by Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care
Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Farm & Food Care, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Most of which have come from volunteering at public events. I’ve had great conversations with moms, kids, dads, grandparents and teachers, who all love farm animals and want to know more. Some common questions being ‘how big is that cow?’, ‘how many eggs does a chicken lay?’ and my personal favourite of ‘are you a real farmer?’
Others are more complex like ‘why are pigs kept in stalls?’
But there was one question that I will never forget . It was a question that caught me off guard and one that I have not stopped thinking about since that day. A mom approached me at the CNE and asked ‘how can you care for your animals and then eat them?’
Now that’s a tough question. She was not a vegetarian; she ate meat, but genuinely wanted to know. I can’t remember what I said to her on that day, but on my drive home that night it kept cycling through my head. How do we justify this decision? I never really considered it that much.
As a young kid growing up on my family farm I became very familiar with life and death. I marveled at the miracle of a new calf being born and also mourned the life of a cow after she had died or been put down. Many times I watched and helped my dad put down a sick or lame cow. Life and death is part of everyday life on a farm. It was something that I never really questioned and I continued to think about this question long after.
It was not until recently on a tour of a Cargill beef plant that I had a “light bulb” moment. I began to piece together my thoughts as I walked through and watched how cattle are turned into the beef you see in the grocery store. Watching the workers do their jobs and trim a small part of the carcass at each point along the way was amazing. Very little goes to waste; even the hooves are processed into products that you buy for your dog at the pet store.
A couple of times our tour guide turned around and checked to see that I was alright. I was the only girl on the tour, but probably the one most fascinated by the whole process.
I left Cargill that afternoon with a renewed confidence in our food system. Regardless of what you read, hear or watch, I can say with firsthand experience that the animals who produce the meat we eat are raised and treated in the most humane manner, from the farm through to your plate.
If I had a time machine, I would go back to that day in August and when that mom asked me ‘how do you eat the animals that you care for?’ I would tell her the following:
We (as farmers) owe it to our animals to provide them a healthy comfortable life, but when the time comes we also owe them a quick and painless death. Farm animals are raised in Canada for food. Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat that I eat, I know that the animal was well cared for and respectfully treated. I will confidently continue to eat Canadian.