What I learned from 4-H: Animal stewardship, not murder

Today is Thursday. To me, Thursday is Fake Friday—the week is almost over, but you know that you still have to wake up early for one more day before you can have two blissful days of freedom (or at least, two days free from the office).

Today has also irritated me for two reasons. One, PETA was protesting outside my office. This irks me because… well, PETA irks me in general. But that’s a different story for a different blog post.

However, that does go hand-in-hand with the second thing that irked me today. I was perusing Twitter on my phone when I saw a Tweet from Michele Payn-Knoper, an agriculture advocate that I follow. The Tweet contained a link to an article posted on CNN, and I nearly stopped in the middle of the Metro escalator when I saw the headline.

Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?


Is this for real?

Apparently so, or so about half the commentariat of CNN.com believe. According to this article, there is popular belief amongst the readers of “Eatocracy” that 4-H raises children to be merciless, cold-blooded animal torturers. We hand over poor, defenseless creatures who’ve trusted us since birth to be put to death for our meal.

Excuse me. I need to go laugh for a bit.

Alright, back.

My little brother, proudly showing his steer last year

Let me back up a bit and explain where I’m coming from. I’m a third generation 4-H member on my mother’s side (and I will be proud of that fact until the day I die). I was raised on a beef cattle operation, and my parents own a livestock auction market. The beef industry is in my blood; it’s part of who I am.

And so, it was natural that at age nine, I would enroll in 4-H, which I did. That first summer, I showed cattle and I showed sheep. In fact, one of my favorite memories is of my dad—not a sheep farmer at all— helping me put my two lambs in their sheep blankets, only to realize he’d put them on backwards. Those two little lambs looked so ridiculous, and the family still laughs at Daddy over that (happily, he laughs at it, too).

However, showing cattle was my main focus in 4-H. Once we were established with a little herd, we started artificially inseminating my former show heifers in order to raise our own show cattle. My brother, Ross, reaped the major benefit of my Dad’s new hobby, but it’s very fulfilling to see our herd grow and produce more show calves.

And yes, we raise some of our animals to be slaughtered.

My lambs, Kanga and Roo, were on loan from my aunt and uncle (they had a sheep herd, while we didn’t). They were market lambs, not ewes, which meant that when the show was over, they were going to be sent off to be slaughtered. Was it hard to put them in the pen, knowing they were going to die? Um, that should be obvious. Of course it was. And yes, a few tears were shed by my nine year-old self.

But as I grew older, 4-H (along with a good helping of common sense, courtesy of Mom and Dad) taught me that that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Does 4-H desensitize children to killing?

Here’s your answer: absolutely not.

In fact, I would argue that 4-H—especially those kids involved in animal care projects—gives children a greater respect for the world and, quite honestly, more common sense.

It’s something that’s harder for my friends who’ve grown up in urban and suburban environments to grasp. For them, when they see one of our show heifers, they think it’s cute. They see a pet. They see a cuddly, friendly (for the most part) animal. They don’t grasp the concept that for us, the slaughter of animals we’ve raised is part of life because that’s what those animals are meant for.

In this article, they cite a comment from a woman named Kathy which says:

“It is really so unevolved. Why are people proud that the kids are crying as they lead their animals onto the trailer to be killed for food? You are teaching them that relationships are disposable. That animals are disposable. NOT A GOOD LESSON, and these poor animals raised as pets are off to the slaughterhouse where they will be tortured before they die.

A few points:

  1. 4-H is teaching us that relationships are disposable?  I beg to differ, Kathy.  I consider some of the friendships (with humans, not with animals) gained through 4-H as some of the most meaningful in my life. 
  2. These animals aren’t raised as pets.  Period.  There’s no question what’s going to happen with our animals when we’re done showing them.  If they’re heifers, they’ll go back home to be bred.  If they’re steers, they’re off to a feedlot.  That’s it.  Do we form emotional attachments?  Well, yes.  We’re humans, too.  But we don’t raise these animals under any illusions that they’re like a cat or dog to us. 
  3. If you think our animals are going to be tortured before they die, I respectfully ask that you stop drinking the PETA/HSUS Kool-Aid. 

If you believe that 4-Hers are happy little killers, content to send their beloved moo cows off to be tortured,  I think you should visit a cattle show (or a sheep show, or a swine show).  See the respect we have for these animals.  But while I respect a person’s opinion to think that, because I have no problem eating a calf that I’ve raised, I don’t have to agree with you.  However, I do ask that you show enough civility to me and those like me and not accuse me betraying a pet’s trust.

Because that show heifer?  She’s not my pet.  She’s how we make our living.


5 thoughts on “What I learned from 4-H: Animal stewardship, not murder

  1. Pingback: Promoting Tennessee beef — it’s in the family! | The Virginia Diaries

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