The first time was when I watched a back episode of Borgen, the Danish political drama, which focused on the abuse of pigs by Danish pig farmers who saw their animals as commodities to be bred in vast indoor factories, filled with chemicals, killed unnecessarily, and maimed. It was a story, of course, but there was enough truth in it to make any viewer uncomfortable, in whatever country: in the UK super-farms are popular now, chemicals are used freely and animals have restricted or no access to natural light, air and food too often. Consumers eat the meat, or the eggs, but they do not ask how they have reached their plate, or at what cost.
[caption id="attachment_2301" align="alignright" width="150"] A magnificent ram
I went for a walk yesterday, buffeted by wind and rain but exhilarated by them also. The fields nearby are full of sheep, the ewes swollen with their new lambs growing inside them, and the wet weather has been hard for them. I had noticed a handsome ram with great curved horns that morning, near to my home, and was concerned to see him in the same place, by an old stone wall, hours later. He looked unwell, and when I went closer he moved and tried to get up, but his legs failed him and he dropped back to the ground, clearly in distress, looking at me as if begging for help. I returned home and made some calls to ensure the farmer was aware of the situation, and was assured he would come soon to check the animal and hopefully give the ram the warmth and food he needed: sadly, no-one came, and this morning the ram was dead.
It may be there were very good reasons that prevented anyone from helping this injured sheep, and I know that livestock perishes – farming in the Welsh mountains can be hard – but I was sad to see this magnificent creature die slowly and in pain, lashed by bad weather. As I watched the passage of time and saw, from my home, his body become stiller as the hours went by, I noticed other sheep arriving and lying down around him, as if keeping vigil over him. This morning they were there still, like a white tableau in a wet green scene, and then, suddenly, the sheep, pregnant perhaps by him, were gone, because he was gone.
The ram lies there still, dignified but lonely, and soon he will provide food for many wildlife creatures. His job is done and he will live on in the lambs that will appear soon. I will see him, visible from my window as he is, and I will miss him, but will others notice he is gone, or care? There is no room for sentiment in farming but there is room for compassion, and also for thanks for what the animals give. Should we not give in return?