I am the betrayer.
I am the one entrusted with their happiness.
I am the one that brings them in every day, knowing that one day I will not let them out.
I know that day will come, and that it will be unpleasant, and that I will feel bad.
But I will be the betrayer nonetheless. And I will get over it, won't I? Do I quit, do something else, try less, would I be any the happier? What salve will I spread to make it better within me?
The line I draw is so much farther out than - almost every other's - yet I feel far worse where I'm at than any of them do. They know the circumstance as I do, and they never question it. Because to question it is to be inconvenienced, to feel bad, to have something taken away from you by giving to another...thing.
But I don't deal with things here, I deal with creatures that live, and feel pain, and feel my betrayal. Are they clear on that betrayal, that it is me that does it - no, I don't believe they do, and that is all the worse. I think they wonder of me, where is my baby? Where is my mother? Won't you help me? No, I'm the one that separated you. I am the betrayer. And I feel really really bad, but I'm not going to do anything about it.
Or am I?
I've been thinking about it for two years now. I know what I want to try. Yet, in my needs, I've put them below everything else, because I have done nothing more than think about it.
I do not believe they are 'little furry humans', yet, they share the same reaction of mother and child torn apart. They cry out to each other. Is it better they hear each other? Is it better that way, that that little life's voice after about three days becomes a squeak, unheard by the mother. What does she think has happened then? Have I killed her baby? So was it any better to have allowed this deep bond to form, then tear them apart, than to have whisked the calf away at the very beginning; nothing ventured.
So here I sit - amoungst the plaintive mooing of those mothers for their babies, and I think these thoughts. Yet - what will I do, what is better. Can I do more?
There are two things going on with weaning. The separation from mother, and the change in diet from milk to none. We've upped the time mom and calf are together to between 10-12 weeks from what was 8 weeks. The calves do far better; they are incredible.Yet by about 8 weeks - and now from 8 weeks until weaning, we get little milk for us, and it is quite a lot of milk, the peak of their lactation.
Yet this time right now is torture - to ME, but this isn't about me and my pain - because I'm the one causing it. Yet it doesn't work any other way. This isn't a zoo, we don't charge admission to see a fantasy in a fake world out of a storybook. The reality is that the boys will be meat in 2 years, the girls will enter the milk line at 3, and repeat the cycle again.
The vegan reading this will say, keep going, Scott, we'll get you yet - and maybe you will. I don't feel, like other farmers with meat animals, that they are the enemy. I do respect them living their beliefs; it is a sacrifice, and I do see their point. Yet, we do give the best life possible, but it is not a natural length life. I am the betrayer there too, for my own good.
Yet there is a balance. We do what we can. And I am thinking for the future, how do make what life they have the better. Will I do that if I think of myself as something other than the betrayer? Probably not. I'll just say, that's the way it is. But I can't. Which means I must try harder. I don't want to feel bad. I will always feel bad at this time because I do care, I do love these beautiful creatures, I don't ever want to not feel bad because then if I don't have that connection - I will justify poorer treatment. I will slide to where that CAFO farm is, to where that big Company president is, you are all just here and so much fodder for my needs. Give you the minimum and consider myself quite the clever - businessman - farmer - person. No, I can't do that, there isn't an amount of money that could buy enough pleasures to make that itch in my soul go away.
So what will I do with this terrible feeling, about this situation? How can the betrayer betray less? We will never take the baby away from the mother at birth. We cannot do that job better. That pleasure they have together, that beauty, well then, am I being selfish? I enjoy it. It is a convenience for me. Yet it works so very well, and other 'selfishnesses' are thrown out; sickness, isolation, lack of socialization that are the norm for calf raising, all in order to harvest mother's milk - that is valuable - the calf - and it's happiness - way down there. Yet, who's deluding who in what costs what? We never lose a calf. They are big, growthy calves that do fantastic. I don't believe that cows milk is all mine - it's the calves, and I participate in this to my profit, I have created that situation. Others must exploit a lot more. A lot more death. More labor, cheap as it is, if you add it all up over the long term: I bet you bottom dollar even if I cared dollar for dollar, I am in there competitive. But happiness? I WIN hands down. And that my friends, is what LIFE is all about. You be rich (in farming, ha ha ha IDIOT), and I'll be happy. You be the last generation and out, and I'll start a farming legacy that will go on for centuries. DEAL.
We will get beyond this painful part, and the calves will do great, the mothers will get back to contentment.
But I do take this time - and this pain - and consider what can I do for the future to make this time less painful. Yes, to me, too. Maybe especially to me; delude myself.
The two things going on: The physical separation and the change in diet: they are two stressors I am loading up on these calves. I ordinarily say - I get one. Add a 2nd, and you are asking for heartache. Lump weather stress on top, and you better place your bets on trouble.
How can this be accomplished, separating these two things? I really would like to keep 'the herd' together. The herd has a personality all it's own, just like a group of people together that's been together has individual personalities, and a group dynamic. With bovines, it is intrinsic to their nature.
I want to preserve the herd if I can; it will mean far less stress. We have a really really low stress environment as it is, we do not shuffle animals from one group to another, forcing re-alignment of dominance, which can involve fighting and 'bad behavior' towards weaker animals. Can I find a way to keep the calves with the cows, as a herd, as long as they live?
There are issues with doing that. We keep the bull - an important part of the herd I tell you - with the herd as long as possible. Young calves will start to show heats as early as 6 months. You do not want even a year old heifer to be bred and be a 'teenage' mother. So that doesn't work, exactly.
As far as the weaning of the calf, though. A nose ring - to keep the calf from mom's udder, because as the calf tries to suck, the nose ring pokes mom's utter, she kicks the calf away. Yet they can still physically be together. The problem is in keeping a very persistent calf from hurting mom (less likely) or more likely, getting that nose ring off, and then we start the process all over again.
What about the separation? Complete? Whisked away - completely gone, or let them hear each other in that separation. We keep them from seeing each other, but do allow some amount of voice contact. They're out there, they just don't know how far away. If the cow thought they were just over there, yes, they would break out every time I think. Our situation is that we rely on polywire string, charged with electricity, to keep them in. It really isn't much of a barrier, and if they wanted to, could be out at just about any time, but don't, with our lack of stress and our providing everything they need.
I have no idea who will read this, I do not care what the conventional people - actions unexamined for 50 plus years - as to what the animals want, anyway, just what they want - think about this, and I'm sure will think what an incredible pansy I am for feeling really, really bad. But then again, they're also the ones that buy and sell animals, see them die long before their time, exploit them, mutilate them, keep them from their natural nature - and they convince themselves that that's just business as usual. And they wonder why they aren't that truly happy, and aren't being treated very well either. Well, I'll take my pansy pain and anguish over their...whatever you want to think it is. I will progress, I will do better - and I'll never arrive at a point that says I've done enough. All I will allow myself is to say, I've done all I can for now with what I can do, and that will have to be enough.
Big Proud Pansy of a Wisconsin dairymen - still -