I’ve been asked about this many times, and I’ve finally been prompted to write about it after I was asked again via Twitter.
So here goes. I’ve had many people say to me over the past few years ‘but how can you possibly love your lambs when all you’re going to do is kill them’. And I guess it’s a pretty valid question, because it does seem completely absurd. We get so excited to see what this year’s lambs will be like, and we take photos and we say how proud we are that they look good, and grow fast (‘fast’ being a few months, not weeks, as anti-farming organisations would have you believe!) and then we send them off. Either sell them live weight at market, or dead weight directly to the abattoir. But we all know what’s going to happen to them.
And I think the reason loading lambs to take to slaughter doesn’t affect the majority of us is because the inevitability is something we are used to. As a farmer, you don’t breed sheep, or any kind of livestock, because you want to keep every single one of them alive for as long as you can, otherwise there’d be no point in trying to farm. Of course you might keep the odd one, some farmers breed all their own stock, but they still have animals born that won’t fit with their desired flock or herd characteristics, and these animals will be sold. It’s just the way farming works, and I know it seems uncaring and harsh to a lot of people, but that’s why farming isn’t the right job for a lot of people.
I was asked specifically about the day the lambs leave, and to be honest, harsh as it may seem, it really isn’t that different to any other day in my opinion. When The Boss’ lambs go to market, we can spend nearly a whole day rounding them up, weighing them, drafting off the ones that are the right weight, tagging their ears with the electronic tags required and moving them to a separate field ready for loading in the morning to go to market. This can be done every week or every fortnight, depending on the amount of lambs you have and how far into the season it is.
It is a bit different with my own sheep, I’ll admit, because yes, I’m very proud of my lambs, and I don’t have many so I do ‘get to know them’, but farming is a business. And a lot of people forget that. Ultimately, I need my lambs to make a good price at market so I can keep expanding my business. So I can keep buying sheep, developing my blood lines, increasing the flock and buying new kit to make handling more sheep easier and quicker. It’s all part of the business.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I don’t think you can be any kind of livestock farmer without compassion and emotional investment in your animals. But emotional investment can come in different forms, and respect for your animals is crucial. Good farmers respect their animals, treat them with compassion, and give them the best life they can, while they can.
A good farmer has a lot of respect, appreciation for and pride in their stock, but a good farmer has to be a good business person too, and that involves selling your produce at the highest price you can. You can’t afford to be sentimental and keep animals that aren’t going to contribute something to your flock or herd. I think I’d be lying if I said that farmers get upset when their animals are sold, I think the most accurate way to describe it would be…indifferent? Maybe that’s too negative, but I’m struggling to find a word that describes the feeling of no feeling, without it sounding uncaring.
So this might not be the most helpful answer, or the answer that you all wanted, but what I’m trying to highlight is the inevitability of it all, no farmer ever expects to keep all the animals born on their farm, so there aren’t really any overwhelming emotions on the day when they are sold. I think the public see a lack of sentimentality as an example of how ‘cruel’ and ‘evil’ farming is, but those people don’t consider that farming is, at the end of the day, a business.