You are hereCow Hell: The Reality of Factory Feedlots in America
Cow Hell: The Reality of Factory Feedlots in America
About 15 miles south of Amarillo, Texas, Interstate-27 runs right into Route 60. It’s near that point that the lights of civilization along the Texas Panhandle begin to fade. Drive a mere thirty minutes down Route 60 and you’ll come upon a large feedlot. Feedlots are where cattle are brought to be fattened up prior to slaughter. I stumbled upon one such feedlot several summers ago. I was on a road trip with my then nine-year old daughter heading to Roswell, New Mexico.
We turned onto Route 60 thinking it would be a shortcut to our destination. What we found as we traveled along that barren road, surrounded on both sides by parched brown earth, were thousands of captive cows awaiting slaughter at a nearby processing plant.
I’ll never forget their faces. The whole scene reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. The image of masses of shell-shocked human faces pressed against metal enclosures seemed synonymous with the empty stares of the countless captive cows. As we drove, the cows closest to the fence and nearest to the road just stared out, not appearing to be looking at anything, their movement restricted by the tight quarters. I could see troughs of water aligning the front of the fences in each section. I wondered how the animals in the middle and back of the crowded subdivisions were able to make it to the front to reach the water. I looked at the thermometer in my car. It read 111 degrees.
The cows were inside an eight to ten foot chain-linked fence with barbed wire around the top of it. Inside the fence, the land was sectioned off into smaller areas defined by yet more metal fencing. There were so many cows packed into each section that I couldn’t count them. Dust filled the air, kept in motion by their shuffling hooves. The stench of manure, mixed with ammonia, burned our noses and caused ours eyes to tear. We named the feedlot “Cow Hell,” and I drove away from it as fast as I could.
As it turns out, approximately ten million cattle and calves are kept on feedlots, just like the one I saw in Texas, across the United States. The lots are overcrowded. The animals must be given steady doses of antibiotics, as disease, especially respiratory infections, are rampant due to the overcrowding. They have little room to turn around, let alone graze. The land is soaked with their urine and their solid waste is kept in piles scattered across the feedlots. The manure is left in small hills to dry up and decompose in the scorching heat. Most cows spend six to nine months in such conditions before they’re sent to slaughter.
Why am I telling this story? Because we, as consumers, enable the practice of treating living, breathing creatures as commodities. Every time we buy a steak at the grocery store without ensuring that it came from a local or organic farmer, we support feedlots and the business of factory farming. Every time we buy our kids a hamburger from a fast food restaurant, we contribute to the oppression of sentient creatures. And it’s not just the cows. All animals - pigs, chickens, turkeys - that are raised on factory farms suffer the same existence as the cattle on those feedlots.
So what can you do to help these silent victims? First and foremost, do your homework. Research the conditions of factory farms and commercial feedlots. Find out exactly where the meat you buy comes from. Second, visit your local grocery store and ask if they sell local or organic meat products. If they don’t, insist that they do. Tell the store manager you’d gladly pay a few extra dollars for meat that is produced in a humane and environmentally safe manner. Third, reduce your overall consumption of meat products. Start by having at least one meal a week that includes no meat at all. Research the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet, and consider working towards adopting one. And lastly, pass on what you learn. The owners and operators of these factory farms rely on the consumer remaining ignorant of their practices. Educate yourself, and then teach those around you what you’ve learned. Encourage others to adopt animal and environmental friendly shopping and eating habits like the ones mentioned above.
I can only imagine what it must be like to be a cow. I think what I would need, in order to find pleasure in my life as a cow, is open land, access to my native food, fresh water, and the ability to socialize and mate without restriction. The cows I saw were deprived of all of the most basic elements of life. After much research and reflection, the only reason I can find that such a travesty of morality exists is because it can. We allow it to exist. Regardless of how many cows are bred and slaughtered, regardless of the living conditions they’re subjected to, they will never revolt. They have no voice. But I do, and you do too. Please use it to help put an end to the cruel conditions of the factory feedlot.
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