I just returned back from another stockyard visit. I was no stronger a person than I was the last time. I thought this time would easier. I thought I could keep a straight face. I thought I wouldn’t cry. I thought I would be strong. I was not.
For the past couple of weeks, I have known that I would be going to the stockyard again. I have however been putting it in the back of my mind, keeping myself busy, and not thinking about it. I do not wish to remember my first time at the stockyard, but I do, and I always will. It will remain in my memories forever. Forever in my wandering eyes. Forever in my dreams.
Today will haunt me. Today will not rest. Today will remain instilled in my heart and in my soul. I will not forget what I have seen today. I can’t. I won’t. Change does not come through remaining silent. I shall move on and describe the scenes that unfolded.
I climbed out of the van and stared at the rundown battered building. Livestock trucks filled the lot. The sky was gray and the air had a warm summer feel to it. I had chills, as I felt my skin tingle up my arms. I took a deep breath and headed for the door. I told myself that I would hold it together today. I told myself that I would be strong for those beings inside. I had pondered why I would want to go again. I didn’t of course. I had come to the conclusion though that I was an extra set of eyes. Maybe I would see something that the others didn’t. Maybe I would see a being who needed me to see it, and I could help.
Nobody was saved today.
I headed for the main entrance and stiffened up my back. I stood up straight and adjusted my sunglasses that I forgot to remove from my head. I walked up the door and it was crowded with burly men standing around talking. I did not pay attention to what they were saying, there were only whispers in my mind.
I walked through the long corridor once more as I had done before. The smell hit me before anything else; a mixture of feces and hay, dank, and must. To my right I saw goats, separated in wooden pens. One stood there low to the ground and stared at me. I looked at him in the eyes and turned away. I looked to my left and I saw male cattle. There were three steer in a slender pen, each one followed behind the other. I looked into their big eyes, as mucus dripped out of their noses. In the pen to the right of them, there was a lone black cow standing at the end of her pen. I walked on and in the last pen there were several spent dairy cows. I stopped and leaned into the wooden pen. I stared into their curious eyes. They were scared. How do I know they were scared? The same way you can look into a child’s eyes and see fear, just as you can look into a dog’s eyes and see fear. These girls, they were scared.
I turned away once more and headed through the gate ahead of me. The livestock truck was staring me in the eyes from the other half of the pen. I continued right, and went though the same entrance that I had the last time I was there. I took one more deep breath, as I knew this would be the part that I needed to remain cold to.
I walked in, and a pen full of calves was waiting for me. My eyes darted around the warehouse. I could see another pen to the left, filled with calves. Adjacent to that is the auction shed. I could hear the auctioneer spouting off numbers, like a maniacal chant in my mind. I saw a few men standing around the pens. An amish man carrying a baby was walking around with his wife and kids. I walked forward towards the pen and leaned over. The eyes of many calves met mine. There must have been at least 50 of these little beings crammed into this one particular pen. Some were standing, gazing blankly at their surroundings, others were curled up on the ground, tired and lonely, having been taken away from their mothers.
Chills fill me inside as my eyes begin to water and the hair on my arms stands up. I cannot think about what happened next without crying, my face red from the intense emotions of earlier.
As I looked into these little calves eyes, one in particular seemed very interested in me. He stuck his little head out in between the wooden boards. I felt his smooth nose, and gracefully caressed his mouth with my hands. His soft fur continued to ignite my senses. I put my hand over the pen and began to pet his head. He leaned his little head up and started to suckle on my fingers.
I am breaking down again.
It has just really hit me what happened and what will happen to that little boy.
I stared there into his little eyes as he pulled my hand deeper into his mouth. His smooth tongue glided across my hand, as I could feel his little teeth rubbing against my wrist. He suckled, and suckled, as I remained silent. For the only time in his life when he would see love from a human, I let him suckle, if for only a moment it provided him with the much needed comfort that they all deserved to have. He had been separated from his mother. He would never see her again. He would never feel soft touches from anyone from the rest of his short cruel life in a veal crate. Where he will have a metal chain wrapped around his neck. Where he will not be able to turn around. Where he will be fed an anemia inducing diet. He will never get to walk again, until he is sent to slaughter. He will never get to romp in a field. He will never enjoy the warm spring air, or feel the cool rain on his back.
Just then, one of the workers, a young woman with her blond hair pulled back, and dressed in a long sleeved shirt, opened the pen to the calves. Six more calves needed to be crammed into the pen. She pushed a couple of them in, and began to smack the calves on the ground, trying to get them to move out of her way. She grabbed them by their skin and pulled them up hard. She then pushed them some more. I watched as she took her hands and got a fist full of skin from one of the younger babies who was curled up on the ground. She pulled him and pushed him off to the side as he fell down with his wobbly new legs. He crashed and looked around. I lost it.
Tears began to stream down my cheeks. I could feel the blood filling my face as my heart started to race and hysterics poured out of my face. I looked this baby boy in the face and felt nothing but sadness. The little one in front of me continued to suckle on my hand. I could not move. If only I could provide just another minute of comfort to him.
I then watched as the lady tried to get the last calf into the pen. He fell down at the edge, weak from the stress he had been put through. She smacked him with the gate, as I watched his little body fly forward, she then took her hands and grabbed his back, tossing him into the pen. A rush of emotion filled me once more as tears continued to fall steadily from my eyes.
I looked forward once more as the baby continued to suck on my hand. I looked into his eyes, and I knew. He will suffer until the day he dies. He will then have his throat slit as blood pours on the floor of a slaughterhouse somewhere. He will then be served onto someone’s plate. Eaten as a delicacy. Those 15 minutes of satisfaction for that person somewhere, in turn, has taken away something’s entire life, his life.
I could hear screaming coming from the pens that ran up against the back wall to my left. I knew what they were. They were pigs, and they were terrified. The screaming continued, as it got louder and louder. I felt my heart began to race once more. How do I stand here and not do something. Clearly those are the sounds of pain and agony, of fear. How do I not rush back there to help whatever that is, to comfort, to save, to take away it’s pain. What kind of being am I to ignore that suffering?
I looked into this calves eyes once more as he continued to gnaw on my hand. Do I walk away, to see what else is happening? Do I go to see if I can help someone else? Do I take away his comfort to give another one some? How dare I be selfish? Am I being selfish? I slowly glided my hand out of his mouth, looking at him with sympathy as I wiped tears away from my eyes. Pulling away was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Last time, at the stockyard, none of the calves would come near me. They were terrified. I do not blame them. Not this time though. I had a completely different experience that I will never be able to erase from my mind.
I walked down the next path. There were even younger calves in this one, I walked by and could see the pens of pigs. I stopped and looked at them, I could feel my face reddening. They were crammed together and covered in mud. My eyes met those of one in particular. I looked at her, she was clearly scared. Her eyes told the story of pain and fear. She gazed at me, not moving, blankly lost. I cannot begin to image what she has gone through, let alone what will happen to her. I wanted to do nothing more than to jump in and take her away.
As I write this, I have been distracted by what lies outside my window. I just watched a pig go galloping at full speed up the grassy hill across the road from me. He must be enjoying the spring air. He is lucky. This girl, will not be so. It is especially bothersome to begin to think about the percentage of pigs that get slaughtered while conscious, or boiled alive. I do not want to think about it anymore.
I walked on down the path and to my right was another pen. This is on the other side of the auction shed. I could see through the windows that the shed was filled with men. Three baby calves were in the pen in front of me. They had already been through the auction and were awaiting their next destination. I walked up to the pen and leaned over. One calf, frightened, laid in the corner. Another little black one walked up to me. I put my hand over the railing and talked softly to him. “Hiii babies, come here. Cooome on, I won’t hurt you” I told him. He came closer and put his lips on my fingers. He began to suckle, just as the old boy had done earlier. I stood there for awhile, letting him try to nurse. I looked into his eyes. He had beautiful brown eyes. I wanted to take him away, far far away from that place, but I didn’t. I looked at his soft fur, covered in mud and feces. He had a yellow tag stuck to his back “P796″. That will be all he will ever be known as. A number. Not a being. Not something with emotion or personality, not something to be treated with any sort of dignity. He is P796. This sounds hauntingly familiar to the holocaust to me.
What’s different from cramming animals into pens, raising them and using them for our purposes only, like objects, and giving them numbers, not names, then to be sent to slaughter, how is this different that cramming jews and other groups of people into concentration camps and trains, then making them work till they die, or sending them to gassing chambers or fire pits. How is this different?
It was time to leave. I said goodbye to this calf as I slowly pulled my hand out of his mouth. I walked away without looking back. I couldn’t. I did not want to remember seeing his eyes as he watched me leave, for I knew I would be the only bit of comfort he would know for the rest of his short, miserable life. I walked back out to the pens. I looked at the dairy cows once more and I headed for the door.
I stepped outside and the clean air hit my face. I could feel the dry tears on my face, as I wiped it with my sleeve once more. The ride back was quiet. Nobody said a word. Tears fell from my face, as reality hit me. The reality that I left. That I did nothing, and nobody was saved.
I do not believe I need to mention again that by drinking dairy, it supports the veal industry. It supports what I witnessed today. I will not be a broken record. You can however find such information in my previous blog “Stockyard Sorrow”.
I will end this post with a poem by Elie Wiesel, a holocaust surviver & vegetarian, that reminds me the images instilled in my mind.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
From Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, “We must always take sides, Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented”