitment to reduce our animal product intake, over time we might just make a difference and be able to get food into the mouths of the hungry, instead of into the mouths of poorly treated, factory farmed cows, chickens, and pigs that we produce for food.

Cows aren’t even supposed to eat grain and corn, by the way. They’re ruminants, so they’re supposed to eat grass. But cows require a lot of grazing land and that’s not cheap. What’s more, they don’t fatten up as well on grass, which is why they’re fed some pretty disgusting things: Cows are still allowed to eat feeds that can include parts of pigs, fish, chicken, horses, even cats or dogs….And cattle can continue to consume pig and horse blood for protein, as well as tallow, a hard fat from rendered cattle parts, as a fattening source.”**** We’ve turned herbivorous cows into carnivores and cannibals so that they gain weight faster and can be slaughtered when they’re practically still babies (a little over 1 year for “beef” cattle and anywhere from 3-6 years for “dairy” cows–the natural lifespan for a healthy cow would be over 20 years, just for comparison purposes).

So, what does this all mean? Maybe you’re not an “animal person”. Not everyone is (unfortunately) . . . but I have yet to meet someone who would turn their back on a hungry child.

Do your part: reduce your meat and animal product intake and help feed all the hungry people in the world. You can make a difference. Do it for your health, for the animals, the environment, and for all the people out there who will go to bed hungry tonight while some poor cow or pig suffers needlessly in a feedlot.

* “U.N. Agencies Weigh Response to Food Crisis”. Reuters. 28 April 2008. 28 April 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-food.html?scp=2&sq=hunger&st=nyt
** Gold, Mark. “The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat.” Compassion in World Farming Trust. 2004. http://www.ciwf.org/publications/reports/The_Global_Benefits_of_Eating_Less_Meat.pdf
*** Possibly a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.
**** “Cattle Feed is Often a Sum of Animal Parts.” Common Dreams. 28 January 2004. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0128-03.htm

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I am back from a wonderful weekend at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY. What an adventure we had. I finally got to meet the goat I sponsored, Goodwin. This is him:


He is just the cutest little goat I’ve ever seen. Apparently his growth was stunted due to malnutrition or something, so he is only about half the size of the other pygmy goats. Since he is still pretty new there, he is terribly shy, and not sure what he thinks of humans yet. You can’t really blame him since he probably had never been treated kindly before now. In addition, he’s still trying to figure out where he fits in the pygmy goat herd. Despite his shyness, you could tell he has a lot of personality. He is cautious and wants to check things out, but to me it just seemed like you could tell he had a gentle, kind little personality. I think he’s feisty too underneath it all. I will be interested to see how he develops over time – yes, I’ll definitely go back there someday!

Here are some more of my pictures. If you haven’t been to a farmed animal sanctuary, I cannot recommend it enough. It was such a beautiful experience to connect with animals who have escaped slaughter, abuse, and neglect, and now are happy, sweet creatures who have learned to forgive humans, despite what they’ve been through. And for selfish reasons, it was just plain fun to give a pig a belly rub!


Happy pigRoseFennel, the roosterHappy pig

Maya, the friendly cow


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