On the path to defining our farm, we spent a lot of time thinking of what animal welfare truly means. We focused on making compassionate animal treatment one of our basic tenets. In addition to not inflicting pain and suffering on an animal, we understand that good animal welfare also means providing the animals with an environment in which they can express their instinctive behavior.
Many consumers' only relationship with animals is with their companion animals. Unlike many of our customers, we have had the privilege of learning the complexity that comes with the number of 'classes' of animals on our farm. We love all of these classes, but we love them all differently. Much like a person loves their spouse, children, siblings and friends in different ways. When we explained our production system to interested consumers, we were often asked "How can you have a baby calf born, raise it for two years, then slaughter it for food?" The short answer was always that doing this was not an emotional act for us. We have always viewed it as a way to feed ourselves. But when answering these important questions, we often felt as though we were giving a non-answer, and we take pride in being transparent and clear. This answer never seemed to bridge the gap between the two different ways of thinking. We had to really anguish over why an act that caused so much angst in these good, caring people did not set off an emotional reaction for us, too.
With a lot of thought and conversation, we have defined a few different classes of animals on our farm:
Companion Animals- We love our dog, exactly the same way a person living in a high-rise, metropolitan condominium loves their pet "Rover." We feel compassion for the individual. If our dog dies, we will all grieve.
Work Animals- We love our herding dogs, and guardian dogs, and horses in a completely different way. We have enormous respect and gratitude for the training they have, and the contribution that they make to the organism that is White Oak Pastures.
Food Animals- We love our food animals collectively, as a herd or flock, not necessarily as individuals. We love the calving, kidding, farrowing, lambing, hatching. We look forward to harvesting the last livestock crop in order to make a place for the new livestock crop. For us, food animal life can be viewed as a river, not a lake.
Wildlife- We love our wildlife as a part of the natural system that we attempt (and imperfectly) try to emulate in our food animal production system. We have taken great pride in the repopulation of bald eagles on our farm. We often wonder how much of a resurgence of the threatened iconic predator species we would see if more farmers let their food animals out of captivity in animal factories.
People- We love the Butchers, Cowboys, Cooks, Clerks, Farmers, and other contributing people of White Oak Pastures. Together, we are all farmers, who help this organism function every day. These good, talented, passionate folks put the CULT in AgriCULTure.
Microbes- We love the microbes that live in the soil. We cherish them, and look for ways to help them thrive. We believe that by running a zero-waste farm, making compost from inedible bones and viscera, we provide them a medium to thrive. Without this valuable form of life, the circle of Birth-Death-Decay-Birth would stall.