On our farm, we've spent a lot of time thinking of what animal welfare truly means.
Of course, one of our basic tenets is humane and compassionate animal treatment. In addition to not inflicting pain and suffering on an animal, we understand that good animal welfare also means providing the animals with an environment in which they can express their instinctive behavior.
Many consumers' only relationship with animals is with their companion animals. In comparison to many of our customers, we have had the privilege of learning the complexity that comes with the number of "classes" of animals on our farm. We love all of these classes, but we love them all differently (much like a person loves their spouse, children, siblings and friends in different ways).
When we explain our production system to interested consumers, we are often asked, "How can you watch a baby calf be born, raise it for two years, then slaughter it for food?"
The short answer is that doing this has always been not an emotional act for us. We have always viewed it as a way to feed ourselves.
But when answering these important questions, we often used to feel as though we were giving a non-answer that didn't seem to bridge the gap between the two different ways of thinking. We take pride in being transparent and clear, and we had to really reflect over why an act that caused so much angst in many of our good, caring customers did not set off an emotional reaction for us, too.
With a lot of thought and conversation, we have defined a few different classes of animals on our farm. We hope through understanding our perspective of the layers of life on our farm, you can better understand why we view the entire system as cyclical, complex, and completely interconnected.
We love our dog, exactly the same way a person living in a high-rise, metropolitan condominium loves their pet "Rover." We feel compassion for the individual. If our dog dies, we will all grieve.
We love our herding dogs, and guardian dogs, and horses in a completely different way. We have enormous respect and gratitude for the training they have, and the contribution that they make to the organism that is White Oak Pastures.
We love our food animals collectively, as a herd or flock, not necessarily as individuals. We love the calving, kidding, farrowing, lambing, hatching. We look forward to harvesting the last livestock crop in order to make a place for the new livestock crop. For us, food animal life can be viewed as a river, not a lake.
We love our wildlife as a part of the natural system that we attempt and (imperfectly) try to emulate in our food animal production system. We have taken great pride in the repopulation of bald eagles on our farm. We often wonder how much of a resurgence of the threatened iconic predator species we would see if more farmers let their food animals out of captivity in animal factories.
We love the Butchers, Cowboys, Cooks, Clerks, Farmers, and other contributing people of White Oak Pastures. Together, we are all farmers, who help this organism function every day. These good, talented, passionate folks put the CULT in AgriCULTure.
We love the microbes that live in the soil. We cherish them, and look for ways to help them thrive. We believe that by running a zero-waste farm, making compost from inedible bones and viscera, we provide them a medium to thrive. Without this valuable form of life, the circle of Birth-Death-Decay-Birth would stall.