I was going to resist writing about small animals, but I can’t. This is the time of year when the concept of rebirth and renewal is apparently celebrated, although I think for the vast majority of secular folk it is just a long weekend with the chance to create a bigger than usual Sunday lunch for family and friends, and of course to offer chocolate eggs. If there are children around then egg painting and egg hunts are popular and there might be a visit to a farm to see the lambs. This is where I start to feel edgy because I am not sure at what point the disconnect happens between adorable wooly creature and a slice of roasted quadraceps muscle with gravy and veg, and with 11,000 tonnes of lamb eaten last Easter (according to the NSA) the disconnect, if I can call it that, is pretty significant.
On the face of it sheep seem to have a better deal than most industrially reared animals. There are about 22 million sheep in the UK (where are they?) and many are left to roam fields, graze freely (with some additional feed), and raise their young for at least a few months, unlike the fate of calves when separation occurs after the first feed of the mother’s collostrum milk. If she/he is not slaughtered in infancy then a sheep can probably expect to live for about 4-5 years of it’s natural lifespan which is 15 years.
Survival for breeding ewes depends solely on their ability to continue producing lambs either by natural exposure to a ram or through hormonal manipulation and artificial insemination. The latter is especially used in order to have lamb available for Easter butchering since if natural cycles were followed the lambs would not be ready for culling until the summer. And it isn’t just ewes who are sexually manipulated, “teaser” rams who have had a vasectomy or “wethers”, testosterone treated castrated rams (a procedure like tail docking using a rubber band a few days after birth), are used to stimulate the ovulation cycle in unsuspecting ewes.
For me, this whole vegan exercise comes down to thinking before eating, thinking before shopping, thinking about the bigger picture. Just on the lamb issue alone, there are further considerations beyond breeding methods like conditions for live transportation and slaughter techniques. And, I haven’t even got on to the wool industry and the bonkers and barbaric desire for day-old or fetal, yes fetal, pelts of karakul sheep. The only problem with the vegan exercise is the more you clear the fog from the window the more you probably don’t want to see.