I have two new goats.
In a nod to Tom Sawyer and his fence, I told my sons the goats are for me only, and I want to take care of them. When my sons thought of 100 names for each goat, I told them that the person who takes care of the goats gets to name the goats.
So the goats are named Samuel and Snowflake. And I am supervising feeding instead of feeding.
I know you’re not supposed to name farm animals you are planning to eat. But last summer my son bottle fed a calf that did not have a mom to take care of it, and now my son seems to be fine with the idea of killing the calf.
The farmer made the idea more palatable to my son by telling him that my son will get money for taking care of the calf. My son asked for $10,000. The farmer pointed out that we cannot sell a calf for $10,000 and when all was said and done with the financial lesson, it became clear that if you add labor, and milk replacer, and the small size of the orphaned calf, it costs more money to keep the calf alive and slaughter it for meat than it would have cost to kill the calf when it was born.
“We don’t kill our animals here unless they are in pain,” said the farmer to my son.
So it was easy to explain to my son why our goats were free. “The dairy goat farmer doesn’t want them,” I said. “It costs too much in labor and feed to keep the goat alive. That farmer would lose money.”
I didn’t tell my sons that farmers all over the cheese belt of America are banging goat babies on the head to kill them as soon as they are born.
If this were a PETA blog, there would be really gross pictures. But my kids go to school with tons of dairy farm kids, so I have to be careful.
But here’s the problem with the milk industry. To get milk from animals they have to give birth. And their milk slows down if they don’t give birth a lot. If the dairy cow gives birth to a girl, there’s hope that the girl cow will give milk when she grows up, so it’s not a total waste of money to keep the calf alive.
If the dairy cow gives birth to a boy, there’s not really anything to make it economically sensible to keep it alive.You have probably never had a dairy cow steak in your life—they’re just not that good. But dairy cow meat can go into low-cost food like McDonald’s hamburgers. So McDonald’s is saving the lives of tons of boy dairy cows by creating a market for them.
The dairy goats are not so lucky. Just like the cow business, there are meat goats and dairy goats. But there is not enough money is the goat meat market for people to pay a decent price to kill dairy goats for meat. There’s not enough meat on the dairy goat to make it worth raising the dairy goat.
So farmers that provide goat milk to the cheese industry kill the boy baby goats.
You can get angry at the farmers if you want, but what can they do? They could raise the prices of goat milk, but someone would undersell them. And people who are great at raising goats can’t switch their farm over to something else. They don’t know how and they don’t have enough money for a capital investment.
We have seen this business problem before. We see it in corporate life all the time. It’s much easier to make money without the burden of a moral compass. Until you go to jail. But also, most of us have our own moral compass and we are always trying to balance ethical problems: feeding ourselves and our families and being the good person we envision ourselves to be. Making real world business decisions requires a constant recalibration of the right and wrong of our own perspective against what’s at stake.
The type of business makes a huge difference. Take Bernie Madoff, for instance. It’s hard for me to understand the laws he violated and the numbers he faked. So who knows what I would have done with the opportunity to make decisions for him? But when I first met the farmer, I could look in his pig pen (technically called a “farrowing pen”) and see that I really don’t like how he’s birthing pigs. He has the moms immobilized so they don’t roll over onto babies.
My perspective: It’s inhumane to tie down an animal during birth and if pigs would roll over onto babies in natural childbirth then probably that’s why there are such big litters—because some would die naturally.
The farmer’s perspective: His whole system is set up this way and it’s too much to change right now and it’s just balancing the pain of a birthing mother versus the pain of a baby being squashed, and who am I to guess which is more painful? (This is what most animal arguments with the farmer come down to: “Don’t anthropomorphize the animals!”)
So it’s never absolutely clear to me what is right and what is wrong on a family farm. And most of these goat milk farms are family farms.
The great thing about awareness, though, is that once people understood the horrors of the veal industry, the veal industry tanked. And now a new industry of veal cows with a high quality of life has emerged.
So, I got two boy goats from a woman whose specialty is taking boy goats from milk farmers who don’t want them. Here’s a photo of Samuel today. Four days old.
The farmers control the births so they get an optimum price for milk. Milk prices are high now. So babies are being born in the coldest part of winter. They are not in heated barns because it’s too costly to heat a barn for animals that make so little money at slaughter. Of the boy baby goats that are not intentionally killed at birth, a large percentage of them die from frostbite. And even more die because when you take them away from their mother, they have no will to eat.
Because I make money from something other than goat milk, and I can afford to turn my boy goats into sort-of house pets, we have two in a small heated shed. I am having to force-feed them to teach them how to eat. It reminds me a little of feeding my own boy babies that hadn’t learned to latch onto the nipple.
Here’s my idea. I’m going to learn about how to take care of boy baby goats, and then I’m going to figure out how to change the goat cheese industry so that people understand that the moral cost of goat cheese is very high right now. But it doesn’t have to be. Somehow I want to try to figure out how to make morally responsible goat cheese.
Does anyone have ideas? Also, if you want to know what it looks like to figure out a new idea for a company, here’s what looks like: Going down seemingly insane paths, learning skills that may or may not be useful in life, meeting a wide range of people who may or may not help you, and then telling everyone your idea in order to get feedback.