RainbowOne of the most frustrating aspects of trying to farm, and farm well, are the snide comments I get from people who know nothing about farming, but have lots of opinions anyway about how it should be done. These are often city people, but can also be people who live a “country lifestyle” but actually only keep a few animals as pets. Here are two annoying encounters from this week.

A Seattle Woman

Asks me what we raise lambs for. Meat. She asks, is it hard to kill them? I say, of course it is, but if I’m going to eat meat, I’d prefer it was grown and slaughtered under my supervision than having no knowledge or control over what goes on. Oh, she says. Then, well, I’m a vegetarian. I would never…

Her voice trails off, like she’s not exactly sure how to finish the sentence. I want to say, you would never what?? Eat eggs produced by battery hens housed in 12” boxes that are slaughtered after a year when their production goes down? Support an industry that grinds male baby chicks alive for dog food as day-olds, because America has no use for male laying chickens? Never drink milk produced by cows that spend 24/7 indoors on concrete, waiting in line to be milked three times a day? Supporting another an industry where the male animals have no value and are treated as such? Never eat a fish that was bashed on the head or gasped its last breath, suffocating on a boat deck? Never wear cowhide or wool? Never sleep under a down quilt? Never wear makeup?

I dunno, it’s never clear to me how anyone can let themselves off the hook on the animal slaughter issue. I think they are only fooling themselves, because pretty much all of us depend on animal products every day in our lifestyles and lives. And that means we are all creating demand for animal slaughter and its byproducts. Yes, it’s true, humans exploit animals for their own gain. Let’s just say that out loud. But, in fact, I don’t say anything at all. I let it go. I’ve learned that most people don’t really want to think about this inescapable truth. It upsets the very foundations of their moral systems, and that’s not what people are looking for when chatting at the water cooler. Winking smile

SnapdragonA Driver-By

Because our farm is so visible, and I am often working in the pasture near the road, we get the passers-by who like to make comments. Honestly, the large majority of them are positive- people complimenting the quality of our animals, or asking genuine questions because they are interested in learning about them. But because of the small majority of snide comment people, I always cringe when someone slows or stops, and interrupts my work by shouting at me over the traffic noise.

Last night a lady in a big, gas guzzling SUV stopped. She said something like are you people ever going to get a barn for your animals? Just the way she said it, it seemed loaded with negative implications. Like, why do we have this big, new barn and the sheep aren’t in it?

No, I tell her, these are meat sheep, they are bred for and expected to be hardy to the outdoors. She asks, don’t they get cold? No, I patiently explain, for the millionth time, they have very thick wool. These sheep can thrive and lamb even in the coldest climate states, and by comparison, it’s pretty balmy here.

Oh, she says. And drives off. I suspect I did not satisfy her and she, too, thinks I’m awful.

But Wait…

I wish there were more time to explain. I dread that people think I’m awful and that it’s probably just because they are misinformed or in denial. I already spend way too much putting down straw bedding to give the sheep an attempted mud-free area in this very difficult spring season we’re having . Right now, that costs about $40 a week. Since lambs each make about $50-100, you can see how quickly that erodes any ability to even break even on them. It kills me throwing those meager profits onto the ground. If I let the sheep hang out in a barn 24/7 at their leisure, I would probably quadruple that bedding cost, and add to it the labor of weekly shoveling and compost management. I would love to give the sheep luxury living. But the resulting lamb would be so expensive, nobody would buy it.

So, it seems, the consumer wants their cake and eat it too. They want affordable meat. But they want it to be raised like it was a house pet, and they really don’t like the idea of it dying. Winking smile Or, they don’t want to know how it was raised at all, and are offended when they have to see it, because it confronts them with conflicting truths. They sure put us in a bind: how do we walk in both worlds? It’s just not possible. The answer needs to be somewhere in the middle: not a concrete feedlot with 10,000 head, out of sight of the consumer, but not a palace either. We need to be able to raise reasonably affordable meat that’s cared for reasonably.


Misery Meter

The sheep are OK. Sure, they would enjoy a sheltered barn, with pristine bedding. But they don’t require it. And if they had it, you’d still seem them out grazing in the pouring rain often enough, because they are mostly indifferent to it.

I think many people are just so unfamiliar with livestock up-close, that they don’t realize how insulating that wool is. That even in the worst downpour, the sheep never get wet at the skin. In cold weather, the frost that forms on their hair tips indicates that their bodies are so insulated, heat never reaches their exterior enough to melt ice. And ruminants, being the big fermentation vats that they are, generate a lot of internal heat just from digestion.

So, a sheep’s experience is just different from ours. Just because we would be terribly uncomfortable living like livestock, our monogastric selves with our naked skin, doesn’t necessarily mean they are. I see several farms just on our road alone that house their animals the same way: there are three fields of cows, one with horses, and one with llamas- all with no apparent shelter. I wonder if these Nosey Parkers stop and hassle all the owners, or just me because I’m convenient to holler at while I’m outside taking care of my animals?

Add it to the list of the non-glamorous sides to farming. Mortality rate, predation, mud, huge risk, meager profits, and hard, hard work. Plus eco-terrorists, pet owners and holier-than-thou vegetarians. Winking smileGood thing that lambs are coming, to remind me why I like to do this!