Sunday, October 24, 2010

Humans & Animals . . . Or, the Goatherd at OSU!

I was absolutely delighted to be invited to speak last week at OSU in Animal Science 597! This class focuses on issues relative to human & animal interactions, closely observing how humans use animals. I was excited to be able to address the students on this and to be able to share my perspective as a farmer.

I kicked off the two hour lecture by telling the story of Thunder the Sheep, noble guardian of Harrison Farm. I shared that Thunder had been born through a C-Section, and was the only baby of quadruplets to survive. My mother raised him on a bottle and we became attached to him. Thunder came to live with me at Harrison Farm, where he served as one of my bellwethers and was basically a big brother to all the goats. He was incredibly patient with the baby goats that would frolic & jump on his back as he lay down. Everyone loved Thunder!

Sadly, about a year ago, Thunder began to have serious issues with arthritis. And as he approached his 10th birthday, it got worse & worse. I had moved him up to the boxstall in the front of the barn to feed him, as he would no longer walk out to the field to graze. Eventually he would no longer get up on his own. I knew that this was the start of a long road downhill. When animals refuse to get up at that age, they rarely recover. Instead they slowly waste away. I decided I did not want Thunder to suffer slowly. He was a noble sheep and deserved a quick death. It was a gray & rainy day when my friend Abdi helped me to butcher Thunder. After I hugged Thunder's neck for several minutes and told him what a good sheep he was, Abdi & I got to work. The end was quick and we were able to stock a great deal of meat. I know I won't be able to get over the sentimental aspect and eat it myself, but I will be able to cook it for my dog.

I used this story to get the students thinking about my goals as a farmer to provide the best quality care for my animals that I can and to show them respect in life & in death. I wanted the students to think about what they would do. It was VERY hard to make the decision to butcher Thunder, but it gave him a quick death and it provided a protein-rich meat source for my dog to eat. He served me in life & continues to serve in death. So many people today are only familiar with their pets, and don't realize the differences between companion animals and livestock and wildlife. I encouraged the students to consider this, as we began a discussion about my perspective as a farmer, my work as a butcher, my experiences with religious slaughter, and the way that religions regard animal care.

As a former government teacher, I stressed to the students what a right truly is, and why it is a fallacy to use the term "animal rights". A right is something that must be codified, it must be won, and it must be protected with recourse. In other words, I can elucidate what my right to freedom of speech means. This right was won by Americans who fought for personal freedoms and enshrined this in the Bill of Rights. If someone compromises my freedom of speech, I can seek protection through our court system. In contrast, my dog Jolie cannot state her rights, nor has she won them, and she has no system for recourse of suppression of any rights. Thus, she does not have rights.

I encouraged the students to change the conversation to one of animal care. Using examples from various religions, I discussed that although the world's religions do not recognize "animal rights", they do stress the moral obligation to care for our fellow man, nurture our world, and shepherd the creatures in it. Thus, it is paramount that we show respect for the lives of the earth's creatures -- without losing sight of the appropriate relationship between humans and animals. Although my dog Jolie may not have "rights", it is my moral responsibility as her owner to care for her in a manner that provides a decent quality of life. It would be disrespectful of my fellow man, however, if I elevated Jolie in such a way that I served her over others. Far too many people go to bed hungry, do not have proper housing, and suffer from basic diseases. As humans, we need to keep things in the appropriate perspective as we strive to fulfill our obligation to animals, yet focus on improving the world for our fellow man.

I sincerely appreciated how hospitable the students of the class were! It was a great opportunity and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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