I want to be able to look my customers in the eyes and tell them: this meat comes from a happy animal – on Friday morning at 6:30am I realised just how difficult it will be to keep that promise - i took our steer to the butcher and experienced some of the most painful moments since becoming a farmer. I would like to share this with you, partly because I feel I owe it to you to not just share the happy moments with you; partly because I just need to get it off my chest. I am afraid some of the images will be graphic - you know best if you are ready to read and watch that.
But let me first share some of the happy moments with the cattle growing up on the farm Oberbrämen. They are happy – I can promise you that.
They are all one big family – literally. They spend every day together in the herd. They get to eat as much grass, as they want. They get to go out on pasture every day that it’s possible. The stable is big, the litter soft. They go to lie down together as a herd and choose freely who they want to lie next to.
They get to scrub their backs in the "spa corner" whenever they want.
They love each other and form very close social bonds. Most of these cows will live well over 10 to 15 years old - some even 20 years old. They lick each other to show their love and also their respect to the older cows.
The calfs drink from their mothers as long as they want to - even when they are already a little bigger.
I guess showing you all these happy moments from the every-day life on the farm is just my way of postponing talking about the actual topic of this article - the unceremonious last day.
Usually the animals just get picked up at around 5 in the morning and thats that - what happens after is out of the farmers hands. It is now someone else's responsibility.
Thats not actually how I feel, but the reality is that working on a farm, you simply don't have the time to accompany every single animal that goes to the butcher. The stable needs cleaning, the cows need their fodder - the everyday live on the farm continues.
For the past couple of months I have not been working on the farm Oberbrämen any more - I am now starting a company, Grass Beef, to sell the beef from the firm directly to consumers. I know that the animals have the best possible life on the farm - they are happy and healthy and play a very important role in making the soils fertile. I want to make sure that the inevitable death of the animal may happen in a dignified manner - where the animal dies in peace.
For me the solution is clear as day: we must kill the animals in their familiar environment - directly on the farm: where they are at home.
Eric Meili from the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture has been working very hard to make this a reality. My hats of to him and everyone else who had the courage to step up to the plate and face the criticism of so many colleagues for what they call "a waste of time and resources".
Well, let me tell you: it is not! I thought that if I brought the bull to the butcher myself and stood by him, it would somehow make it ok. It was not.
When we arrived at the butcher, Simili the bull walked off the trailer, into a narrow retainer. Simili was very agitated, turned wild. He wanted to turn around. He got his head stuck between the bars. Then, for about 5 minutes, he could not get his head out from between the bars because of his horns.
Going to him, trying to calm him down, laying my hand on him - it was no use.
He became increasingly restless, started foaming out of his mouth - it was all out of my hands. The butcher could not shoot him because with the weight of the bull it would be nearly impossible to get his head out from between the bars - Simili had to wiggle his way out himself.
It went on for five long minutes. Then finally he got his head out. He calmed down a little. Then the butcher came with the stunning device and in an instant the struggle was over.
A few seconds later, the butcher would cut Simili's neck until he bled out.
The butcher would explain to me later that they usually don't have such problems - nowadays cattle get de-horned after birth. And most cattle are much tamer than our Simili. As if that would make any of what had just happened better or justified.
Someone once said something like "sending your cattle to a slaughterhouse is like raising your daughter like a princess only to send her off to the whorehouse."
As I write this, I am not just sad, I am angry! I want to be given the right to end the animal's life on the farm myself with the peace and dignity each and every one of them deserves. I will not rest until I find a way to make this happen and only then will I be able to look my customers in the eyes and tell them: this meat comes from happy animals. Everything else is a compromise I am not willing to live with.
I believe that we are all in this boat together, and it is also up to the consumers to make a stand! I believe customers are not ok with saving money at the expense of the animal's welfare. If, because of logistics, it costs 10% more to kill the animals directly on the farm - i know that each and every one of you reading this will say that you are willing to pay that price.