I’m conscious that this subject can be controversial but I’m not going to avoid discussing it because some people might get upset. ‘Loveage’ asked the question on a previous post so this is my answer.
There are ethical dimensions to the keeping of animals because animals, like humans, suffer when abused. Unfortunately, generally, worldwide, people like to eat them, skin them and make shoes out of them . Anyway, the production line slaughter of animals is abhorrent to me and to many others like me. We are however a minority*
I found it interesting watching Mark Shepard on one of Geoff Lawton’s excellent permaculture videos talking about taking his pigs to slaughter and choking up doing it. It was only a swallow and a slight pinch in the eyes but anyone with an ounce of soul knows the man gets upset doing it, even though he was plainly trying not to show it. The same thing with Hugh Fernley Whittingstall on one of his Riverside Cottage programmes when he took his animals to slaughter, he was choking up as well. I don’t mean to disrespect either of the two because they were trying to demonstrate something important, which is that you can keep really happy, healthy livestock and then kill them humanely. As Mark Shepard put it “just one bad day”. Feeling something real during that process does them credit.
But should we be killing animals to feed our hunger for tasty food, ethically? No we shouldn’t *IN MY OPINION*, because killing things causes suffering and extinguishes their beings and personalities, something the two men above clearly realise. But billions of people love eating meat and they are not going to stop doing it unless we persuade them not to. And forcing them to stop doing it, against their will, disenfranchises them, especially as we the non-meat-eaters are a tiny minority. My democratic beliefs trump ethics on this point, at least for me.
But what about sustainability? Well this is where it gets interesting because the use of animals basically makes your plot of land self-sustaining if you get the balance of land to animals correct. On a very, very simple level 1.5 to 2 acres (the size of a football pitch) will feed somewhere between 9-15 sheep a year, with a herb, grass and nitrogen fixer mix. It may support less and your climate or soil may not allow it. The sheep eat the plants, then fertilise the ground, you get to eat the sheep and make their wool into jumpers and scarves. The process is circular. If the fertility of the field drops off reduce the amount of sheep on it.
There are many, many more examples including permaculture chicken tractor systems and historically the Four Field System used in England since the 18th Century, which unlike permaculture, has plentiful academic proof . This system increased yields of barley and corn and supported higher numbers of animals on individual farms which in turn fed more people and was internally sustainable. This was done by having a four year rotation with clover, turnips, barley and wheat. The clover and turnips fed the livestock (which in turn produced manure to feed the soil) which produced more food (meat and grain) than the previous agricultural system (the 3 Field System). Not one ounce of fossil fuels was needed to keep the system going.
My point is, using animals (*exploiting animals*) makes sustainability easier *IN MY OPINION* but surely someone can come up with, and crucially, scientifically prove the usefulness of using animals in closed loop and sustainable systems that don’t end up with them being eaten, but let them live happy and fulfilling lives, providing us with milk, eggs, cheese, butter, wool and fertilising our soils for our veggies and grains. Permaculture makes the point and many of us are putting it in practice, but I think the scientific testing and academic papers need to follow.
Anyway I’m going to bring this to a close as the more I write the more likely it is I am going to get a flame war on my hands. If there is any interest in this train of thought I could write more later.
Anyone commenting below who is just offensive without anything sensible to add will be deleted.
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