Many people struggle with their relationship to animals. On the one hand, people eat meat and have been throughout human history. On the other hand, there are loving and special bonds that can develop between people and animals. They need not be mutually exclusive. For the homestead, there are many ethical considerations that need to be addressed before bringing animals onto your homestead in order for you and your animals to live your best lives while together.
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Start Here: Reading Recommendations
There are many ways to look at our relationship to animals. Especially because it is not universal, there are other considerations such as the strong influence of culture, identity and history. In Hal Herzog’s book Some we love, some we hate and some we eat he presents the notions, particularly in American culture, in which we consider animals pests, pets or food. Even here in America, debates and disagreements are sparked over cock fighting, donating money to animal causes over human ones and the ethics of factory farming. This book presents a rather even sided approach to coming to terms with where you stand on the human-animal relationship continuum. Definitely worth a read.
One of my favorite books on the human-animal relationship is by Joel Salatin called Folks, this ain’t normal: A Farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people and a better world. In this book, Mr. Salatin speaks about how he converted their family farm to an earth-friendly, sustainable farm in which the animals could live out their lives in relative peace. At his farm, Polyface Farm, in Virginia, all of his animals get to experience the sunshine, weather, fresh grass while renewing the land at the same time. His argument is similar to many about meat animals: they have just one bad day.
Ethical Considerations of Keeping Animals
This is a list of several considerations you may need to take a look at before buying your first livestock (or any animal!).
One bad day
Many people in homesteading communities raise their own animals for meat or hunt for their meat (or both). For me, and people like me, they view the animals as having had their best lives. These animals live without too many restrictions, and they get to experience love, attention, care, etc. or live their lives out in nature. They only experience one bad day in which they are dispatched quickly with little or no noticeable pain or undue stress. They further the lives of others as well through adding to the diet of their caregivers.
Scholars have long debated about where pain and suffering fits into death and dying. The word “euthanasia” means “a good death”. Most people agree, that a decent way to leave the earth is free of pain and fear as quickly and quietly as possible. However, with most euthanasia performed at a vet office, there are chemicals involved and the medications are off limits to most people as they are controlled substances such as barbiturates. Given this, most farmers and all hunters, have other swift but different methods of taking a life in order to provide food for their family. The end goal being the same. Remember to consider the manner in which you plan to end their lives into consideration.
The ethics of factory farming
One of the most prominent arguments in favor of factory farming is the protection for the animals. For those that do own and operate commercial operations there are some serious benefits to consider. Including protection from predators, safety from the weather, fresh food and water and protection from the pecking order (or other social problems). In the case of commercial laying hens, they are only in a small metal box with a feeder and water in which they cannot stand, stretch, see sunshine, eat bugs or explore. For some people, this seems cruel. There is no pecking order if you cannot peck anyone.
One problem with this argument is that even if you have everything you could ever need and want, not having any freedom seems like an extreme exchange. One important problem with factory farming is the stark reality of massive numbers. In the wake of Hurricane Florrence, 1.7 million chickens died due to the extreme concentrations of animals in one area without any means of escape. Remember to consider their day-to-day lives including housing, companions and protection no matter what animals you bring home. Including the likelihood of natural disasters and contingency plans.
Inexperience and lack of knowledge
One of the most dangerous aspects of raising your own livestock is not doing your homework on that species. Most homesteaders highly recommend that you read everything you can get your hands. Further, they suggest you find someone who actually has experience with those animals to help guide you through the ups and downs of animal caretaking. I have been caring for animals for a living since I graduated from college for over 10 years. I also majored in Zoology and have been working with different primate species ever since. Because of this I am equipped to work with most primate species and have a basic working knowledge of general animal husbandry. Be sure to consider what education/experience you need in order to care for your animals.
Where does the environment fit in your human-animal relationship? If you, like many, also care to treat the earth in a way that aligns with your values and moral code, then you prefer to not remove more than put back. You aim to renew and regenerate as the natural order tends to do. Given this, then there are definitely issues with human objectives such as clearing land and protecting your animals from predators. Consider what impact your animals will have on your property and the surrounding animals and people.
Everyone loves chicken! Removing apex predators because they eat your livestock is an important issue. Definitely a constant struggle for many farmers is the predator-prey relationships. Because farmers are stewards of their animals, they often view predators as a pest to be eliminated. However, from the predator’s perspective, you have brought prey into their native habitat and then forbidden them from taking it. You will want to consider what predators may be in the area and how you plan to protect your animals. Some people balance this with good guard animals which protect their animals while not necessarily taking the lives of native animals.
Where do I fall?
Personally, I still struggle with the human-animal relationship for two main reasons. One, I did not grow up on a farm or hunting, though I eat meat. Two, I have had many pets, love them and cannot imagine ending their lives for food. We recently got our first chickens for laying eggs. When the day comes, I will have to decide whether they are worth the food I feed them if they are not laying. Or I may go ahead and make chicken stock. Either way, they get fresh grass everything, they see sunshine, experience rain and get to eat bugs. To me, this is superior than a commercial cage.
What are your thoughts?
In my past, I have worked with many different lab animals. From that experience I learned that the lines between using animals for what we need (medicine, etc.) and having animals as companions can be blurry. I have also known and spoken to many vegans and vegetarians about this issue. Many that have struggled with idea of taking a life. Where do you fall on the spectrum?
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