In this brief essay I want to answer one of the most frequent questions we hear, “Why do people become vegan?” To answer that I want to look at the length of time from an animal being bred to slaughter. I do not want to talk more than briefly about the conditions they are kept in here. I will discuss that more on the essays to follow about specific animal types.
I know many of my readers are vegan, and are on a vegan food diet, so have given up meat and dairy. Some are trying to be vegan but are still in the process. Here in a brief essay I want to look into the killing of animals, but also their life journey. A little about animals including baby animals!
Embarking on the exploration of the lives of various “livestock” animals can provide profound insights into the ethical and environmental considerations surrounding their journey from pasture, (or more often now, shed) to plate. From cows and pigs to chickens, lambs, and turkeys, each species adds a unique layer to the complex tapestry of our food system.
I really do not like the term “livestock”, but use it here for the purpose of people understanding what I am talking about.
It very definition of which, partly answers the question, “what is veganism all about?”
But what does livestock mean? The dictionary says (put briefly) “domesticated animals including.(list)..kept for meat or dairy production usually on a farm or smallholding.” I would also include animals kept for their fur, wool and skin to this.
I have a slightly different view. Something like: “Animals we subjugate and treat as property, rather than a living sentient being, that humankind generally think they can ill-treat, torture, kill, use their skin and milk and even eat, without guilt.” If anyone else has come up with this quote before please let me know who made it, I don’t want to claim it if it is not original. Though, of course many similar points have been made throughout history.
Though I think we are very, very slowly turning away from this use of animals, in many people it is ingrained. Sad as that is! Indeed, those of us that don’t adhere to this position are often labeled as “weird” or “odd.” Though, why a meat eater would make fun of we vegans I don’t really know. If you have any ideas please let me know in the comments section.
I also wonder how we choose what are “pets” like dogs and cats and what is “livestock”? I know many people keep a pig, a sheep and chickens as pets and a sanctuary keeps many. In some places dogs are kept for meat and a very few places cats kept for fur. In the West most people would consider this horrific! Though feel happy paying for a pig to be caged fattened and killed for them to eat. Or buy crocodile or lizard skin accessories.
How we decide which falls into pet and which to “livestock” is beyond me?
Understanding “Livestock” Animals: A Closer Look
Cows or cattle : Are known for their intelligence and social bonds, cows typically have a natural lifespan of 15 to 20 years or sometimes more. However, those raised for meat face a significantly shorter fate, often slaughtered at around 18 months to 2 years of age.
Of course, calves born to cows in the dairy industry are different. They are removed from their mother at birth. The milk is of more value to the farmer! So what happens to the calf? A few females are reared to replace their mothers in due course.
A few other calves (though this varies from country to country) are reared on a liquid diet for 1 to 24 weeks, (though more often between 16 and 24 weeks) and then slaughtered for veal, a “specialty” as a very light colored, and I apparently, flavoured beef. The rest are killed immediately. Slaughtered as new born babies. So beware anyone who says, “I drink milk and eat cheese as nothing died to make that.”
As for the mothers, as stated, they could live for 20 years but they become less economical to the farmer as their milk-yield drops. With back-to-back calves and constant milking the health of the cows suffer so this milk production generally slows after 4-6 years at which time the cow is slaughtered. The flesh of animal is either used in highly processed food like mince or burgers or goes into the pet food trade.
The breed used for milking is different from those used for fattening as beef. So the calves of milk cows are not suitable for this. Incidentally the cows are all artificially inseminated (some might say raped) rather than use a bull as it is more “efficient” that way. Pigs are inseminated the same way.
Intelligent and social beings, pigs have a natural lifespan of up to 10 to 12 years old and some as much as 15 years. Pigs are more intelligent than dogs and are known to decorate their sleeping areas with flowers they pick for the purpose. They can be trained for many purposes, much more than truffle hunting.
In industrial farming, pigs destined for pork production are usually kept in really small pens and sometimes cages they can’t even turn around in, indoors, until being sent to slaughter between 5 and 6 months of age. So the first time a young pig might see the sunlight is on the way to the slaughter house.
Chickens, both raised for meat (broilers) and eggs (layers), have a natural lifespan of about 10 years (*though please see later note). Broiler chickens are typically slaughtered at around 6 weeks of age, though some up to 8 or 10 weeks.
Laying hens are often kept tightly packed in small cages. They are sent to slaughter when their egg production slows, usually around 2 years of age at which point they enter the food chain, mostly as processes meat.
But please spare a thought here for the male chicks. Except for a very few used for breeding, all the male chicks that hatch are killed immediately after hatching, mostly by being put alive into a macerator, or a machine similar to a mincer. So again, don’t believe there are no deaths in the egg industry.
Lambs, raised primarily for their meat, share a fate similar to that of cows. While their natural lifespan can range from 10 to 12 years and sometimes as much as 14. Lambs are typically sent to slaughter at a young age, often around 4 to 8 months but anything from a few weeks to a year old.
Turkeys, commonly raised for their meat, have a natural lifespan of 10 years or more. However, in industrial farming, they are usually slaughtered at around 10 to 17 weeks of age.
So how would this compare to human age?
This is just an exercise to put into perspective the expected lifespan of an animal compared to a human and the time for slaughter. Please do not quote me on these figures, they are a very rough approximation based on the above guide. If I have got my maths wrong, (which is very likely) please drop me a line and correct me!
I base it on the average life expectancy of a human living to 73 years of age. So compared to this animals would be killed at what age compared to humans?
Beef cattle age 10 to14 years
Veal calf age about 17 months
Many calves live for seconds
Milking cow age 22 to 24 years
Pigs age 2.4 years
Chickens egg laying age 7 years
Most male chicks seconds
Meat chickens ubout 10 months
Turkeys age 2.4 to 2.9 years
Lambs varies greatly but generally 3 to 7 or 8 years
But please bear in mind, the way we keep animals now means much of this time is caged in small crates or in sheds.
Plus we do not need to eat any of these animals, nor do we need to eat fish and dairy products. We can get everything we need from eating plants.
Though it is true that vegans may well be short of B12 if they do not take a vitamin pill, animals would be short of this too, given normal modern farming methods, which is why they are given this in their feed – along with an awful lot of growth hormones, antibiotics Etc.
The Critical Juncture: Slaughter for Food
Across these diverse species, the critical juncture in their lives is the moment they are sent to slaughter. This decision, is driven by efficiency in the industrialized food system, or put another way purely profit. So they are killed at a time when most money can be made by the farmer given the early weight these animals put on compared to their slower growth rate if they were still kept and were eating foodstuffs.
It raises ethical questions about the treatment and well-being of these sentient beings.
Cows, Pigs, Chickens, Lambs, and Turkeys:
The age at which livestock animals are sent to slaughter varies, but it is consistently premature compared to their natural lifespans.
*Though it should be noted that all species, but in particular chickens are bred so that they put on the maximum weight in the minimum time. In chickens this means they often cannot walk properly after about 6 weeks of life. It is unlikely that chickens bred like this would last ten years if left alone. This is wholly-owned by the breeders and feeders of such chickens.
The Vegan Alternative: A Holistic Approach to Health and Compassion
Choosing a vegan diet emerges as a holistic alternative, encompassing personal health, compassion for animals, and a commitment to environmental sustainability.
A well-planned vegan diet offers a spectrum of nutrients derived from plant sources, promoting overall health and longevity. Studies suggest that a vegan lifestyle may lower the risk of chronic diseases, aligning personal health goals with dietary choices.
Opting for a vegan lifestyle is an expression of compassion for animals. It contributes to reducing the demand for industrialized farming, where crowded and stressful living conditions are common. By choosing plant-based alternatives, individuals actively support a more humane approach to coexisting with other species.
Livestock farming is a major contributor to environmental degradation. Choosing a vegan diet helps reduce the environmental footprint associated with animal agriculture, fostering sustainability, and mitigating climate change.
Conclusion: Cultivating Conscious Choices for a Sustainable Tomorrow
As we navigate the intricate journey from pasture/shed to plate, the call for a vegan future gains momentum. Understanding the lives of cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, and turkeys sheds light on the broader impact of our food choices. Embracing a vegan diet signifies a conscious choice that reverberates with compassion, environmental stewardship, and personal health.
By making informed decisions, we have the power to shape a future where the well-being of animals, the health of individuals, and the preservation of our environment take center stage.
For a visual representation of this article and some inspiring quotes please check out the following link.
I began this essay by “Not an animal lover and still eating meat?” Some I am sure will take issue with this and say they are animal lovers and eat meat. I would ask them to look at this statement.
Dog lovers do not cause to suffer nor eat dogs. Cat lovers would would not cause to suffer nor eat cats.
Is anyone suggesting they love animals and eat them? That they know these animals live very short often tortured lives before being slaughtered and served up as meat. Would an animal lover pay for this torture and murder and then consume the flesh? If you disagree please let me know why. Indeed drop me a note on what you think anyway.
Though I would like to leave you with a quote here.
“The greatness of a nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals are treated”
Thank you for reading this essay, please feel free to check out my other articles.
I would also love to hear some feedback from you, or indeed any questions or suggestions.