I posted this picture on Facebook this afternoon, with the title, "Claude, Dennis and Doc."
Little did I know that a simple picture was going to lead me into one of the most bizarre conversations I've ever had....and that I would be defriended over it.
I've been pondering the situation, and while I'm not horribly upset about losing that 'friendship' (It was someone I knew on an acquaintance level in high school.), I do want to make a few things crystal clear so that there are no more misunderstandings.
I come from a long line of farmers. Both families worked the land for as long as anyone can remember, raising both crops and animals. While we didn't actually buy our property until I was in the fourth grade, my parents did share a herd of beef cattle with my grandparents when I was small, and I can remember the days when my grandfather was a professional dairy farmer. My father bought our farm when I was in the fourth grade, and when I was in the eighth grade we finally built a house and moved there. The beef herd has been a consistent presence, and at various times we've also raised chickens, rabbits, and the odd goat or two.
My parents are some of the most responsible, thoughtful, loving people I know. They were raised to respect the land and the livestock in their care, believing with all of their hearts in wise stewardship of all they own. You would be hard pressed to find sheep or cows with better lives. My parents love their farm, they love their livestock, and they love the farming lifestyle.
Yes, part of that lifestyle is that we do butcher and eat some of the animals we raise. We've always been a beef farm, and from the beginning the plan has always been to butcher and eat any excess sheep once the the flock was established. That's right...we are going to be eating some of these cute and fuzzy sheep...and we are going to enjoy it. These animals are not pets, they are livestock.
The fact of the matter is that it is literally impossible to keep every single animal that is born on a farm. Good animal husbandry requires making careful decisions for the good of all. In order to maintain a healthy group of animals you must do three things. One, make sure you understand exactly what the purpose of your livestock is, and make every decision with that goal in mind. Two, carefully breed in order to improve your animals and/or carry on the best traits. Three, make sure that you only keep as many animals as your land (and your finances) can support - culling the herd as necessary. Sometimes you must also make humane decisions to end the life of an animal who either carries bad genetics or is ill. Each and every animal must contribute in some way, shape or form to the overall health and vitality of the farm.
I know that it is kind of hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around the realities of working farms like ours. Believe it or not, it is very possible to love and enjoy each and every sheep (or cow, or chicken, or rabbit, or...) and still make the decision to butcher this one or that. I think what people often don't understand is that we hold a very great deal of respect for our animals. It's AMAZING that one animal can be full of so much potential! Sheep, for example, are magical creatures able to provide wool to keep us warm, meat and bones to nourish our bodies, pelts for rugs and clothing, and - yes - companionship and entertainment as well. Nothing is wasted, and nothing is used without thought or respect. Beyond that, there is immense value in having an intimate knowledge of where one's food came from - and in how it was raised - but that's a story for another day.
I sincerely hope that if you are a vegetarian or a vegan or an animal activist or simply someone who has a tender heart that you are not offended or upset by what I'm sharing. Please believe me when I say that I do respect all differing views, and can honestly understand (especially given the existance of factory farms, which are truly horrific, and other such abuses) why you might believe as you do. I do not at all seek to change your mind...but I do ask that you please afford me the same respect and open mind that I am willing to give to you.
I am profoundly grateful to my parents and my grandparents for having brought me up as they did with a firm grounding in our farm lifestyle. Each and every day I see their love for their sheep and cattle, and I share that love with them. Nothing brings me more pleasure than working in the fields and in the barns, and - as you know - I hope to one day live that dream on my own farm.
I wouldn't have it any other way.