Do Visitors Think We’re Eating Our Pets?

There's no denying that lambs are cute

There’s no denying that lambs are cute

Lately I’ve heard of negative visitor reactions to historic (and sustainable but open to the public) farm sites in regards to the animals they keep. It seems not everyone is comfortable with animals on farms becoming food or with the processes that turn these animals into food. Admittedly, it’s easy to dismiss their reactions with: “Where do they think their burger comes from?” or some other retort. These people, though, are often engaged and vocal citizens who make their feelings known to large groups of like minded individuals who will take issue with your practices on a large-scale and very public level. They are also our visitors and we exist to educate them.

And educate them we must.

Here’s a story: a few years back when my son was young enough for “playdates” I was fixing him and his friend a snack. I asked his friend Josh (name changed to protect his now pre-teen ego) what he wanted to drink. He said milk and then added “but not soymilk.”I said that was fine we only have cow milk. He said he just wanted regular milk. I said cow milk is regular milk. He said it wasn’t and looked at me like I was an idiot. I persisted and he finally stopped talking to me.

I was dumbfounded. I grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut where the closest I’d ever come to a farm was the petting zoo at Stew Leonard’s and I knew where milk came from. Josh grew up in Nebraska where you can’t escape farming and ranching (really, you can’t, drive through sometime) and he thought “regular” milk came from  . . . well, I don’t really know where he thought it came from.

Sadly, Josh is not alone. I did a quick Google search for “milk comes from cows” and look at the related questions that immediately popped up:

milk comes from cows google search“Does almond milk come from cows?” Really?

It’s hard not to be incredulous BUT people really don’t know. Many of us are far, far removed from whatever agricultural roots we had. We have animals as pets, we encounter farm animals in petting zoos (petting=pets), and the bulk of the population of our country and perhaps the industrialized world lives this way.

I believe historic and other open-to-the-public farm sites can help bridge this knowledge gap but I’m unsure about how we’re doing it.

I follow many museums on social media that keep farm animals and here’s what I often see: The baby animals are in! Help us name the lambs! Calf and Mama love frolicking in the meadow! Have your birthday party here and pet the piglets! These statements are all invariably attached to bucolic images of adorable animals. They all reinforce the idea that these animals are pets and/or part of a petting zoo. When this is a common marketing method for our sites, do we have the right to be appalled at people’s “ignorance” when they are upset that a particular animal they’ve visited repeatedly is being slaughtered? When we market “baby animals” as a visitor experience should we be surprised that butchering programs might be a hard sell?

Ponder this: a local zoo advertises the birth of some meerkats and encourages visitors to come watch them grow up and interact with their mother. When said meerkats are no longer babies, said zoo decides to throw them in the lion cage to provide enrichment. The lion stalks then eats the meerkats. The lion has a few minutes of reprieve from an otherwise boring existence and a good meal. No problem. Except it is . . . with every visitor that came to view the meerkats.

I think you see where I’m going with this.

Farm sites need to educate our visitors on historic, sustainable, and current agricultural practices AND entice people to come. Farm animals (especially young ones) entice visitors BUT they can also become food.  How can this be balanced? How do you balance it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: What experiences have you had at your site—negative or positive—relating to this subject? If your animals do eventually become food, how do you prepare your visitors for this? Do you butcher animals publicly and how have your visitors responded?

A sobering thought. Farm museums of the future will look like this. When will the public be ready for it?

A sobering thought. Farm museums of the future will look like this. When will the public be ready for it?

–Deb Arenz

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43 Responses to Do Visitors Think We’re Eating Our Pets?

  1. hooftales says:

    Thank you for posting this, Deb! well written, and a reminder of an important subject. possibly THE important philosophical subject, to my way of thinking, since asking “how can I eat ethically, and why should I bother to try?” is in a way the same as asking “what is the meaning of human life?” I have a collection of essays and books on the subject, from authors like Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and Don Marquis, that I refer to when I have the opportunity to encourage other people to think about the fact that “we are all alive at the expense of something else”.

    • debarenz says:

      Thanks. Complicated issues to be sure. I feel fortunate to be in a situation where I can ponder them. Not all people are.

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  3. yellowwolffarm says:

    My farm is very visible from the road and I have had a lot of problems with neighbors who are vegetarian and with local rescue groups calling animal control on me, driving by my farm taking photos, hanging on my fences, coming onto my property, even onto my front porch-all because they don’t want to see an animal that is going to become food. Most of these people eat meat. I have been told more than once to go to the grocery store to buy my meat.
    I am a full time farmer, I feed people, my animals are treated with over the top kindness, compassion and respect- it does not matter. People think that I run a petting zoo and regularly ask if they can bring their kids and grandkids and hang out and pet the animals. Do people ask to come to your job/ business and just hang out for hours, keeping you from doing your work? These animals are not pets, they are food.
    I used to love to show people the farm and currently, I still do, but I do not know if I am going to continue to allow farm tours to the general public. There are too many farmers being drug through social media and the courts, all because they let an ignorant person from the public onto their farms. This is my home as well as my business. I do not relish the thought of opening both to some PETA type lurker who is just trying to put a farmer out of business. Unfortunately, this is the truth of farming today.

    • debarenz says:

      I appreciate the difficulty of your situation. It saddens me that people think buying meat from the market is somehow more humane than a person raising an animal to later eat. The reality of large-scale meat production in the U.S. is unknown to many. The key is how to get beyond the heated and emotional reactions to come to a place of learning and understanding. Good luck to you.

    • leslie says:

      Agree with Yellowwolffarm. I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m so scared of liability and negative press, I basically no longer offer farm tours.
      As far as what do you do with the baby goats (males, especially). I relate how so many animals sold as pets, once they stop being little & cute, are then mistreated, that I’d rather take care of them & treat them well now, then send them to the meat sale for a swift end. And yes, I know that meat sales often mistreat their animals and yes I am aware that slaughter is not pretty. But it IS for a relatively short time as opposed to years of potential abuse.

  4. That’s why we are informal educators. Chickens are among the unknown and unsung livestock. Do you need a rooster to get eggs? is one of the most common questions. How long do you have to wait for one to lay a brown egg? is another. We’re at the beginning of something, an awakening. Many consumers want to know more about food, and my impression is that people who visit historic sites are open to the idea that they don’t know it all yet. The ones who have a conviction and want to impose it on everyone are less amenable to discussion. Here’s a role reversal of vegetarian arguments, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0O_VYcsIk8.

  5. A related issue: I’m a docent for the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, where wild animals congregate on the beach. I’m out there educating people in the hope that tragedies like the baby bison don’t happen, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/05/how-misplaced-anthropomorphism-killed-a-baby-bison.html. People don’t know much about our relationship with wild or domestic animals. But they can learn.

    • debarenz says:

      You’re right, they can learn. We have to be able to communicate with them in a straightforward fashion and not send mixed messages. It can be hard to have a dialogue with folks who have emotionally-based preconceived notions although these are the people we probably need to be reaching the most.

  6. Ann Cejka says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. There is nothing written here that I have not personally witnessed myself (and or privately thought). And an additional disturbing factor to me is the fact that we have somehow managed to put animals on an equal footing in rights, legal status, etc. with humans. This is only a small sliver of a much, much larger problem. The problem is that we have become not only so distant from our food chain, but we also have bought into the falsehood that animals are “people” too, -Thanks Disney!

    I know people who have pushed themselves to the point of financial ruin because they have found it necessary to pay for $10,000 worth of chemotherapy for 10 year old large breed dog, because it is a member of their family. I love my pets, but not to the point that I am going to sink what little home equity I have into an animal that might live another 4 to 6 years at best. I have taken ailing cats to the clinic only to have the vet tell me but he’s such a nice cat, and suggest thousands of dollars of medication or physical therapy or whatever. (Small animal vets no longer understand the meaning of the term “barn cat” any more. There’s no money in it.

    Children to our site are floored at the concept that there really was no such things as pets. That every had to serve a useful purpose and do its job before you fed it. The dog had to either go bring in the cattle, guard the sheep or kill rats in the barn. If it didn’t, we did not keep that dog. The cat better be catching mice, or outside it went.

    And I have a strong suspicion that that, will eventually lead to a whole other can of worms. – Working and Service animals. New York City wanted to eliminate the carriage industry because it is cruel to make horses work, without the well meaning public never quite realizing that those same horses we are saving from work will only end up going to slaughter. And then you have smaller service animals, police and military dogs, service animals for the sight or physically impaired. All of these animals (not to be confused with the emotional support animals, which are not fully recognized by ADA rules and actually subject fewer requirements and regulation), are working animals, not to be treated as pets. And increasingly, in a world where every animal is a pet, public are even more ready to cross lines and pet the nice doggie wearing the bright orange vest that so clearly says “working dog, don’t touch.”

    In some ways, I am very much against the cute baby animals petting zoo routine. -Particularly when it’s pigs. I once saw an animal exhibit that let the visitors come in to pet the baby pigs. -Except pigs grow fast, and what was a cute little baby just a month or two before was by then well on the way to mid-sized dog. -And somehow people have forgotten that pigs are omnivores? I’m watching everyone take their child in to pet the pig and thinking has no one ever seen an episode of Deadwood? Don’t get me wrong, I like pigs. Raised them as a kid from babies to thousand pound beasts. Some were as tame as can be, but we always respected the fact that they could be seriously dangerous and if we didn’t take care we could end up as their breakfast instead of the other way around.

    We are always going to be torn between the demand to draw in visitors, to offer programs that people like, to make more money, etc. But at the end of the day, our basic mission should be to educate – even if the facts we are educating them on are not always pleasant. Sad is it was, I really believe Yellowstone National Park should be commended for their action in euthanizing the baby bison this past week that ignorant and well meaning visitors took into their car. Yes, it was a harsh action that drew a media firestorm, but it was also a teachable moment and their management had the fortitude to take it. For everyone who has left a vicious nasty-gram on their page as a result, Yellowstone has been diligent in responding to each negative reply giving them a very straightforward response to the realities of life. The biggest one being that wildlife are not pets. That they do die in the wild, and if we want to do what is best for our environment and the animals that live in it, we need to let that happen. Either way, anyone who hears this story is going to remember it, and if they do, they might make a harder, but better choice if it happens to them

    This is what happens when you practice self-censorship. When you only tell the parts of the story that people like or want to hear and leave out the parts that aren’t so nice, you are doing both yourself and your community a great disservice. We need to understand that everyone dies, people and animals, and while it’s sad, it happens every single day. We need to understand that our consequences have actions, and that while it might make us feel bad to see Bessie the cow go down the road to market to become a hamburger, would we like it better if there were almost no cows in the world at all because nobody has a need for them?

    My personal take is that the question of the place and treatment of animals in our society has gotten completely out of hand, and if you are going to educate for the proper interpretation of farm animals, then you have to put your money where your mouth is and practice what you preach with all animals across the board in both your professional and your private life. Cats, dogs horses, any animal that had some useful purpose on the farm must be interpreted as such, and drive home that in the time period if they weren’t holding up their end of the bargain, you didn’t feed them. They were working animals first, pets second. Then, talk about the impact it had on those animals when they “lost” their jobs -breeds driven to the verge of extinction, or bred for a “body type” rather than an actual skill or physical ability, causing genetic deformities and health problems in the breed. We have to practice this on every front, from farm and domestic animals to service and working animals and lastly, to wildlife. Animals are not people too. Animals are animals. They bully each other. They prey upon each other. They abandon their young. They get sick, they get hurt, they live and they die with our without our help, and we would all do well to remember that. In fact, I think it’s quite likely that they are far happier and better off without us than we are without them.

    • paula says:

      Even a farmer who raises animals for meat recognizes there are better and worse ways to do it. Animals raised in cages without access to the outdoors and with very little room to move — bad. Animals slaughtered cruelly, as opposed to humanely, bad. Animals raised with some concessions to their natural instincts, good.

      Carriage horses in NYC, to name but one item on your list, are worthy of discussion. Is their existence essentially suffering, and merely for human entertainment? Then the practice ought to be stopped, and no more horses raised for the practice. That human beings once died prematurely in droves doesn’t mean that alleviating that wanton suffering was a bad thing. Why should it be different for animals? The dying out of a domesticated breed means what, morally? Suffering on the other hand, we must recognize.

    • debarenz says:

      Thanks for comments Ann. The Yellowstone situation has been interesting, and sad, to follow. Having worked there for two summers, and being a frequent visitor since, I can attest to the shocking way people interact with animals there. Many visitors have little understanding that the animals are wild–again, petting zoo mentality–and little respect for the rules in place to keep the animals and the humans around them safe. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to interacting with animals. Pets, working animals, companion animals, wild animals, and animals raised for food have very different roles in our world and, in my opinion, should be handled accordingly. Always respectful and never abused but not all as pets.

  7. Jenny S. says:

    At my site years ago, we had a manager who was a fairly strict vegetarian — except for the animals we butchered on-site. She felt — and told others — that she knew exactly what sort of life these animals had before they’d been butchered, and knowing this made her willing to eat the meat from them.
    Your post, though, gives us some food for thought in regards to the baby animal aspect.

  8. Dawn olmsted says:

    Well, the education begins with showing visitors how animals can be treated humanely and respectfully and still killed painlessly and eaten.
    The last picture shows another way to raise meat. It isn’t painful, meets all government requirements, but still isn’t what we strive for in our farms.

    • debarenz says:

      Good point. Treating animals humanely and with respect should be the goal no matter how many animals you are raising as food. Perhaps one way to avoid criticism from visitors to small farming operations (historic or otherwise) is to also allow some time for them to reflect and learn about the way most meat is raised and produced. The contrast is striking.

    • Alex says:

      No death is painless. If we want to teach children perhaps we should fully educate ourselves first.

  9. lkeipp says:

    Excellent commentary, excellent article. As a former living history museum docent, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions about the animals. Now, as a homesteader, homesteading blogger and historian, I find people do get very upset when you suggest that someday those happy chickens in the yard will end up on a dinner plate. An acquaintance was reduced to tears when I mentioned several of last year’s chicks died – a failure to thrive. (I didn’t tell her we culled several of the survivors later in the year when they turned into mean roosters.)

    We have given presentations in schools on the life cycle of chickens- with some helpful friends; a friend and I recently gave an adult presentation of Modern Homesteading and brought up the facts that homesteading isn’t a game – it’s hard, smelly, dirty work with animals having sex without regard to human sensibilities, pooping where and when they please, and not being friendly to humans all the times. That the lovely fancy coop with the fresh pretty paint is nice, but all it takes is one hen and 5 minutes to change the magazine quality of the scene into reality.

    My friend and I have both lost acquaintances when we suggest that our animals are not pets, even if they do have names – in the end, if needed, they will be eaten. We have had people get angry with us for “not caring” about the animals – on the contrary, we care a great deal, spending a great deal of effort and time to make sure a sick chicken it treated, that baby who has lost its mother is bottle fed and thrives, hundreds of dollars on goats that were mistreated by unethical folk, and so forth.

    On the other hand, there is a new generation of adults wanting to get back to at least learning about healthy food production and where it comes from. They ask to bring their kids so their kids can get the joy of holding an egg “fresh from the butt” as we call it around here, to understand what a cow is, where milk is from, how something they planted 2 months ago now has food for them. And so far, they outnumber the people who don’t want to understand the difference between pets and food.

    • debarenz says:

      I do agree there’s a movement of people who want to know more about where their food comes from. I’m glad to hear most visitors understand the difference between pets and food. It’s important for us to remember not to confuse the issue. Thanks for your comments.

  10. Sarah English says:

    This is a great article. Let me start there. I have a number of animals on my farm and love posting photos, like if the ducklings this morning. Not all my animals become food. But every November I have a ‘butcher party’ for only my closest and knowledgable friends for butchering turkeys for thanksgiving. All my friends are from the city and their kids and mine help with the butchering. It is a very special time for us where we thank the turkeys before dispatching them and we all work to make our thanksgiving dinner. I however never publicize it for fear of backlash. I don’t know how to solve this problem but am posting to say, I understand the struggle. It is a weird society we live in where something as simple as milk from a cow gets confused with milk from an almond.

  11. kate says:

    I agree this is a very well written article dealing with what can be a tricky subject to cover. I also sympathise with the others here who are farmers as my partner is a sheep farmer in South West UK and as I read your comments I was nodding in agreement.
    As well as sheep we also have small flocks of geese kept as pets and for security, chickens kept purely for eggs/pets and call ducks who are kept well because I like them. We would not dream of eating any of them . Certainly not the 2 sheepdogs and farm cats. We send our sheep off to the abattoir rather than doing it ourselves and they return the animals to us already cut up into joints etc. I am afraid till I moved down here I was a townie.
    The first time I had to collect the meat from the abattoir on my own (comes back in giant clear plastic bags) was for sheep I had helped to look after. I carefully put the three bags on the back seat of my car. Obviously, I knew that they were deceased but I had a sensation they were looking at me accusingly and I have to admit I think I said sorry to them. Half way back home my mobile phone rang and for one dreadful second, I thought……. let’s just say I needed a strong cup of tea when I got home.
    We do have some sheep that have become more pets than livestock including memorable sheep like Grandma, Spot & 28b all of whom lived to be over 15. Although they live with our other sheep they are destined to grow old usually disgracefully on the farm. 28b right up until the end was always one of the first sheep to appear if pellets were on offer and liked to have her head rubbed.

    • debarenz says:

      Thanks for the comments. There certainly were, and are, pets on farms the problem lies with people who interpret all animals on farms as pets. I’m not certain it’s always their fault either. It can actually be confusing to a life-long urbanite. Perhaps simply clear distinctions between the two would help our visitors. Plus reinforcing the fact that all are treated respectfully even when treated differently. By the way, I lived for a year in Devon and spent much time among the sheep. What a lovely part of the world.

  12. Barbara Ward says:

    I was raised in a family that grew a lot of our own food, meat included, and I helped raise and care for baby animals and then helped in due time with butchering, of course…perfectly natural. Domestic farm animals are meat, pure and simple, NOT pets. You can like them and enjoy caring for them and enjoy eating them just as much, I don’t see a problem with it.__Barbara Ward

    • debarenz says:

      I don’t either but some people do and not just vegans or vegetarians. It’s all about education but what’s the best way to do that. Thanks Barbara!

  13. Daryl Brown says:

    Deb, I’ve only been a small farmer for about 16 years. You really hit the nail on the head with your well written piece. I experienced the same ‘lack of knowledge’ with folks in my area, and got so fed up with it that I finally decided to stop and became self sustaining instead. We live in northern New England where dairy farms and logging operations for the paper mill industry ruled the marketplace. Times have changed, and kids no longer wish to work hard for their money so many dairies have gone. The good news to my sad tale is that people are actually starting to pay attention to the way animals are raised, what they are fed, and how humanely the animals grown for consumption are killed. The smaller farms are thriving again purely because of education, and I couldn’t be happier. If people can’t find the ‘balance’ – I feel sorry for them because they will sadly end up hugging trees and missing out on fabulous meals for the rest of their time… Thanks again, Deb!!

    • debarenz says:

      Thanks Daryl. Encouraging to hear that people are opening up to learning about their food sources. Balance is certainly the key. Historic and open-to-the-public small farms are in the enviable position of being able to exploit this interest to support their operations and inform. That said, it’s a challenge and efforts to this end need to be thoughtfully planned and executed.

  14. I always tell our visitors that the animals on our living history farm are not pets, that they have a reason for being there, and it’s not to be a pet. I don’t want the kids even TRYING to pet our barn cats. This would make a great article for the MOMCC magazine as well, in my personal opinion and I think you should submit it. .

  15. Debra Ehrhart says:

    I grew up on a farm,we always had chickens occasionally a couple of pigs and grandpa had cows. I’m the oldest a six children so we also always had a very large garden that everyone had to help with if we wanted to eat all year round. As each child came to the age they could understand, it was explained that dogs and cats were pets, farm animals were not. If we named a farm animal we were reminded that their purpose was 1] to make more of themselves , 2] to provide us with food, and/or 3] to be sold at the sale barn (especially if we became to attatched). We all loved to see the baby animals, yet we knew why they were there. This simply being told the truth did not scar any of us for life and we all still eat meat.

    • debarenz says:

      Sounds like your family handled things sensibly. Sadly, most people didn’t grow up on farms and this is all foreign to them. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but it is. Thanks for commenting.

  16. Great thought provoking piece, Deb! We have had several episodes of this at our farm museum–guests worried about normal behavior in livestock and correct care because they assume our pigs are pets or that the sheep should be treated like puppies. We’ve worked to build a relationship with our local Animal Rescue League and area Agricultural College to be able to respond to guest concerns–to be able to point to those folks and say “yes, they tell us we are doing this correctly!” But it is a hard media concern. We do advertise our baby animals when they come in the spring, but we have tried hard to not to give personal names to animals we know are going to be sold or consumed. We have several animals that have now graduated to education animals because they are good around people. They have names and are now not in the possible list for slaughter they have migrated to more of a teaching companion than a working farm animal. But is that also confusing for our visitor? If we keep Maude the chicken around because she’s friendly even though she doesn’t lay a lot of eggs anymore, does it confuse people when we say that white rooster over there is going to be eaten because we have too many roosters in the hen house? It is a really delicate balancing act that probably isn’t going to get easier.

    In Iowa, we would think kids would know what a “cow” is–but that is often not the case, especially as our state capital city becomes more and more urban. Guests love that they can bring children here to learn what a “cow” is or to see the lambs. We may be their only possible contact point for livestock. Our challenge is to provoke guests to think about why that animal was/is raised on a farm. Tilden says our chief aim is the “provocation” of thought. So I feel like if a visitor leaves my farm deciding, “hey, I like meat and I understand that something has to die to provide it, but to me I now see that means it should be raised in such and such way”–then I provoked them to think. If they go away thinking, “hey, I used to like meat, but if that lamb has to die to provide it to me then I’ll just eat carrots.” Well then that is their choice. I just wanted to give them enough information and experience to make it a thoughtful, conscious choice. ~Janet Dennis, Living History Farms

    • debarenz says:

      Thanks for commenting Janet. Building a relationship with the local Animal Rescue League and Agricultural College is an excellent idea. Being able to show visitors that these two respected organizations support your practices goes a long way in establishing the Living History Farms as a trustworthy entity. Provoking thought is paramount to what we all do and enabling people to make a conscious choice on how they eat is a noble endeavor. Keep up the good work!

    • We’ve got Belgian Draft horses and we’ve had people tell us several times the horses are working too hard. They need to work more than they do, actually. They can’t just stand around and eat all the time anymore than people should.

  17. We have a small homestead (or at least, we’re trying to). In fact, just last night, we had our first kindling of the season. My husband and I have both always wanted to be a little more self-sufficient and self-sustaining, so when we were house shopping, we made sure to get one with a large enough yard to actually raise some small livestock and a garden. Due to allergies, chickens, ducks, geese, and other fowl were not an option, despite the fact that eggs would be nice. So we decided to raise rabbits instead.
    It’s difficult to see people’s reactions to finding out that these fluffy bunnies are being raised for our table. We try to explain that this way, we know they had a happy life, a humane death, and that every part of the rabbit gets used. That we know where our food came from, what it ate, and how it was treated. But still, the nicest ones just look at us like we’re a little crazy. One of our neighbors called Animal Control. (Fortunately, the inspector they sent out actually knew the laws, and had a couple of friends who could only eat rabbit meat, so when we saw our excellent set-up and small number of animals, we just ended up chatting about different types of feed.)
    To answer your question, however, there’s no “one-size fits all” way to educate. We have found a few things that help, however.
    First off, if an animal doesn’t have a name, kids will quickly assign one of their own choosing, even if you tell them not to. This can get really tough when slaughter day comes, so we’ve found a way to make it a little easier. All our livestock are named after food items. Stew, Rarebit, Hassenpfeffer, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Steak, Potatoes, Carrot, etc. These are all names we’ve used. And it genuinely helps, because it’s a constant reminder that this is what the animal is going to be: food.
    Second, despite what a lot of people think, it’s the adults who have a problem with the concept of “This animal is going to be my dinner,” not the kids. My nephew asked to bring “his rabbit” to his preschool for show-and-tell. When his teacher made an off-hand remark about the lovely pet, this little four-year-old replied “Carrot’s not a pet. He’s dinner!”
    The teacher was horrified! But the other kids were intrigued. They didn’t know you could *eat* rabbits. So my nephew explained that we raised the rabbits to eat, and that he helped get them “dressed for the pot” (his term for butchering), and that they were really tasty. And that this rabbit, Carrot, was his, and he got to choose how we were going to eat it. But he had to take really good care of Carrot, to make sure he grew up healthy and happy, so he’d be yummy.
    Not one of the kids had a problem with this. And we live in what has become a fairly urban area, so these kids haven’t been raised with that concept. It was the teacher who freaked out.
    So go ahead and aim most of your information at the kids. Teach them now, while their minds are still flexible enough to grasp new concepts.
    Third, don’t lie. Not to anyone. Don’t sugar-coat it, either. You don’t have to get into graphic detail or anything, but don’t dance around the issue. Every animal on the farm has a purpose, and this one’s job is to become meat on the dinner table. That barn cat over there? Her job is to kill the mice and other pests that might make the animals sick. The chickens? They give us eggs, and feathers, and meat. That mean rooster there is probably going to end up on the table this Sunday!
    But seriously, it’s important to realize that different facts are going to weigh more heavily with different people. The argument that finally swung my dad into supporting our rabbitry idea? That rabbit meat is one of the leanest edible proteins. It has about half the fat of chicken, due to the fact that the fat deposits are separate from the muscles, and therefore easy to discard. In fact, it’s so lean that, if you only eat rabbit and your sole source of meat, you’ll actually starve due to fat deficiency. (Adding a little bacon solves that issue.) Dad has heart problems, so a leaner option for meat that still tastes delicious was a real selling point for him.
    For one of my sisters, the selling point was that we use as much of the rabbit as we physically can, and don’t let anything go to waste. The fur is tanned, and turned into various useful items. Even the scraps are buried to fertilize the garden. We respect the animal by making sure we don’t waste it’s honorable sacrifice.
    One of my friends is what I like to call a “selective vegetarian.” He doesn’t eat meat from the grocery store, because he doesn’t know how that animal was raised or slaughtered. But when another friend goes hunting, he’s the first person to request a piece. Ditto to my home-raised rabbit. He knows we’ve treated them well.
    For my best friend, it was the fact that I was willing to let her use some of the tanned fur for her historical costuming (she does reenactment). Everyone is different. So you’re going to have to tailor your approach to the individual. Chat with them a bit, and see if you can’t find an in. Maybe she has a lovely wool coat, and you can comment about the type of wool your sheep produce.
    It’s a long road we’ve got to educate the public, but it’s definitely worth doing. So have a good sense of humor about people’s ignorance, and strive to correct it with kindness. Thank you for all you do to help educate the populace. Keep up the good work.

    • debarenz says:

      Your rabbit names made me grin. How clever!! Your advice is sound. Thanks for sharing it. Humor and patience certainly go a long way.

  18. You wrote the blog post I’ve been thinking about for MONTHS. I worked on a “petting zoo” type educational farm (and leaning much more towards petting than education). Many opportunities to talk about meat and humane meat were missed in favor of cooing over baby animals.

    On my farm, I work hard to say “yes, the lambs are cute, but when they’re ornery teenagers you won’t mind eating them” and “it’s not kind to keep a sheep past the point where she can keep up with the flock and feel comfortable and safe”

    I think a lot of it comes from people imbuing human emotions on animals. Animals have animal emotions and instincts. I think we have to re-teach that to a generation of people. Then we can differentiate pets and livestock again, too!

    Thanks for this- do you mind if I share it a bunch?

    • debarenz says:

      Please share freely! You are right a lot of the reaction to animals on site are based on emotion. Thanks for commenting.

  19. Dolphin30066 says:

    I do not think it is just ignorance about farming and where milk and eggs and pork chops come from. It is ignorance in general. Schools are glorified babysitters paid to put out a liberal agenda instead of education. They can’t even teach a kid to look down their front and tell what sex they are these days. It is sad and getting sadder every day. I just want to thank all the farmers for keeping us fed – and that includes meat!

  20. Reblogged this on Sheep and Pickle Farm and commented:
    This is a post I recently read on a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I get a lot of “I can’t believe you eat them!” attitudes from people I meet around here, and it feels tiring. I’m interested in what you think of this blog post, which the writer was so gracious as to let me repost:

  21. BADKarma says:

    In what I can only conlcude is a symptom of the deeper problem, I have actually been banned from several cat-related FaceBook groups for refusing to refer to my cats as “furbabies” or “fur kids”.

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