Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
29 August 1999 Issue

By Onion, [email protected]

While working as an intern at Farm Sanctuary in the fall of 1997, I had several opportunities to visit a stockyard. They are noisy, smelly buildings, but I was excited about going because I would finally see what I used to contribute to as a meat eater. And I could use this experience to educate others.

The first stockyard I went to was located in Upstate New York. I went with two other interns. We stopped off at a burger joint before pulling in to the stockyards and bought some soda and some fries. After eating, we put the camera into the empty fast food bag. Our "disguise" complete, we went to the 'yards. It was a small building, smaller than I'd expected. We strolled around the grounds in front where people were selling just about anything they could get their hands on, it seemed. One of the interns even bought an old water pump, to "blend in," so to speak. In case we were questioned, we had a story: My friends were getting married (I was their cousin from Chicago who'd "never seen a stockyard before!"), and wanted to buy a goat to "chew down the brambles in the yard." We walked in and asked someone where the goats were being sold, only to be told the goats weren't going to be there until a few days later. We got a lot of strange looks from the people there, so we felt it best to just leave. We walked around a bit longer, looking for a downer pile. The most we saw was a few trucks pull in with calves in the back. The mission was a failure.

I'd say about a month later, the intern coordinator told us she was taking us to another stockyard. I had more confidence in this mission, as she was experienced in these matters, having gone to stockyards on numerous occasions. This time it was me, four other interns, and the intern coordinator. I had no idea what I was in for, but I knew it wasn't going to be good.

After arriving at the stockyard, we sat in on an auction. They were selling everything from dolls to bubble gum. We got tired of that, so we made our way to the calf auction. I sat down in chairs about three our four feet away from a fence. Behind that we could see dozens of small, frightened calves. When the auction started, an old man in back would strike the calves with a thick pole to get them moving. Two other men in the "viewing area" would scare the calf back and forth so we could get a good look at them. Every now and then a farmer would signal, and one of the men would smash the calf up against the fence. The farmer would reach through and feel the calf's underside.

After a calf was "done," it was prodded off to the side and led through a door leading to rows of holding pens. If a calf was confused or so frightened that it ran away, it was shocked with an electric cattle prod. The old man in the back would yell and bash the calves in the ribs or head to get them to stand up and move. They weren't treated like living, feeling beings.

The worst part was when a crippled calf was beaten into the viewing area. His front legs were damaged somehow so that he couldn't walk on his hooves. Rather, he stumbled forward on his "ankles." They showed no mercy. The farmer next to me laughed and shouted, "Throw him onto the pile!" The calf looked around wildly, and caught my eye. Broken is the only word I can use to describe what I saw looking back at me. Then he was kicked and prodded through the door, where he collapsed outside a stall. A man yelled and kicked him until he managed to drag himself into a pen. It took everything I had to restrain myself.

After the calf auction, we wandered around, looking for a down pile or any sick/injured animals laying around. We saw half a dozen pigs in one holding pen, and one of them was bleeding out of his rectum. We asked a man what was wrong with the pig and he said, "Oh, he's got a ruptured anus. Most the animals in these pens have something wrong with them, but they'll be sold for food anyway." Another pig had a bloody stump where his tail used to be. I can't imagine the pain these animals were feeling.

We never found any downed animals that day, and I left feeling defeated. Although I haven't eaten meat in eight years and dairy in four years, I'm glad I finally went to see where meat really comes from. I saw the faces behind the food I used to eat. And when someone asks me why I bother, I remember that crippled calf. And there's not a doubt in my mind I'm doing the right thing. This is forever.

Go on to Introduction to Vegetarianism
Return to August 29 1999 Issue
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