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.