Stockyard Virgin Deflowered
By Jeff Lydon
It was my first visit to a stockyard. My whole body
was clenched, so I tried to borrow some calm from my seasoned guide,
Gene Bauston, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary and veteran of countless
investigations. I expected a profound experience, something worth chronicling.
Once inside: nothing; my heart gone comatose. I sat in a bleacher with
a dozen bidders as the auctioneers mad babble droned like loud
speakers in a Third World train station. The buyers nods, signals
for a bid, reminded me of the auto auctions Id worked as a teenager.
But it was not cars these men were buying. It was calves. Gene admitted
to having grown a bit jaded to the process, perhaps an inevitable and
useful reaction to his work. This was my first time. Why did I feel
as if my mind was on Novocain?
On the auction floor, a burly guy whipped the calves one at a time from
a corral on the left into the central viewing area where their weights
were announced. Another man, this one bald and armed with a heavy walking
cane, poked them into an about-face so bidders could assess the inventory
from all sides. Then he caned the calves into a corral on the right.
Each calf was present for about 20 seconds. They teetered on spindly
legs new to walking, nearly tripping over still-bloody umbilical cords.
They were veal calves, all destined for slaughter within months. I
in their wet eyes wonder and innocenceand fearand still
I felt nothing.
It was tidy, orderly, efficient, mechanistic.
At one point, the bald stockman left his cane in the exit corral. Rather
than disrupt the line to retrieve it, he improvised, luring the calf
away from the viewing pit with an outstretched index finger. Taken
his mothers breast so soon after birth, the calf followed the
Maybe it was the betrayal, a man holding forth the promise of mothers
milk to trick a child into another step toward death. Or was it the
symbol of what this animal, only days into the world, had already lost?
Whatever kindled the spark, my insulation burned to ash in an instant.
From a cloud of numb denial, thunder pulsed up my spine and echoed
But there would be no lightning. I sat and watched a hundred calves
marched to veal cratesoff to transport, and ultimately death.
And I only watched. There were no downers that day, at least none that
I saw. Ironically, in illness we find their one chance of escaping
life that is nasty, brutish, and short. Farm Sanctuary could only rescue
a downed animal, someone so sick that he or she can no longer walk
the stockyard operators yielded an unlikely degree of cooperation).
I replayed the names of cows rescued from stockyards that Id come
to know at the sanctuaryOpie, Larry, Penelope. Had they been healthy
at bidding time, some would have been someones dinner long ago.
Certainly, none of the calves at this auction would ever have a name.
That obvious realization sent me back to a dirt road in Vermont I once
walked. I stopped at a fenced pasture where a pig lived and the farmer,
noting my interest, told me I could pet the pig. He called the pig and
she responded like a dog, trotting over with snorted greetings and maneuvering
into a good position for a neck scratch. I asked what her name was.
The farmer stammered, "Oh, I dont name the pigs. I couldnt
name a pig. If I named a pig, I just couldnt do it."
He looked up for a second. Yes, there was shame in his eyes, an acknowledgment
of sin. He didnt want to say what "it" meant and I didnt
have to ask. He knew. He understood what he was doing. Even those who
make their living by killing animals can, sometimes, recognize the individualitythe
beingnessof those animals.
Gene tells the story of a chicken among thousands of others loaded onto
a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Somehow, this chicken freed herself
from the mass of doomed animals, flitted to the earth, and began scratching
around on the ground. One of the chicken farmers started to feed the
chicken, joking about how her heart was getting too soft. But she spared
a single chicken and that hen became a pet. Separated from the flock,
the chicken changed from a poultry product into a bird in the time it
takes to fall off a truck.
At Farm Sanctuary, theres a young cow named Precious, born blind.
The farm family raising Precious had to separate her from the heard.
After bottle feeding her for a time, the farmers couldnt bear
to sentence their "Precious" to servitude, confinement, and
ultimately slaughter, so now shes at the sanctuary.
Still, the two Farm Sanctuary sites, East and West, care for around
one thousand animals, a dew drop in the holocaust of nine billion animals
butchered every year in the United States Those rescued animals beat
even tougher odds than did the Jews on Schindlers list. Of course,
Oskar Schindler knew their names, not their numbers.
Jeff Lydon is an animal rights activist living in
the countryside near Ithaca, NY with his wife, Sarah, and their companion
wolf/dog, Quinn. He teaches writing and rhetoric at Elmira College.