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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Friday, January 09, 2004
It started me to thinking yesterday about the ways things used to be and what I learned growing up on a family farm. The differences are extreme in many different ways.
I guess everybody already knows that I grew up in northern Arkansas in the edge of the Ozarks. Actually, calling what we had a "real working farm" would be a bit of a stretch, but we did manage to have enough to eat.
One cow, one pig, one chicken, meant a lot to us. One chicken meant the loss of an egg a day. A loss of a pig cost us the meat from that hog for the entire year. And a good dairy cow was irreplaceable. It cost too much to buy a full-grown cow.
Therefore, you took damn good care of the animals you had. You did everything you had to in order to make sure they not only survived, but thrived. You wanted them to be the healthiest beings on the property. The hunting dogs came next, then yourself. That's the way things were. At least, they were if you wanted to feed your family. That was natural.
I can proudly say that the last cow I milked was also the first cow I milked. She lived that long and produced that well. You want to know why? Because we took extremely good care of her, that's why.
I guess we kept about a dozen hens and a rooster. We had our cow. And, we got hogs sometimes. My uncle would go to the auction over at Logan County Stockyards on the edge of Booneville and get a couple of shoats (young just-weaned hogs). We would raise them up on vegetable scraps from the garden exclusively through the summer.
You see, he didn't believe in feeding them anything else, especially not meat or anything that had come in contact with meat. My grandmother was the same way. She also raised hogs that I helped her with. These are old-timers that came up through the Depression, scraping by and living the hard way. They learned things you don't get in a book or read in some scientific study. They looked at their own experiences and the ones of those around them.
They always said that you should never feed animals to other animals. The idea being that if you fed meat to a hog, it would make him sick and unfit for you to eat. I never questioned that. It was simply "the way things were." It wasn't natural.
They obviously knew what they were talking about because our animals were some of the healthiest in the county. Our old cow gave the most milk. She was bred naturally by a neighbor's bull, even though they were aware of using sperm and artifical insemination. In return, he got milk from us throughout the year. But, we also made sure that the calf she bore got its share as well. If she had twins and they needed all the milk, then that's what they got. We did without. That was also unquestioned because it was best for the animals. We only got what the calves didn't need. It was what was natural.
Every year we turned out the hogs into a 10-acre lot with a lot of oak trees on it in order to browse for acorns. They fed on natural food without chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics. That was also natural.
The humane treatment of the animals was also a major priority. Anything you did to abuse any animal would be done to you as a child in order for you to understand what it felt like to be that animal. We leaned very quickly that you never mistreated an animal for any reason whatsoever. We were taught that you respected that animal and the sacrifice it made for your survival. We were taught that it was bad enough that the animal was destined to die for us and that there was no reason or excuse for making it suffer any more than that.
We slaughtered our own. We understood as children what sort of sacrifice was being made for our continued survival. It was a rough life, but we learned a lot. That is why I was so horrified by what I saw when I entered the factory farming industry and saw how the business was run.
That wasn't farming at all. I have a hard time putting into words exactly how it made me feel. It was a shock, to say the least. It was so unnatural.
When I first started hearing all this about the mad cow thing and finding out what they were feeding those animals, it didn't surprise me that the animals were getting sick. What surprised me was that they would have thought of feeding that kind of stuff to them in the first place. And then expect them not to get sick. But, of course, they found out that they do get sick - a lot. Hence the antibiotics, hormones, genetic manipulation, and other nasty things they do. That is not natural.
When I hear someone defend their eating meat with the "but it's natural," this is what they are defending. This factory farming machine. And, it is not natural at all. It's not the pretty picture of a family farm. It's like apples and oranges - there is no comparison. They are that different.
When you go against Mother Nature, you are going to pay the price.
The price has already gotten too high for me. What price will everyone else decide is too high? And how many will it affect?
I've got a feeling that mad cow is just the beginning. The tip of the iceberg.
I'm even more worried about the other nasty things that brew in those cesspools of disease at these places.
The old-timers said when they first started seeing all these Tyson houses go up around here that people would live to regret the day that they started doing that kind of stuff. I heard that said quite a few times. Looks like they were right, huh? Grandpa always told me that people didn't get old by being stupid. So, I always listened because I figured he was right. I know that none of our family ever got sick from eating the animals we raised or hunted.
The reason I swore off meat and spoke was not because of what went on then on our family's farm, but because of what went on since, after I left it for the factory farming industry. They took what we had and just perverted it.
When I say "we" I mean the little guy. Some families made their living off their farms, selling eggs or other things to the stores and small slaughterhouses. They are still there in many of the small towns, right next to the auction yard. Before big companies, that's where you got your meat. Or the store did, and you bought it from there. Everything was local. The produce, too. You knew where it came from. And, people were healthier.
Perhaps we can't go back to that as much as we want, but I do think we can do much better than what we are currently doing. It is so short-sighted.
I'm worried about the "super-germs" that get into our food, our water, our soil, and our air - thus into our bodies. I'm worried about messing around with DNA. I'm worried about the belief that we can "play God" and get away with it.
I have said it before and I will say it again. We don't have the qualifications.
There is nothing natural (or maybe I should say Nature-al?) about factory farming. Period. It is not good for the animals, the environment, or us. We don't need to eat meat at all - in fact it makes us sick - sicker than ever before. It's not about survival anymore. We don't need it to survive.
It's simply greed run amok. And, if we are not careful, it could be our death.
It has gotten that serious.
It's time to WAKE UP! Restore the balance and harmony in Nature.
Before it is too late.