Never Shall I Forget

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, ┬ánever the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented”

Stockyard Sorrow

Wow it’s been a little over two weeks since my last post. I truly have missed writing about my experiences up here, however I have been completely putting off talking about the stockyard trip. Although I wanted to go into that experience with a strong fresh outlook, it was really hard to do. I walked in telling myself that I would stay strong and that I wouldn’t get emotional. I wanted to be able to view it for what it was, but this was not an easy task, and I was definitely not successful at keeping a straight face.

I made sure that morning that I took time to go out to the farm and spend some time with boys; Orlando, Arnold, Tweed, Sonny, Conrad, and Millbank, the rescued calves. I needed them, I needed to feel their love and their warmth that morning. It helped me to feel better about what I was going to do later in the day. I needed it to remind me of who I was fighting for, and why the dairy industry is such a terrible thing. Their kindness will never leave my heart, and I will never be able to stare at a jug of milk without thinking that many of these little guys die because of it.

A few hours later, I took a deep breath, and climbed into my car. The ride to the stockyard was a quiet one for me. When we first pulled into the building’s parking lot, there were lots of livestock trucks in the parking lot. You know, those big large metal ones with holes in the sides that expose the animals to all elements from burning 90 degree weather, to freezing conditions, yeah those trucks. As I stepped out of my car, I took a deep breath. It had been raining and mud puddles gathered all around every step I took. It was a cold day out. There was a strange feeling there, it is hard to describe.

When I walked up to the building, I was greeted by a large man sitting on a wooden stool, he was smoking a cigarette. I passed him and entered the building. When you walk in, you go past a small arena type area with stadium like seating where they bring animals in. After passing through that part, you go through another entryway where they hold the animals. As I walked into this part, I really buckled down and pulled myself together. I just watched. I didn’t get emotional. I just took it for what it was.

There were “spent” dairy cows to the my left being held in pens behind wooden slats. A spent dairy cow is a cow that is no longer of use to the dairy industry. They have been used up and are no longer producing milk at a rate that is profitable enough for the dairy industry to keep them. In an industry where new calves are being born to each cow every year, the herd can be replensihed very quickly by new young females who can produce milk at a higher rate than their older counterparts. These spent cows are usually only between the ages of 2-3 years old, some, in rare cases can be up to 4-5 years old.

However, milk production ratios are not the only reason some of these cows are considered spent. Some of them have just become to weak to put up with production anymore. Many suffer from illness and ailments, a common one being Mastitis, which is an infection of the udder. When I walked by the cow pens, I could see many of them crammed into the pens. They looked sad, tired, weak, and distressed. I looked away. To my right were other much smaller wooden slated pens. In here, there were goats. I was not sure whether or not these were goats being sold for dairy or meat, so I asked. I was told that they were probably going to be sold for meat, and that the local Amish communities were known for buying them up.

I kept walking down the middle walking path. It was a dirt path, at the end you could see a livestock truck backed up to the loading dock of the building. Cold air came blowing through and it sent a chill down my back. As I continued walking, I looked over at the cows once more to my left. I caught one’s eye and she stared at me blankly with mucus pouring out of her nose. I could see she had some open red sores around her shoulder and her hip bones were showing. I looked away and continued walking ahead. To get to the next section, you have to pass through a gate.

Once you pass through this gate, you go into another section of the stockyard through a doorway. Once in here, there is another dirt pathway. To the left there are holding pens, there are also smaller holding pens to the right. In here, I could see several small calves. Sitting just off to the left of this path was what looked like a large shed with a door. I was told this was where the auctions took place. I took another deep breath and opened the beaten door knob and walked in. The room itself was small. About 30 men were crowded into this room. To the right was a set of concrete stadium like stairs. I had to throw my leg up pretty high to get to the top stair so that I could see what was going on.

I looked around as I could see men jostling and talking. In the front there was a dirt ground, where the auctioneer was standing. I could see a small calf being pushed into the little arena. The auctioneer started spouting out numbers and whispers began filling the air. I could not see all that well, so I shuffled to the back corner of the top level. To my right, there was a pathway leading back to the path that I entered the shed on. I could also see another area to the right of the arena where the calves were being held at. I could see their tiny bodies through the entryway, scared and lost, looking all around. I can imagine that being torn away from your mother is terrifying, lonely, and horrible.

As I inched my way into the corner, I could see a better view of the arena. The calf that was there was pushed out and back down the path to my right. Then a new calf was pushed in. The auctioneer smacked his butt around and pushed him from side to side. The calf jostled from side to side on his new legs. He was clearly only about a day or so old. He still had his umbilical cord attached. By this point, I was fighting tears. I’ve watched some pretty awful things in videos during my day, but in person, I was absolutely disgusted and saddened by this scene. Here was this beautiful young calf, who could potentially have a whole wonderful life ahead of him on rolling pastures in the sunlight, but he was never going to have that chance. He was going to be taken to slaughter later in the day for bob veal.

Just as I watched this poor little guy wobble around, the two older gentlemen in front of me laughed. The one turned around and said to me “I wouldn’t pay a $1 a lb for that, would you?” I just looked at him blankly. I didn’t know what to say. Half of me wanted to go along with it, just to keep a straight face, to stay strong, to be an observer, and to get into the minds of someone who treats animals like objects, things to be sold and traded for profit, and to be eaten with no regards for that being’s life. The other half of me was screaming inside. I wanted to say that I would spend all of the money in my bank account just to save it’s life. The other gentleman with him looked at me and stepped aside to create space. “Here step up here so you can have a better look” he said. “I’m fine” was all I could say. “Well I know your fine” he replied and turned back around to the auction.

I lost it at this point. My emotions took hold and my eyes began to water. I could feel my face turning an intense red, and the tears started to flood out. I was completed destroyed by watching this tiny little helpless creature being treated like an object. Now I am not a touchy feely person by any means, but at this moment I just felt this intense feeling in my body. I wanted a hug. I wanted someone to squeeze me tight and bring me back to reality. I was feeling so much pain by watching this little calf that I just wanted to feel something else, something else that would take the pain away.

Nobody bought this calf. He was pushed back out to the pathway to my right. I watched him as he struggled to stumble through the doorway. I had seen enough. I turned around and headed for the doorway. I looked around to see if anyone was watching me, seeing the tears, seeing that I clearly was not there for the same reasons that they were. My eyes met those of a large burly man, he looked me in the eyes, and I could tell he knew. I jumped down the level, and opened the door back to where I could see the holding pens.

I walked over to the wooden slats and looked at several small calves staring back at me. Their eyes were scared. I put my hand in and talked to them softly. I was told that sometimes they will suck on your fingers, and it acts as sort of a bit of comfort to them in such distressing times. But none of them would come close, and I don’t blame them from what I had witnessed. A few more tears streamed down my face. I pulled my sleeve down over my hand to wipe the tears away, as to not catch any of the diseases that could be floating around that can be passed to human.

They just watched me. Their glowing glossy eyes watched me, and they didn’t know what to do. Some of them were larger, ones who were destined to go to veal farms, where they will live in tiny crates with a metal chain wrapped around the neck so that they cannot move. Others, were very tiny, newborns, who would be sold for bob veal, their umbilical cords still partially hanging down from their bellies. I turned away and headed back to the doorway. By this point, the auction was letting out. The men came crowding through the pathway and went back out to the front room. Then all of the calves were released. They came walking down the path, their little legs trying to stumble around. None of them would come near me. It truly was a sad moment.

At this point, I followed the calves and I headed back out to the middle section, where the dairy cows were being held. I walked back through the gate and gathered myself up. I quickly brushed my face with my hands and pushed the blood all around my cheeks, trying to look like less of an activist there to observe. I stood behind the gate and watched as the calves were then loaded up onto a stockyard truck. They were pushed and prodded. I watched as the one worker started to close a gate and it smacked into a little calf. His little body flew forward. I just wanted to go up to the man and tell him to be a little more compassionate, to have a little dignity for these animals that have created a livelihood for him, but I didn’t. I didn’t want it to have the opposite effect, and make it worse for the little calves.

One of my friends told me that she overheard a younger male worker talking to a young female who was there, he looked at the girl and said “You just have to know how to push them around”, he smiled, and she flirtatiously laughed back at him. This level of disconnect just stuns me. It seems to me that humans as a whole in our culture, seem to pride themselves on being intelligent, more intelligent than other beings, but then when I see things like this it really makes me wonder where this conclusion has come from. Might does not make right. We have the ability to understand compassion, dignity, respect, and love, yet we do not always implement these feelings into logic, reason, and connection.

After the calves were finished being loaded up, I turned to my side and looked in at the dairy cows. My eyes grazed over their bodies. They were covered in dirt and mud. Many of them had their bones sticking out, clearly they had been worked a lot and were tired of being there. I stared into their big beautiful eyes that were sunken low. One cow in particular kept bellowing out in distress. These cows were all going to auctioned off to slaughter, most being later in the day. These spent dairy cows are used in cheap meat products like pot pies, t.v. dinners, and school lunches. As for the calves that don’t get sold, there are people who wait till the end of the day and buy a bunch of them up for cheap, for bob veal.

I had seen enough by this point. I took one last look at the cows and wiped my eyes. I then turned around with my back to them and headed for the doorway. Walking out, I knew that I had just observed many many beings who were all going to be dead by the end of the day. I cannot begin to describe to you what that feels like. It is one of thee worst feelings I have ever felt in my life.

I walked back outside into the cool air as the misted clouds spit from above. The puddles jumped as little droplets from the sky. It shocked my system and froze the emotions on my face and in my skin. I got back into my car and took a deep breath as I looked ahead at the stockyards. I slowly started my car and pulled away, not looking back.