Listening to the local news at breakfast on Easter Monday, I almost choked on my toast when I heard something about drones being sent over farms at a height of less than ten metres to make sure that farmers were not being cruel to their animals. In the same professional tone the newsreader said that a Farmers’ Representative had stated that if they did that then some farmers would shoot them down.
Farmers – a put-upon minority group – accused of wholesale cruelty unless someone was watching? I spent about two hours churning before I realised the date: April 1.
But it set me thinking, wondering why this news item, though outrageous, didn’t seem out of the realm. Animal activists have been picking on the farmers lately. And they go for us at really bad times like droughts and GFCs. They say they want animals to be happy.
“So?” say the farmers. “What’s new? We spend our lives doing everything in our power to keep our animals happy.”
Personally, I think the answer lies in the understanding of what does or doesn’t make an animal happy.
Now, I don’t have particular insight into the minds of my animals (I only wish I did), but I can tell you what any farmer knows: If animals are under stress of any kind, their health and production decline dramatically with death the bottom line.
Conversely, an ideal environment is one with no physical or psychological stresses, in which the animals can happily thrive and perform to their genetic potential.
In other words, farmers have a vested interest in keeping their animals happy, not only from an ethical point of view (which most of us do have), but because unhappy animals do not produce.
Having said that: there are good and bad farmers. I only speak for the good ones.
So: how do we tell if animals are happy?
Not by putting ourselves in their places and thinking how we would feel! (What does a dog like to do best? And how about the expression: ‘happy as a pig in mud’?)
I believe that, in animals, happiness equates with well-being. Farmers gauge this by the health, behaviour and general brightness and demeanour of their animals.
As a race, we are fond of ‘humanising’ animals but the truth is that it is a mistake. They have not the brain structure to allow reasoning or imagination. Grave injustices have been perpetrated on animals due to forcing human expectations upon them.
From the scapegoats of the ancient world, cats burned as witches’ familiars, pigs put on trial for stealing and other crimes in the middle-ages, to the cute monkeys adopted by misguided animal lovers (because they look like babies they are treated as such); history attests to the injustice of human imagination having endowed these hapless creatures with qualities they cannot possibly possess.
The weird, intense eyes of a goat, cat or owl are not evil or supernatural, it is human imagination that sees them so. Despite an uncanny resemblance, those tiny monkeys are not babies, and their sadness and frustration will remain with me forever. Injustice stacked upon injustice! Humanising: A great wrong.
Sadly, history abounds with incidents of animal abuse, yet in some cases they received better treatment than humans. The parable of the prodigal son, for instance, or a great 19th century racehorse and his jockey. (I am not excusing it – on the contrary – just reporting with a heavy heart.)
We must be aware that what an animal may consider an acceptable environment need not necessarily coincide with the human perspective. (That varies also: Take a walk through an inner city park at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning.)
Is this bandying of accusations pots calling kettles? A case of ‘pull the log out of your own eye …’? Or just another illustration of human injustice?