Friday, March 7, 2014

About some sheep

Our town is in a bit of an uproar right now over some sheep.  Some hikers in the local hills recently came upon a flock of sheep where many were laying dead in the field, and quite a few were dying.  They looked emaciated and had recently been shorn, the latter being a big bad because a fairly chilly rainstorm had just pummeled the area with rain and high winds for four days.

The enterprising hikers then proceeded to take our their trusty cell phones and videotape what they saw.  They then handed the video over the the sheriff's department and PETA, asking for an investigation.  The investigation is ongoing.  But the sheep shit hit the fan as soon as the first videos began going viral.

Once again, my fair city finds itself at odds with one another -- the "citiots" versus the "hayseeds."  Town versus country.  Moved-here versus born-here. Cultured versus down-home.  You get the picture.  It's not cut-and-dried down those lines, but close enough.  Debate is heated, to say the least.

Many people are asking what I think are legitimate questions. Why shear your sheep in February, when a major storm is expected to hit? (friends of the livestock owner say the storm was "stronger than expected," but that is just not true.  Strong storms for the end of the month had been predicted for at least 10 - 14 days leading up to the event.)

Then there's the debate about the condition of the sheep. Some were clearly half-starved. Of course they are skinny.  It's the drought!  There's no food in the hills! says one side.
When animals are starving, you either send them to market early or provide supplemental feed, says the other side.

Then the usual volley gets thrown out from the rural side:  "People today just don't understand where their food comes from and how it gets raised." Considering the circumstances, that's possibly the best reason for going vegetarian that I've heard in a long time.  

But the fact is, knowing where your food comes from has nothing to do with this argument. It's like saying, "I tend to vote democratic, because I like the color orange."  Both are facts, but do not relate to each other.

People who do not understand where their food comes from can still recognize that throwing a dying animal into a trailer with dead ones is not practicing humane animal husbandry. You don't have to know how to butcher a hog or grow seeds to understand that shearing sheep in the coldest calendar month of the year is dicey, at best.  

And even city folk understand that when anything is insured for money, the loss of "product" may not be quite the tragedy that you'd think for the owners. For some this might mean not being willing to spend extra money on feed, or not putting a bullet through the head of a suffering animal and instead throwing it on a pile of dying animals so that you can claim it was already dead when you found it. I don't know what happened in this case.  But I have seen it happen elsewhere.

"Knowing where your food comes from" does not mean turning a blind eye to unnecessary, protracted suffering.  It's why fois gras and tiny battery cages for chickens are both illegal here in California. It's why organic foods are becoming more and more popular. It's because we do know where our food comes from, and we're committed to making  it better -- healthier and in the case of animals, more humane. 

And if you don't like that, then there's plenty of cheap land in other states where no such laws exist.  Maybe check that out.

And so, once again, I find myself in the odd position of being a country person agreeing more with PETA than some of my neighbors. (Which I'm loathe to do, because I don't think PETA is a particularly noble organization.) All animals we humans domesticate and keep we need to treat humanely, providing food and doing all we can to keep them moderately comfortable until the time that they go to our dinner table.  And if you can't do that, then bring them to market early and take a loss. It's part of the gamble that comes with ranching and farming and has since time immemorial.

To do anything else is irresponsible farming.  And to defend someone whose husbandry practices have been irresponsible because they're in the "good old boy" network, or because he's a nice guy, or has had financial difficulties, does not help anything.

Our town needs to clearly look at all the facts, and decide if this was the best that could have been done for these sheep.  And if not, lets bring the problems into the light of day so we can all learn from them.  Those sheep died what seems to be a pointless, preventable, and slow death, not only causing them suffering, but taking them out of the food chain where their deaths would at least provided physical nourishment for us or even our pets.  

I think, whether city or country-born, it's a no-brainer that we can -- and should -- do better.

If you want to view the videos, I am posting a link here, however I caution you that they are graphic and not for the faint-of-heart.


  1. How upsetting. And frustrating. Sometimes people inflate an argument so grandly to add personal agenda when it really comes down to the simple intuition of right and wrong. And yes...unfortunately if one wants cheap land with no animal laws, my state will host him. In Ohio we may have as many lions or bears as we like, but having a pet deer is highly illegal.

    1. Yes, that is crazy. How is a lion a better pet choice than a deer? And why is a deer any different than, say, a donkey or horse? We DO have good animal laws here in CA, but many folks act as if they are a total inconvenience and a nuisance, instead of reasonable protections. Sigh.