Readin’, writin’, and artificial insemination

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Kathleen Stachowski  Other Nations

Remember a typical high school day? English: work on Hamlet essay.  Civics: meet in library. Art: finish perspective drawing. Algebra: test, chapter 7. Ag-education: artificially inseminate cow.

Wait, what?

That’s the gist of an article in a recent Missoulian (Missoula, MT): animal husbandry ain’t what it used to be. Sure, it still involves mucking around in manure, but increasingly, it also means turning to science to engineer ever more production out of animals–in this case, commandeering the reproductive systems of individual cows.

“The point is not to manipulate Mother Nature,” says a teacher at Missoula County Public Schools’ Agricultural Center, located on a 100-acre farm. “The point is to find excellent genes in cattle and then produce more of them.” Creating “genetically superior animals saves resources and produces better, more bountiful food,” the article instructs.

Even though “bodily integrity” is a concept that never applies to animals in a human-dominated world, this goes far beyond the crude confinement of gestation crates and battery cages and into a brave new realm of intimately aggressive managment. Genetically superior cows are induced into estrus and super ovulation with hormones, causing them to produce anywhere from five to 50 eggs. Semen from genetically superior bulls is used to artificially inseminate them (if you’d like to see how that works in a one-minute dairy cow video, view here, or in a longer, more instructive video, view here). The inseminated eggs are then removed from Super Cow, frozen, and later introduced into younger, more durable recipient cows in a process called embryonic transfer.

“Instead of supplying six to eight calves over her lifetime, a healthy cow can produce 50 or more offspring using embryonic transfer,” according to the article. This idea was delivered factually and dispassionately, but I read it with sadness. I imagined the lives of these cows–robbed of their natural life rhythms, invaded by plastic-sheathed arms inserted in their rectums, embryos later flushed from their uteruses; recipient cows–they have to be the “right package” to put the embryo in–who submit to “an epidural block at the tailhead to prevent straining. The loaded transfer gun is carefully passed through the vulva and the cervix then guided into the uterine horn on the same side of the ovary with the active corpus luteum…”

Anyone who has read Lisa Kemmerer’s Sister Species: Women, animals and social justice will instantly recognize the institutional exploitation of female reproductive means central to the book’s message.

Does this manufacturing approach to calf creation affect how students relate to animals? Do they tend to see cows less as sentient individuals and more as objects of production–objects whose product is born to die?

No, says their ag teacher in a 10-minute interview on Montana Public Radio. He maintains that (paraphrased), Some might think that raising livestock would desensitize students, make them uncompassionate, but in reality it’s the opposite; when they raise these animals they become more compassionate toward those animals and other people–“it has a nurturing effect, raising livestock.”

His students agree. A male student says (paraphrased), People come out here thinking it’s raising animals to kill them but that’s not our goal at all. People spend so much time with them, working on them, caring for them, they do get attached and feel a lot of pain for them at that point. And a female student: Everyone gets really attached but when you take them to the fair, it’s business and you know that’s what has to happen.

Of course, that isn’t what has to happen. It’s a choice that’s been made–by everyone from these students and their teachers right on up to our meat-eating society as a whole. If we truly felt “a lot of pain” for animals, wouldn’t we just admit that raising them to kill and eat is unnecessary–that it’s an elective appetite and a rut we’re in–and stop doing it?

Folks will argue ’til the cows come home as to whether programs like 4-H desensitize kids to killing. It’s harder to argue a claim presented no less than three times in the relatively short Missoulian piece: that creating superior cattle will feed a hungry planet. “The world needs food, and no matter what, the important thing is to get people fed. And this new technology is allowing that,” asserts a high school Junior.

But even genetically superior cattle are still cattle who require resources. According to a recent Scientific American, reducing per capita meat consumption is one of five solutions to feeding the world and sustaining the planet. “Tragically, 80% of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, much of which is in the form of feed fed to animals that will be eaten by well-to-do consumers,” says Jeremy Rifkin, writing in “There’s a bone to pick with meat eaters.” He continues:

Hundreds of millions of people are going hungry every day all over the world because much of the arable land now is being used to grow feed grain for animals rather than food grain for people. Grain-fed cattle, pigs, chicken and other livestock, in turn, are being consumed by the wealthiest people on the planet while the poor go hungry.

… The transition of world agriculture from food grain to feed grain represents a new form of human evil, with consequences possibly far greater and longer lasting than any past wrongdoing inflicted by men against their fellow human beings. Today, more than 70% of the grain produced in the United States is fed to livestock, much of it to cattle. Unfortunately, cattle are energy guzzlers, considered by some to be the Cadillacs of farm animals. In the U.S., 157 million metric tons of cereal, legumes and vegetable protein suitable for human use are fed to livestock to produce 28 million metric tons of animal protein that humans consume annually.

Cattle and other livestock are devouring much of the grain produced on the planet. …Bear in mind that an acre of cereal produces five times more protein than an acre devoted to meat production; legumes (beans, peas, lentils) can produce 10 times more protein; leafy vegetables 15 times more protein.

A footnoted Viva! Guide, “Feed the World: Why eating meat is a major cause of world hunger and going vegetarian is a solution” makes this claim: “If animal farming were to stop and we were to use the land to grow grain to feed ourselves, we could feed every single person on this planet. Consuming crops directly – rather than feeding them to animals and then eating animals – is a far more efficient way to feed the world.”

And far kinder and more just, too–for animals, people, and the earth. If the student is right that “no matter what, the important thing is to get people fed,” why don’t high school ag programs give him and other kids like him the real tools to change the world?

5 Responses

  1. I wrote a comment here: http://missoulian.com/news/local/missoula-school-district-s-ag-program-delivers-two-embryo-transfer/article_87c09b86-6809-11e1-bf4b-001871e3ce6c.html?mode=comments.

    In case it is rejected, here’s what I wrote (I’ve made a couple changes below):

    The photo of Caitlin smiling down at the calf and stroking her chin, while the calf looks up at her with adoring eyes, reminds me of this poem, “Trust,” by Scottish poet Dennis Joseph Fallon:

    Eyes look up trustingly, adoringly
    Instincts suggest feeding time
    Hours spent caring like a daughter
    Fattening the trust you send to the Slaughter.

    Caitlin, do you remember when you were a very young lass, a time when the idea of killing an animal as innocent and pure and friendly as you was a horrifying thought? Well, that was your real self.

    I am sad that you weren’t allowed to stay true to yourself. Instead, you were unwittingly indoctrinated by your family and teachers into a way of thinking foreign to your natural inclination to protect all creatures from harm, including the human hand holding a knife.

    All that intense opposition to your natural feelings caused you to shut down your sensitivity, didn’t it? Now, you’re encouraged to care for cows until they’re the “right” number of pounds, then you are made to shift gears and pretend you no longer care, lest your feelings get in the way of the almighty dollar.

    How sad that you have been force-fed this cruel dogma, and are probably now defending it as if your life depended on its being true.

    Here’s a blog written today by Montana resident Kathleen Stachowski, based on this article: https://animalblawg.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/readin-writin-and-artificial-insemination

    When you’re on your own, and are making your own decisions, please remember there are many of us out here who understand what you’ve been through and will be honored to help you restore your childlike love for animals — a selfless love that doesn’t betray the trust of a baby calf and her adoring mother cow.

  2. Humans: the scourge of Planet Earth!

  3. Kathleen might want to visit some local working family ranches. Many of the cattle in Montana — as well as here in Wyoming, are free range and grass fed, and sustained through the winter with locally-grown grass hay or alfalfa, not silage grain.

    She might also bear in mind the efforts of many ranchers toward habitat preservation, not to mention, providing a buffer against the true scourge of the West — urban sprawl and trophy-home subdivisions. Check with your local chapter of the Nature Conservancy for details.

    Still, in the bigger picture, her objection stands. Much of the world’s meat comes from cramming stock full of silage on massive feedlots.

    A diet that includes meat isn’t intrinsically bad, or bad for the environment. However, the mass production of meat through “agri-industry” is bad on both accounts, I think.

  4. I love how they call the bulls “donors”… As if they’re fulfilling some kind of voluntary pledge. Likewise the soon-to-be-forced females are chosen as good “candidates”. Hum…

    And they sure had all those stats of “pounds ‘o meat” memorized. Would have enjoyed it if the interviewer had asked the tougher questions – Like how much water does a steer require? How much grain/land? Oh well, this post answered all of that quite well enough. Aside from the precious lives lost – The costs are much, much too dear.

    The woman stated that she can’t help but become attached to the cows she shows at the fair… But – we can’t have too much of that. “They were brought there to sell” and well… “Business is business”. Just hit that “off switch” and you’re good to go!:/

    They love to call this sexual manipulation “husbandry”… But really the word “pimp” comes to my mind instead. That they’re doing so and starving a fifth of the world in the process makes them even lower still.

    Finally, even at the “live birthing” events… Everything is staged and labor is induced for the gawking crowds. But then, the cows don’t often have their calves on nature’s time anyway: http://www.steerplanet.com/bb/index.php?action=printpage;topic=37206.0

  5. Provoked: Interesting chit-chat. I only glanced at it, but learned that if it means you might lose MONEY (meaning, the calf dies) it’s best to “…don’t mess with momma nature…”
    But apparently that’s the ONLY time to honor natural processes!

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