Journal of Writing & Environment

Web Rove: Animals and Their Farmers

by Dana Thomann

I am the daughter of ranchers. I like beef. My favorite cut: sirloin. People often become sheepish when they tell me they are the “v” word. I suppose they are fearful that the rancher’s daughter will react harshly. My response to their disclosure? “If my parents didn’t raise beef sustainably and humanely, I think I’d be a vegetarian too.” I honestly appreciate the vegetarian. I do not appreciate factory farms, pink slime, overuse of antibiotics, and inhumane practices.

As the 1980s farm crisis wiped out many small farmers, it is rare to find writers who grew up financially dependent on family farms and ranches alone. It is even more rare to find those who can adequately describe the complex relationship between farmer and animal. Here are a few writers who thoughtfully manage to do so.

A Farm Boy Reflects by Nicholas D. Kristof (from New York Times)

In this op-ed column about a looming animal right’s referendum in California, Nicholas Kristof recalls wrangling geese for butchering as a young boy. He discovers the love and loyalty geese have for their mates poetic, which makes consuming them, to this day, a deep act of appreciation.

The Milk House: Larry, Our Lagoon Duck by Ryan Dennis (from Progressive Dairyman)

There is nothing more remarkable on the farm than the survivor: the animal that just keeps going despite hardship. This animal becomes legendary, gains our respect, and often ends up with a pet name. In this case it is “Larry the lagoon duck.” Ryan Dennis, who grew up on a dairy farm in New York, eulogizes Larry.

Coyotes and the Autumnal Equinox by Linda Hasselstrom (from Windbreak House)

It is easy to label the coyote as menace to the rancher. Raise the rifle! Save the cattle! But, as rancher Linda Hasselstrom thoughtfully realizes, coyotes fill a necessary role in maintaining a healthy ranch.