A sad day
A very sad day at Bernard’s Farm this week. We have had to bury Bernard’s beloved tortoise.
Never a young boy cared for a tortoise like Bernard cared for his tortoise. He did everything for them independently, he’d bath them weekly, more in the summer, feed them, put them out on the grass when it’s warm enough & placed them in the heat lamp when it’s not. We never had to remind him to feed them, etc.
He adored the tortoise, we haven’t any idea what has gone wrong and just praying we can rehome another rescue tortoise as we now have a tortoise without a buddy.
One of the concerns we had moving to a farm, as parents, was getting the balance sensitively and practically right between animals that are pets and animals that are farm animals and are not pets.
We encourage the children to have animals for pets. We believe it gives them appropriate responsibility, promotes self-esteem and independence. Bernard chose his tortoise and Barbara has her rabbits. Beryl the fish and Bertie loves to help with the hens. We’re not sure what baby Betsy would like yet!
Farm animals for the table
Pets have names, they live in the house, farm animals have neither. Yet we don’t look after the farm animals any less. For children with a farm background, I imagine this balance must just grow very naturally, but for our older ones like Bernard & Barbara who can remember our non-farm life before I started working on farms & we moved onto one – it’s been a very slow, steady and thoughtfully handled process.
It wouldn’t be right to hide the fact that we rear lambs & pigs for the table – it also wouldn’t be right to serve it up & remark which pig it was they were tucking into.
We have had conversations about how & why we breed from farm animals, but how it’s not right to do so from rescued ones. I’m sure everyone has an opinion on how to go about explaining what the ram is doing whilst he is on the back of the ewes, as I have my own, having come from a background of working in child protection where exploitation & sexual abuse is a daily topic. I do feel it is normal and natural for the children to watch the ram give them ewes a “special hug” and we don’t hide the purpose of the activity from the children. It’s the language and communication that is appropriate to their age and understanding what we feel makes it a predictable and acceptable farm activity for the children to be involved in.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the ability to rear animals well and for the table is hard to explain. Yes, go and work on a farm and very quickly you will de-sensitise from blood, birth and death and phrases like slaughter, abattoir and knackerman become second nature. As the saying goes, where there is livestock there is dead stock. I’ve been criticised on social media before for being allowed to rescue animals when I also rear my own for food. I was told that I would be reported to having rehomed ex-battery hens when I rear lambs for the table.
It takes time for the children to accept that this is what we do. In order to eat meat responsibly and to garuntee the life it has had, I would honestly rather rear my own. With honesty, time, communication and sensitivity, The children are learning that we keep animals as pets, and also for meat. When we eat the hens’ eggs, we always thank them for laying them. They also know the pork we are eating is from the pigs we “sold”. For the younger children, providing we continue to succeed our farming journey, they will grow up and adjust to the difference of pet and farm animal more easily, we hope.
Never stop caring
For us, we would rather rear our own animals for meat than risk buying low welfare meat & so we can share it with others. We can choose to rear rare breeds and contribute to the preservation of heritage breeds like the Oxford Sandy & Black pigs (for which there are only 4 male blood lines) & to rear to a high standard of welfare that is often not available from supermarket meat. For example, our pigs are outdoor reared, free from mutilations, such as tail & teeth cutting, and do not require preventative antibiotics. I think I have even more respect and appreciation towards farm animals because they feed us. Their life is the ultimate sacrifice. Yes it feels like a horrible betrayal after you have spent months and months of feeding them to them take them to the abattoir and I don’t want that part to ever become “normal”. I always want to feel that same sadness and gratitude for the animal in its final place as I drop them at the abattoir and walk away. I don’t want to feel anything other than this as the years go by. Because, in a nutshell, I care.
Of course none of this helps Bernard today. It’s a sad reality of rescue animals too – you can’t be sure what start to life they had, nor their exact age. However he can feel like an absolute legend for caring for them so well, after a rubbish start.
Nobody cried when the pigs went, nor the lambs. (Well I shan’t lie – I shed a tear or too after dropping them off at the abattoir but I know that it’s a smallholders served one, the animals are stunned before they enter the plant and it’s not far to travel. Minimum stress. We over see these details to provide meat that is reared to a high welfare and had minimum stress. This makes for a better taste, but also ethical and sustainable.
As for our rescue animals, it is something that living with a bit of space that a farm has that we feel is a privilege to be able to do. Our hens have been here a year and we shall share some before and after photos that I hope you will like as the difference some TLC that a non-intensive farm offers does wonders.
You may remember me saying I completed an animal-assisted therapy course during lockdown and rehoming a pony or two (when we have the space ) is certainly something on our long term plan.
For now, I am so, so sorry Bernard. Never stop caring. We love you lots .