Guest Post: My Experience as a Farmer and Why I've Decided to Go Vegan
Before I began my fellowship here at Adamah, I was beginning to make the transition to veganism. I have been a vegetarian for almost 7 years and decided that if I truly was against animal cruelty then I needed to not consume dairy and eggs anymore. When I was awarded the fellowship at Adamah, I knew that animal husbandry would be a part of the program but I didn't really know what that meant until I came here. Moreover, I did not expect it to have such an impact on my final decision to go vegan.
Part of my job here is to take care of the animals on our pasture, which requires me to milk the goats and collect the eggs from the hens. I knew that I would be doing such chores before I signed up for the program and figured that the only way to see my true reaction to participating in such acts would be to try it out. Though our animals are very well cared for, in the sense that they have plenty of good organic food and lots of space to graze, I have been troubled by several things.
For one, I find it very odd that we drink another animal's milk. Though I have been consuming dairy for almost my entire life, it seems completely unnatural to drink another animal's milk. This really hit home when I had my hand on the teat of a goat named Angie and squeezed out milk, which went into the jar that I then brought back to the house for my fellows to drink. How would we feel if another species latched onto our breasts to take milk? I don't think nature intended us to do this; in fact, no other species does this except for humans. After going through the whole milking process once, I have not been able to consume any of the goat's milk.
Secondly, I have witnessed the weaning of several of the kids from their mothers. There is a tradition here that we, as a group, walk the kids up to a separate pasture the day that they are weaned. It's some sort of bizarre "rite of passage" here that I decided not to be a part of as soon as I heard of it. I felt that it was morally wrong to inflict such emotional pain on these animals that I care for so deeply. The after-effects of the weaning were obvious to me: when I visited Una, one of the kids that I had formed a strong bond with, she seemed unlike herself; very distant and not nearly as affectionate. Another kid, Dina, was reunited with her mother as a means to cheer her up since she had fallen ill. Mother and child had been separated for almost a month, and I witnessed Dina diving for her mother's teat several times, which was proof to me that she had been taken away from her mother at too young of an age, and all for the benefit of the fellows. As I have learned, when you wean a kid away from his/her mother, the milk production sky-rockets as there is no baby "stealing" some of "our" milk. Another important observation that I must mention is that by the time the fellows come to milk the goats (once in the AM and once in the PM), the mother's teats are so full because they do not have their kid to relieve them. Their udders seem like they are about to burst, and I cannot imagine the pain they must be in.
Thirdly, I have participated in the collection of eggs from our hens, which from day one has also felt very strange to me. I come into the chicken coop, feed the hens, and take their eggs as they are eating. I feel like I am stealing their unborn babies. As you can imagine, I feel incredibly guilty doing this. My good friend Jeanette, who is vegan, has decided to abstain from participating in this as well as the milking, but I have not because I feel like I may be the only one here who treats them as animals worthy of attention and love. Though I hate taking their eggs, I feel good greeting them in the morning and talking to them as I fill their buckets with food and water. I'm not so sure my other fellows take the time to do this.
When I think about how the animals on my pasture live, I can only imagine how much worse the living conditions on factory farms are. We may not be killing these animals (though in some ways we do indirectly—male kids on dairy farms are often sold to slaughterhouses because they are deemed "useless"), but there is absolutely no justifiable reason why we should be exploiting them. During these past two months, I have thought a great deal about the concept of tsa'ar ba'alei chayim (suffering to animals) and the countless times that the importance of having compassion for God's creatures is mentioned in the Torah. Between that and my interaction with the animals here, I cannot think of a better reason to become vegan.