This morning, as I walked past the field gate on my dog walk I came across a distressing scene. The bullocks are now grown big enough to go to market. The gate was open, the cattle truck was waiting, ramp erected, and the animals had been herded into an enclosure. Some of the beasts were already loaded, and fidgeted, cramped in the front of the truck, but those still in the field were clearly frightened. I saw the farmer beating one with a stick. It twisted and lunged in an attempt to escape, but he drove it on towards the ramp where it stumbled up into the truck. I couldn’t watch any more. The rest of the day has been clouded with sadness for all helpless creatures.
I’ve known people say we should have compassion for humans above animals, as if there’s a kind of hierarchy. But kindness is kindness, whether towards animal or human. It makes this troubled world more tolerable. I remember a vet telling me about the lonely men he sometimes met as he worked, who felt kindness and affection only for their dog. Better to feel it for something than not at all, he said.
I know farming is essential. What could be more important to us than the production of our food? We keep our animals safe from harm, we feed them, and they in turn provide us with food and wool and skin. They also maintain our English landscape, keeping it from becoming wasteland. It seems a fair enough exchange if the animals are treated properly. I come from a family of farmers; a grandfather who farmed in the old way, planting by the moon, an uncle who dismissed the old ways for the use of chemicals. But despite their disagreements they both had huge respect for their animals. Animals are not prisoners, or freight. They shouldn’t be force fed in cages or pens and never see the light of day. They shouldn’t be put into containers and shipped across the ocean for days before meeting a terrifying end – whatever the trade deal. They deserve to be treated with kindness, even as they go to slaughter – there must be ways of making the whole process as stress free as possible? If we eat meat (and it would be better in so many ways if we ate less of it), we should pay a good price for it, knowing the animal has been well cared for. We are a rich country and we can’t make poverty an excuse for lack of compassion or cruelty. We can’t do without our animals. Their lives are a great gift to us.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.