Feeling Powerless: My Visit to a Stockyard

The stockyard building hides hundreds of animals from view, but it can’t contain the smell: hay, dust, mud, shit, cows.

I’m here on an observational trip with other interns from Farm Sanctuary, an animal advocacy organization. I came because I want to put a face to factory farming. I’ve watched undercover footage but I’ve never stepped inside the walls of the industry I protest. I want to know how I will react when taken from my protective circle of “like-minded” people and forced to see one cog in the factory farming machine.

When we enter the building I see hundreds of animals: grown holstein cows, a bull that seems pissed off in his narrow enclosure, goats, boxes of hens and bunnies stacked on the floor, and so many calves. The scene is chaotic, filled with a bustling energy as one woman drags calf after calf into the auction ring. Amongst all the animals are only a handful of workers. It surprises me to see them so calm, while my heart is racing.

The stockyard is full of life, and all I can think about is death. All of the animals that I see will be killed and most likely eaten. I’m often asked why I chose to be vegan. My simplest answer is that I love animals. As a young girl I felt joy watching baby bunnies grow up in our yard or seeing a squirrel leisurely flick its tail while laying on a branch. Abstaining from eating animals is one way I can live my life causing the least harm to others.

As I take in the image of the stockyard, I close my eyes and wish that these animals could be free. Outside the auction ring, a calf no more than a day old suckles my hand. The warmth of his tongue leaves a slimy film. His doe eyes dart around as he lays on the ground; he barely knows how to stand. If nothing else, I bear witness to these animals in their last few days alive.

When I leave the stockyard, I am numb. I am powerless. I am overwhelmed.

A few weeks later, I drive to New Jersey to campaign against gestation crates. Surrounded by other activists I feel a sense of community and start to believe that we can make a difference for animals. Going door to door asking people to call their representatives about legislation that affects mother pigs isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but it made me feel that progress was possible.

As someone who is labeled a vegan, I carry a lot of the stigma that goes along with it. There is hostility from vegans and “non-vegans” about the perfect way to live with and eat/not eat animals. While I would say that my ideal world is a vegan one, the issue is not that simple (and I don’t have the complicated answer, yet).

What I do know is that being in a stockyard filled me with sadness, and we could do with a little less sadness in our world.

At Sasha Farm Sanctuary