15 Feb Bovines Used For Their Flesh
Cows* have complex social lives; like humans, they’re picky over who gets to be their friend, they have best friends, with whom they experience separation anxiety, they hold grudges with those they dislike, and they have social hierarchies. Herd leaders are established by who is most intelligent, confident, and inquisitive. Cows have close family bonds, and babies naturally suckle their mother for up to a year of age. Cows stress and mourn the separation of family members, especially the separation of mother and child. Calves are playful and cheeky, they play fight together, wagging their tails like dogs so the adult cows know their ‘hustles’ are just for fun.
Cows are individuals and when testing their responses to different stimuli this is very clear. Some are timid, some are boisterous, and I see this in the cows I have rescued and the friends that they live with. I’ve seen them flirt, be sneaky, be nervous. I’ve seen them exclude certain members of the herd and run off with their best friend, just like you might in a school playground. I’ve seen them as the loving, complex, funny, feeling, sentient beings that they are. The below image is of a cow I rescued called Elira, right before she gave me a big slobbery kiss. If she had not been rescued, in under a month she was going to be chopped up and eaten.
This article is about the flesh of cows that gets packaged up and labeled as a ‘food’ called ‘meat’. About beef. About meatballs, about mince, sausages, steak, and even veal. About an industry that kills these beautiful animals, so that we could mindlessly consume them.
Beef is flesh. By the time it gets to us, that’s sometimes forgotten. We don’t meet and pet these cows, we don’t see them being killed, being skinned, being sawn apart, chopped into pieces. We just see the pieces of ‘meat’ on shelves in supermarkets and butchers stores. Or we see it straight on our plate. Even when cows flesh is so clearly flesh, like in the case of ‘steak’ – by even naming it that – we keep our minds so far away from the victim of that product, of who’s flesh we are eating.
The first and most important message to put forward is that there is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die. Someone can be so different to us as humans, in their ability to express themselves in a way we understand, in their cognitive abilities, in the way they live, only one similarity matters. We all feel. We all feel the warmth of love and affection, and the cold of fear and pain. Many people are against animal cruelty and violence against animals, yet seem to forget that the most violent thing we can do to someone, is kill them.
There is no humane way to kill someone, just as there is no humane way to buy a piece of someone’s body for a few dollars. We would accept this if we were talking about dogs or cats, but in the Western World we are culturally conditioned to see these animals as somehow different to others, like cows.
We are in a world that ignores this simple truth, we are in a world where killing animals like cows and eating them is normal. So let us go into some more depth, what all of this really entails.
At the start of a cow’s life, he or she is subjected to torture. This torture is completely legal and supported under Australian ‘codes of practice’. In Australia, we can lawfully castrate, dehorn, and brand cows with burning metal, without any pain relief.[i]Imagine having your flesh burnt, your skin cut open and your testicles cut out, your fingers cut off (fingers have a similar amount of nerves as horns, as they are connected to a cow’s sinuses, skin
All of this torture is done in the name of ‘easy farming’. It’s simply easier for a farmer to not go to the trouble and financial cost of providing pain relief. It’s less effort if you don’t need to deal with horns getting in the way as they try to herd animals to their death.
The majority of cows in Australia are also kept on large farms and stations. This may seem more ethical than factory farming, but these large farms mean that cows are infrequently monitored, and so any injuries and sickness can go untreated, unnoticed, uncared for, for long periods.
A perfect example of this is Yowie. Yowie was found in a big field, his eye hanging out of his face. He was rescued from this farm, where he had been neglected. I think of Yowie often when I am in the Victorian countryside. My family has a holiday house just out of Castlemaine, and sometimes I go on big walks that take me through other people’s land at certain points. It is common for me to see decomposing cow bodies on these walks, despite farms being no more than 100 acres up there.
While farms up in that part of Victoria are smaller, many of the cows farmed in Australia are on enormous stations, where they are mustered from over 10km away. This is exhausting for the cows, and subjects them to dehydration over heating and stress. Mustered into holding pens only once or twice a year, In Australia, according to industry reports, 9% of steers (castrated bulls) and 6% of heifers die before the slaughter, likely from long and painful deaths. If Yowie had not been found, and his eye not been seen to, the bacteria and flies that had been eating at his wound would have likely diseased, and over time, painfully killed him.
to the RSPCA (an ‘animal welfare’ organization who make regular attempts to
justify the killing of animals) a humane killing is the ‘death of an animal without pain, suffering or distress’, and ‘instant
unconsciousness followed by rapid death before regaining consciousness’.[i]
Almost every piece of beef, is from the body of a cow who was trucked off to a slaughterhouse, as on site killing is incredibly rare. In Australia it is legal not to give food or water to cows in transit to slaughter, in fact it is industry standard. Imagine being in a truck packed full of other frightened beings, it could be a boiling hot day, and you have no food or water. This is not ‘without distress’, even before arrival at the slaughterhouse.
‘Humane killing’ of cows involves the use of a captive bolt to the head. Done correctly, a captive bolt goes straight through a cow’s brain, instantly stunning him or her. However, for this to occur, a specific part of the head must be shot, and slaughterhouse workers do not need to have any anatomical knowledge.
Researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences looked into the efficiency of captive bolt stunning at a commercial Swedish abattoir. [iii]A total of 998 cattle were observed during a ‘normal day’ at the abattoir for five consecutive days. The facility monitored during the study processes, on average, 200 cattle a day, 30 animals an hour. Scientists evaluated stunning procedures in terms of adequacy and
Please spend just 7 minutes to see what this means for the cows. This footage captured in an Australian slaughterhouse demonstrates this very experience for repeated failed stunning attempts and semi-conscious slaughtered cows
Confirming some results of previous research, bulls displayed inadequate stunning symptoms three times more frequently than other cattle. 445,000 cattle annually slaughtered in the small country of Sweden are male. In Australia we kill 8 million cattle annually. If this study were to be generalized, that would be an enormous amount of cows having their throats slit open while semi conscious.
After closely observing the skulls of the killed cows, researchers found that in total, 10.4% of cows who were shot accurately were still stunned inadequately. Of those cattle shot inaccurately (not shot in the correct part of the head), 35% showed signs of inadequate stunning.
14 bulls were shot more than three times before slaughter. Calves were exposed most frequently to inaccurate shots (14%). The researchers deemed that poor stun gun servicing and limited shooter experience were to blame for this. Scientists noted that ‘the least experienced shooter…seemed fearful of the cattle, often hesitating just before shooting’.
I cannot imagine being in a position where my job was to shoot cows in the head. Empathizing with slaughterhouse workers means having an understanding of how mentally damaging the job would be, and how often an inexperienced worker would inadequately stun cows, leading to painful, bloody deaths. Most people would struggle to even watch the below 4 minutes yet they support such violent actions every single day by their purchasing choices.
While it has never been justifiable to needlessly kill an animal for the sake of food, as more vegan meat alternative products become available, it becomes more and more cruel and irresponsible to continue the barbaric killing of kind cows just like Strongheart, who I’m chilling out with below.
Please think of him next time you look at a piece of ‘steak’, or a ‘beef patty’, and remember it’s the cut up body of someone who desperately wanted to live.
Author: Emma Hakansson
Producer/Ethics Consultant at Willow Creative Co
*For the sake of best connecting with the reader we have mostly used the term ‘cows’ for all bovine rather than the correct terminology of bull, cow, heifer, steer, calf.