Defending Debudding . . . or . . . How to rescue animals in an imperfect world . . .

News Flash: We don’t live in a perfect world.

Reality Check: All we can do is the best we can and hope humanity wakes up. Soon.

Yesterday was a rough day here on Locket’s Meadow. After several months of internal debate (and external debate with my veterinarian, whose patient answer was always, “I will do whatever you decide,”) we had the calves debudded and banded. Generally it’s uneventful. The boys are sedated and the vet uses a hot iron on the buds where their horns would eventually grow. Then, to castrate them, she uses a device that puts a band around their testicles and cuts off the circulation so they wither up and fall off (no jokes here, please . . .) The other option is to wait a little longer and do it surgically, which is more painful and has a longer recovery time as well as a chance of infection.

As far as castration goes, there is no option; we can’t have testosterone infested, one-ton bulls in our backyard. Period. Same goes for pigs, goats, sheep . . . all men are treated equally here on Locket’s Meadow.

We generally debud goats because they play with children and assist with yoga classes. It’s safer and we hate to deny them the interaction with humans that they enjoy so much. Our animals have never tried to gore anyone on purpose, but they can play hard and accidentally catch someone with a horn. Norman, our ancient Jersey steer, came with horns and we left them alone as he’s docile as a lamb. However, one of his horns curls back into his head and we’ve had to saw the end off several times as it continued to grow into his skull, so he may have been better off without them . . .

Benny Coconut . . . well . . . we left his horns alone because he is the sweetest, gentlest, loveliest animal in the world and wouldn’t hurt a fly (literally – he refuses to be fly sprayed in the summer.) But in retrospect, I wish we had debudded him. Now that he’s missing his right eye (removed due to cancer) he swings his head wildly to see what’s happening on his blind side and he’s dangerous, but NEVER on purpose! This means he now gets less petting and seldom is hugged. I know he misses the hands-on attention, but getting caught with one of those horns could be fatal. How could I have guessed he’d get cancer and lose an eye, making his horns an issue? Hindsight . . . dammit . . .

So, yesterday, Dr. Cait came out and did her thing. I had waited a little too long while debating, so Francis Beauregard had a little bit of horn growth that had to be trimmed before cauterizing the bud. Everything was uneventful until about an hour later when I noticed blood oozing from one side. Then, he reached up with a hind leg and gave it a good scratch. Styptic powder, flour, cobwebs . . . I don’t care what you put on this bleeder – it was a geyser of shooting blood and needed a hot iron. So, I stood with my fingers pressed into it while I waited for the vet to come back – in rush hour traffic. Because we put so much time into handling our babies, Francis was an angel, only getting upset if I tried to walk away for a minute (left in the care of our trainer, Shannon, who apparently has some sore muscles today from trying to hold him still when I was out of sight.) Dr. Cait finally returned, heated up the iron, cauterized the artery and life went on.

Our lives here are an open book. I post it all, good, bad, ugly . . . if I’m going to tell the story of animal rescue, I’m going to tell it openly and honestly. Sometimes things fall apart. Would I rather not debud? Are you kidding? OMG, I hate doing it! But if my options are to rescue a bull calf and keep him intact, isolated, unsocialized and unsafe, or do two small surgeries so he can have friends and lots of love and attention, I’m debudding and banding.

Our steers live long, happy lives. We love them and take care of their needs. Their alternative? A horrible death in a slaughter house after spending their early lives enclosed in a tiny hut, mostly immobile, crying for their mothers with whom they only were allowed a few hours before being wrenched away.

Here in the muddy trenches we do the best we can with what we have to keep our animals safe. We train our rescued horses to be ridden because as the world is RIGHT NOW, if we don’t, should this farm close down, the only ones who stand a chance of avoiding slaughter for meat are the ones who can hold a job. The rest . . . ugh . . . we would humanely euthanize our old and special needs angels before we would ever allow that to happen. Male animals are fixed/castrated/whatever to avoid them becoming aggressive. Otherwise, they can’t live here in small herds being handled by humans. (Same with dogs – training and neutering are mandatory! The worst week I ever endured was when I had two, six-month old Australian shepherds simultaneously spayed/neutered . . . “keep them quiet” the vet said . . . OMG! YOU keep them quiet! It’s not possible without DRUGS – GIVE ME DRUGS FOR THEM! AND ME!!)

Humans have created domesticated animals who depend upon us for everything. We can’t fix this – they’ve been domesticated for thousands of years and it’s too late. Say what you will about debudding, but then take a walk through your local supermarket and notice all the beef products on the shelves, in the freezers . . . everywhere. Slaughter is cruel. Feedlots are cruel. Isolating veal calves from their mamas is cruel. Factory farming is cruel and the enormous meat and dairy industries are cruel. Debudding is a headache for a few days, but it’s the best we can do to compensate for an industry that is inherently cruel. (Family farmers, please don’t get on my case – I have seen the “factories” and that is specifically what I’m talking about.) There is a fate far worse than debudding and your grocery store shelves are lined with the evidence.

The very best we can do is save a few precious lives, do what we can to make them happy and SAFE, invite people in to meet them and to learn that steers are beautiful, kind, affectionate and sentient beings and hope our babies can work their magic on their visitors. I have never once meet a carnivorous human who became vegan after being yelled at by a militant vegan. I REGULARLY hear from people who have been introduced to our pigs, goats, sheep, steers . . . you name it . . . who fall in love and stop eating meat. Without me ever saying one word (and I never have, nor ever will – the animals do a better job of educating than I ever could.)

So what is the ultimate solution? Calling me a cruel bitch does not make the world a better place for animals, so name-calling isn’t it. The only solution, practical or not, is for everyone to stop eating meat and for humans to stop constantly overbreeding domesticated animals. (Yes, I heard your guffaw, but hear me out . . .) the truth is that the business of making meat is bad for our planet, it’s bad for our health, and heaven knows it’s bad for the animals. And if you believe in karma, well, you know . . . bad, bad juju . . .

We need to double down on creating cruelty-free, lab-grown meats for those who feel they can’t live without it (carnivores live here, too, so deal with it!) we need more companies to invest the way Beyond Meat has (they can’t keep up with demand!) into making a tasty and convincing fake meat (too convincing for me, I will stay with my black beans,) and we need to stop being afraid of change. Our planet will not survive if we don’t change.

What are the chances of all this happening? I’m an optimist, but wow, this pushes my to the limits of my ability to Imagine, with sincere apologies to John Lennon. Until we reach this amazing space of kindness and caring about all living beings, what can we do?

We can do the best we can with what we have, as those of us in the trenches, up to our knees in spring mud, are doing every day.

One last thing . . . I hear so many people say they love animals more than people. Lest we forget, people are animals, too. We are always gentle with our animals because that’s how we teach them to be gentle. It should be the same for the way humans treat other humans. Beating people up for not believing exactly as you do will never change anyone’s mind. Never. It just pisses them off and makes them dig in harder. The best we can do is to do our best and set an example. Rational discussion without resorting to denigration is our greatest hope for finding common ground, and frankly, our dream world of compassion and caring will never happen if we can’t find a way to work together for the benefit of every living being on this planet.

And now, I kindly thank you for reading, but I’m out of time. Back to the muddy trenches . . .

Kathleen Schurman is caretaker to more animals than she cares to count. She and her husband founded Locket’s Meadow, an animal rescue and sanctuary in Bethany, CT, in 2000. The sanctuary is self-funded, but is a non-profit 501(c)3 and gratefully accepts donations. If you don’t agree with what we do, we don’t mind if you don’t donate. We will just keep on working to make it all work and keep our animals safe and happy while we dream of peace on Earth. Peace and blessings to all!

3 thoughts on “Defending Debudding . . . or . . . How to rescue animals in an imperfect world . . .

  1. Pam Traun

    Thank you for doing what you do and doing it well…
    Pay no attention to those who think they know better. They don’t

  2. STACIE

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a new sanctuary owner and I have done a lot of worrying about castration and disbudding of the 3 calves we recently rescued. It is worrisome. I feel for you as it is a struggle to predict outcomes and to actually know which procedure hurts less.
    It is easy to judge when you’re looking in from the outside.
    Thanks for all you do!

  3. Kathy

    Thank you Kathleen for the informative post. I am grateful to you and your husband for all the lives that you have loved and saved. For YEARS I have always said ” I want to be a vegetarian ” well talk is cheap, and that was all I did….talk about it, talk about it and talk about it. UNTIL my first visit to Lockets Meadow Farm, it was a life changing experience for me. After watching the interaction with you and the animals it made me realize what I was doing by eating meat. Both my husband and I no longer eat meat, and it feels good 🙂

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