Are We Brave Enough to Love?


Tags: farming,

Baby donkeyI came home one day to find five sheep dead, piled in a corner of their shed. It took me a couple of hours to dig a hole big enough to hold the carcasses. Two days later I found six more in the same spot. Five were dead, one moved when I touched her. I pulled her out of the pile and she staggered away to recover.

This was my worst moment in farming.

I stayed home for a day to watch for the cause of the carnage. I was pretty sure I knew the culprits. Sure enough, mid-morning, about an hour after I would normally have left for work, our three border collies crawled under a fence, rounded up the sheep and brought them into the pen, crowding them into a corner of the shed. We discourage the dogs from working sheep by themselves, but a certain amount of self-study is good for a sheepdog. They teach themselves by practicing. In moderation, it is a productive exercise.

If a border collie is not fascinated by livestock, they don’t make good stock dogs. They learn to move the herds and flocks because they love to move them.

The two older dogs mostly stayed back, moving this way and that to watch the way the clump of sheep moved in response to them. The youngest dog, Chico, was a pup, about five months old, and he was much more aggressive than his parents. He darted into the flock and nipped the sheep. He barked and ran at them. I went out and called the dogs off. Then I brought Chico inside and started looking for someone who wanted a free border collie.

Sheep dread physical contact with a predator. To the sheep, almost nothing is more upsetting. As Chico goaded and harassed the ewes, they would have packed themselves more and more tightly into the corner of the shed until they knocked each other down and climbed over the fallen. Eventually those on the bottom died of suffocation or panic.

Sara Mason
12/31/2009 10:34:20 AM

That is so nicely written. I know my personality would never be compatible with farming. I'd become too attached to the animals. I'd be sad if they died for any reason and I know I would not be able to process them for food.

Geoff Taylor
11/11/2009 1:13:54 AM

This essay is going to give me hours of unbroken thought. Thank you for writing it. It touches on the numinous in the Beauty Way.

Elizabeth Stevens_1
11/2/2009 3:06:14 PM

Bryan, Thanks for being brave enough to love, and to share your experiences, successes and failures, and emotions. Now THAT'S bravery! A scene in the film "Cold Mountain" epitomizes the simultaneous pain and joy of raising livestock with one's eyes wide open. A character -- a mountain woman who is visited by a starving passerby -- surveys her herd of goats; a herd that she loves and knows by name. She singles one out, draws it close, praises it as a good goat -- and slits its throat. Many viewers found this scene traumatizing; I found it to be very hard to watch but ultimately more profound and memorable than anything else in the film. This woman, who raised goats for milk, sacrificed one so that she could give its protein to a hungry human. It wasn't an easy thing for her, but neither was it unthinkable. It was done with exquisite mindfulness, which I believe is what your blog is all about. If we cannot regard livestock as animals worthy of love, names and a decent life, we should perhaps take a closer look at ourselves. If we must distance ourselves from our own actions -- avoid/deny/rationalize/disguise/farm-out the treatment that we subject livestock to -- I suspect that we must either give up our carnivorous practices entirely or change them to practices that we can "own" with good conscience. I hope this blog will appear in the print magazine, and that you'll start a discussion about "unsentimental love" which, I believe, is something called "respect.

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