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Cattle Ranching: A Life of Denial and Contradiction

Because I haven’t deconstructed an article in a while, I was especially please to see"On Snowbound Plains, Grim Fight to Save Calves," by Kirk Johnson in this morning’s New York Times. The premise is: Due to blizzards and unusually cold weather, calving season has been very difficult for both man and beast.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • On the Butler ranch, 25 calves have already died (they "lay frozen and twisted"). Butler has "lost" one calf of every six this year, which is 3x the average rate. In case you don’t know, calving season is when calves are born–to be taken away from their mothers to become veal calves or milk machines, and either way their lives will end in slaughter. Some will get sent elsewhere to be fattened for slaughter and become what is known as "beef."
  • More than 3,000 adult animals have died in Colorado alone, this winter ("and ranchers say many more remain uncounted, buried under drifts four feet to six feet deep").
  • "[T]he birth cycle on the ranch exposes tangled emotions and ambivalent impulses that go far beyond the elements. Ranch owners see profit in their animals, but being human, they mostly also cannot resist the bonds that form, and the instinct to preserve life." Yeah, they want to preserve life so they can fatten life and slaughter said life and profit from said life.
  • "The trouble with No. 207, however, was not the result of maternal failure. She licked the baby fiercely and protected it so that a pitchfork had to be waved in her face to force her away before Mr. Butler could seize the calf and run for his truck with it in his arms." Imagine that, the mother didn’t want to give up her baby.
  • “We’re in it for the money, that’s the biggest impact,” said Butler. “But I’m attached to the animals too, and I do everything I can to try to keep them, and it’s really disheartening to see them dead. I love to see them born, and get up — it’s just a different feeling.” I wouldn’t want to spend five seconds in Butler’s head. The level of cognitive dissonance is frightening.

The article is accompanied by a slideshow that includes a photo of a small child walking around inside a shed full of mangled, frozen calves. Nothing like teaching compassion from an early age, eh? I hope at some point her parent said:

"Sweetie, this is what we do: We bring cows into the world to take them from their mommies to use them to the point of exhaustion or chain them to a box and malnourish them, pump them with antibiotics so they stay alive until we decide their going to die, then we slaughter them and collect some money for our troubles."

Such is the life of the cattle rancher.

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