Upon leaving Brisbane, we had days where there were more cows than people sharing our journey! They are beautiful animals. So careful, still, and wary. Their coats have been thick and healthy, their eyes luminous and alert, their “homes” wide and rich with plenty of shelter. All of this has been very heart warming, especially after watching with sadness as farming friends and their animals suffer the droughts of western Queensland year after year, and watching with great horror and revulsion the documentary Food Inc.
My mum was visiting a farming family a few years ago, and commented at a dinner that it was lovely to see “happy” cows at this particular farm – i.e. cows that roamed pastures. Another farmer at the table was most dismissive of her comment and assured her that his cows – farmed factory style, in a huge feedlot – were a damn sight happier than any of his neighbour’s cows because they knew their food was coming every day, come rain, hail or shine.
Not being a cow, or having first hand experience at farming cows, I don’t suppose I can comment with any authority. But gee whizz, after meandering down the east coast of Australia and its beautiful dairy country, I know where I’d rather be … if I was a cow. And I’m pretty sure I know which kind of farmer I’d rather be.
I know there are terrible stories of hardship and heartache. A Christmas card from a dear family friend, relayed the sad story of her cows, starving and thin out west, who frantically race along the fence line whenever a car passes, in the hope that it is her truck bringing them their meagre allocation of grain. Another farmer we know has been farming his land for 4 generations. At the end of last year he sat and cried as he confessed he simply had no more money and no hope of making a living from his farm ever again. Another family, farming olives, have received the same price for their olives from Woolworths (one of the two giant Australian supermarkets) for the last 15 years, whilst the cost of farming and living continues to rise. A dear couple we met on our journey had to give up their cattle and dreams because they had no control over the price they received at market and that which they were offered didn’t even come close to matching the cost of raising the cattle.
There is something so very broken in the way we are farming. There is land being farmed that is simply not suitable for farming. There have been decisions made and enforced, especially regarding water allocations, that are ludicrously unsustainable and immoral. But there is also such an incredibly deep, deep lack of respect for our farmers, their families, their land and their animals. Goodness me! I know it’s stating the obvious, but how on earth do we expect to live if we destroy our farms through our greed and ignorance! Oh yes, that’s right … we will be forced to endure the ghastly industrialised food of Food Inc.
I also met, on our journey, a delightful lady in Bega – one of Australia’s great dairy towns. She married a dairy farmer and they have produced milk for the Bega cheese factory for the last 20 years. She shared lovely stories of her hundred or so cows that roam the fields around her house, feeding upon the lush grass as mother nature intended. She explained how they are milked each morning and evening, how her family keeps a large metal drum of fresh milk in their house, and the children scoop up cups of milk from it throughout the day, whilst she makes their own butter. She described the terrible smell of clover in the milk – apparently it’s still fine for cheese, but at that time of year, they buy store milk for drinking. She described a life that certainly sounds rewarding and sustainable. And so reassuring that those supplying a big producer like Bega, are still able to farm in a traditional and humane manner.
Yes, if I had to be a cow, I’d like to be a dairy cow on the east coast pastures of Australia. It looks to be a pretty good life. And since I’m unlikely to turn into a cow any time soon, I sure would like to be a dairy farmer! Julian and I spent hours talking about this as we drove along – you know us, we are HUGE lovers of all things dairy.
Now that we are here in the big city, we still talk and plan and dream about it. Maybe we will – Boot’s Organic Dairy. Abby’s sure keen, and when I suggested she will have left home by the time we are in a position to act upon our dreams, she was amazed that I would even think such a thing. “Are you kidding!” she exclaimed “I’m not moving out if you’re going to have a dairy farm – I’m going to farm with you!”
And, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a big change in the Boot kitchen, with cow and pig now off the menu. Apparently they are too beautiful to eat. I’m torn over this. I appreciate and respect Abby’s decision, but I must admit to being more closely aligned with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s way of thinking – we only have these amazing animals because we have bred them so carefully for so many centuries for our consumption. Thus, what we simply must do, is ensure that these animals live lives of health, comfort and dignity – and that these same qualities are afforded to them at their time of death.
If not, what right do we have to depend upon them for our survival, or worse, gobble up greedily without thought of the poor animal’s welfare, the farmer’s livelihood, or the earth’s health and longevity?