Recently Jon Katz (www.bedlamfarm.com) has been exploring the fact that so many people nowadays in the US are incredibly disconnected from animals. They have not been raised around them, haven't trained or worked with them, don't even share their life with them. By far the majority of the animal experience that Americans now have is with owning a cat or dog that serves as a child substitute or a pet the serves as an attractive piece of decoration (fish tanks, a reptile, bird cage, exotic small pet, etc). Very few people have experience with animals considered to be livestock.
Part of my homestead adventure includes animals. Luckily during my entire life I've been around animals of one sort or other. My mother took the effort to teach us respect and empathy for not just household pets but also wildlife. By 15 years of age I was already involved in veterinary medicine, being introduced to practical animal husbandry and behavior. My first employer also emphasized respect and empathy, but he was no wuss when it came to dealing with dangerous animals. I also came to understand that 99% of creatures, man and animals, have to earn their keep when going through life. No free lunch! That applies to both wild animals and domestic.
I've had a variety of experiences on the homestead already that typify the disconnection that seems to be increasingly common today, the lack of the animal-human understanding. I've seen people that were afraid of animals that were fairly harmless. Others had no fear of animals that were quite dangerous. Some visitors were repulsed by them or conversely, overly attracted to them. Most visitors misunderstood the animal's intentions, didn't recognize the animals body language, etc. I've had others rush up to animals assuming that the animal would see they loved them (hint: the animal doesn't). I've seen emotions falsely attributed to animals. People no longer know animals. Actually, most people don't want to be near them or touch "the dirty animal". And for some reason people like to make up stories in their own minds about what animals are thinking, feeling, doing. I hear it all the time.
I've been accused of exploiting animals, as though that is an evil thing . Do people know the definition of "exploit"? I've been verbally accused in public of abusing animals.....and the accusation was laughable. At that time I had Turken chickens and was accused of abusing them so extremely that their heads and necks had become featherless. If people weren't so inexperienced with animals, these sorts of accusations wouldn't happen. But the accuser hadn't the foggiest idea that Turkens are born that way. It's their genetics.
I've had animal right/advocates tell me that farms were horrible places for animals and that animals should be living free in the wild. They obviously don't have a clue what life in the wild is like. It isn't pretty and cruelty-free. Perhaps they have watched those nature shows on TV which portray wildlife having ideal, majestic, beautiful natural lives. Of course Mother Nature isn't like that. Nature is dog-eat-dog, survival of the lucky, often amazingly cruel, full of brutality and daily carnage. There is no such thing as blissful life in the wild, except in the mind of the animal rights advocate and the extreme animal lover.
I've been told by several animal lovers (did they read the same pamphlet?) that lions are majestic and live the perfect life. But in reality they kill and attack not only their own kind, but an adult lion represents hundreds of animals that they successfully suffocated to death with teeth and claws deep in the victims flesh. Animal lovers tend to ignore facts or opt to disassociate themselves from reality.
I've been told that working an animal is equal to slavery. I don't believe that the concept of slavery needs to be associated with working livestock. Surely there are animal slaves in the world just human slaves still exist, but animals can be trained to voluntarily do their jobs, without abuse or force. I've had many that enjoyed working, just as I enjoy working myself. My sled dogs would go crazy with anticipation when they saw me bring out the harnesses. My old riding horse was right at the gate if she spied me bringing her bridle, and danced a jig the first couple of miles always curious of what was further down the trail. My draft pony never objected to pulling firewood out of the back acres, always alert, willing, at ease and pleasant. But she never liked pulling a cart, so I never pursued that pastime. No, working livestock doesn't have to be a case of slavery. It can be a case of working partners. But you know, people I meet that are from the cities don't see that. They can't understand that an animal can be a willing partner. They have no connection with animals.
Unless one opts to be vegan, homesteaders work with animals. Supporting one's family off a homestead normally means keeping livestock of some type. I'm seeing that newcomers to livestock keeping are having more problems than new gardeners. Most newcomers have not grown up around animals and don't know the basics about them. They can read about the animal's needs in a book -- feed, water, shelter, health care, etc. But as children, newcomers had already lost the animal connection, thus do not understand how their livestock think, how they will react, what their emotional needs are.
With the movement of going back to the land, hopefully a greater percentage of the next generation will have some connection with animals other than just the four legged "children" and the "decor".