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Sheep and her two lambs. Photo by anney adobestock

Why Should We Care About Farm Animals?

We are often surprised when told that animals possess human-like intelligence or demonstrate strong affection towards their families. These stories awaken the realization that animals are alive and help us to relate to them.

However, the only characteristic necessary for us to show them respect is that animals are sentient. Even if we don’t care about farm animals, their lives have inherent value. Their lives matter to them whether we value them or not.

Animal Sentience Matters

The fact farm animals are sentient beings is not only intuitively known, but it has also been scientifically proven that animals have consciousness and experience emotions similar to humans.

They have nervous systems and complex brain functions. They are self-aware. They have characters, personalities, idiosyncrasies, and temperaments. They feel at times embarrassed or proud, scared or brave. They experience physical and emotional joy and pain. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. They build homes, play games, search for food, and care for their young.

What right do we have to subjugate their needs to our desires? Our palate pleasure is not more important than their lives. Farm animals have a right to life, freedom and bodily integrity. It is up to us to protect their rights.

Animal Families

A Cow’s ‘Sophie’s Choice’

Cows form a strong bond with their newly born calves. Consider this story from a vet who recalls a dairy cow’s efforts to save her calf.

Based on a small family farm, it was customary for the cows to be let out to pasture at night and then kept inside for milking throughout the day.

This mother had birthed during the night and brought her calf in from pasture the next morning. As routinely happens on a dairy farm, her calf was sent to slaughter, and yet, each day when she arrived in the milking shed her udders were almost dry.

After 11 days, the farmer became suspicious and followed her out to the field that evening. There he discovered that she had given birth to twins and had concealed her other calf out of sight in the trees, where he had hidden quietly during the day, awaiting her return each night.

“Think for a moment of the complex reasoning this mama exhibited: First — she had memory — memory of her four previous losses, in which bringing her new calf to the barn resulted in her never seeing him/her again (heartbreaking for any mammalian mother).

Second — she could formulate and then execute a plan: if bringing a calf to the farmer meant that she would inevitably lose him/her, then she would keep her calf hidden, as deer do, by keeping her baby in the woods lying still till she returned.

Third — and I do not know what to make of this myself — instead of hiding both, which would have aroused the farmer’s suspicion (pregnant cow leaves the barn in the evening, unpregnant cow comes back the next morning without offspring), she gave him one and kept one herself. I cannot tell you how she knew to do this—it would seem more likely that a desperate mother would hide both.”

— Holly Cheever, DVM

Despite this mother cow’s brave attempt to save her calf, and the intervention of Holly Cheever, the young vet, the other calf was also taken from his mother and slaughtered.

Cow and calf - jeffrey schwartz - canva

A Look at the Nature of Chickens

Think about the origin of the term ‘mother hen’. Hens are protective mothers. They fuss and worry around their young, clucking in gentle almost purring sounds to their unhatched eggs and newly born chicks.

In the animal agricultural industry chickens are hatched in large metal drawers similar to filing cabinets and do not have the luxury of learning to talk from their mothers, but even farmed chickens develop language that includes over 20 different calls and complex social structures, ie the ‘pecking order.’

Newly hatched chicks exhibit self-control, the ability to count up to five, and can recognize structurally sound objects. These skills are beyond the average three-year-old human baby.

We all know the proud, strident crow given by the rooster at dawn to signal the start of a new day. Yet few of us know that a rooster is a gentleman and has intimate discussions with his mate when he invites her to eat before he does.

Animals Have Long Memories

Because we rely so heavily on science to tell us what is self-evident, scientists have proven that mother goats recall their babies’ bleats for at least a year after mother and kid are separated. We can only imagine the additional suffering these mothers must have endured in order to prove to us what any honest person must know.

Also documented is the ability of sheep to remember 50 faces, for up to 2 years.

Animals Have Inherent Value

Animals are like us in so many ways. However, the fact they possess human-like characteristics should not be the basis of how we value them. We need to care about animals because they care about their own lives. Their lives matter to them whether we value them or not ie they have inherent value. The very least we can do is to acknowledge their right to not be treated like commodities.

When we internalize this truth, not as an intellectual theory, but as a technicolor concept that enables us to truly meet them as personalities and recognize them as moral persons, then we will no longer see non-human animals as something to eat, but as someone who has a life.

What You Can Do to Reduce Animal Suffering

Take the time to meet a farm animal. Honestly look into their eyes and you will see a huge personality; a living being with preferences, desires, characteristics, and idiosyncrasies.

If you care about animals and don’t want them to suffer, then help to reduce the demand for animal products. The first step to doing this is to stop eating them yourself.

Karen Johnson - The Elated Vegan

Author Karen Johnson
Karen Johnson is a Nutritarian Coach certified with Joel Fuhrman M.D. She founded Elated Vegan in 2007 to raise awareness for farmed animals and opened the Elated Vegan Health marketplace in 2020 to help people be healthy vegans. Karen is currently studying for a Vegan Nutritionist Diploma at the Centre of Excellence.

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