Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Cheerful Cow

Perhaps this is a ludicrous observation! We hear sometimes from animal rights activists of the horrible conditions that farm animals experience. Farms are depicted as filthy, disease-ridden places where animals are jammed into cramped buildings to be fattened for slaughter. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) use almost those very words about cattle farmed in the US:

Once they have grown big enough, they are sent to massive, filthy feedlots where they are exposed to the elements, to be fattened for slaughter.

I grew up in the countryside surrounded by beef farms. In winter most of the cattle are housed in sheds so I can't vounch for their conditions then.

In summer, though, the cattle live in the fields. And, boy do they look content. For a cow in summer here, life consists of eating grass, sleeping, chewing the cud, eating, sleeping, staring with fascination at people who walk by and drinking fresh water from the stream. My neighbour has a bunch of calves who spend their days with a small herd, suckling from their mothers and racing each other occasionally in bursts of youthful energy.

I never see animal rights groups post pictures like this, taken this afternoon near my home:

Unlike their ancestral cattle in the wild, these cows face no predators or famine and if they get sick the farmer will bring a vet to heal them.

When I pass walking by on the road the cows stand staring at me or, if I stay, start shambling towards me until the whole herd is clustered on the other side of the wall to gaze. My neighbour's horses are even more friendly, trotting quickly to the roadside for attention. If these creatures are abused by the farmer they don't seem to know it, being attracted towards people and not scared away from them.

Of course they might be abused behind closed winter doors, or in cramped transit trucks, so this post may be naive. But for the many months cattle spend lounging about in lush green pastures they seem happy enough, probably safer than their wild equivalents ever are.

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