I grew up with Bill and Lou
Bill and Lou arrived at Green Mountain College when I was 10. They were just gangly calves then, tied up outside the barn. As I entered middle school they filled out their Guernsey hides and began training under a miniature yoke. I learned to distinguish them by spots on their heads and first attempted driving them at age 12.
The kid of a college employee, I hung around the farm, hauling water down to their pasture when morning mist hung over the fields and breaking ice from their troughs in the snow. I remember driving the team with a sunflower when we couldn’t find a goad, and standing waste deep in hay as their lumbering forms pulled us forward. They aren’t saints; there was that time coming back from market when a thunderstorm rolled up and Lou stomped on everyone’s toes. Or that morning I was bringing Lou to pasture and he decided to gallop away — one ton of sprinting muscle.
But I will miss those hulking, lowing forms when they are gone. I will miss scratching under their necks and watching them arch their heads into the air. And I support the decision to slaughter them.
I am hesitant to add to this argument. Yet as editorials and opinions pour in, I am increasingly frustrated; there are a few points that appear to have been overlooked.
First, Lou is in pain now. His most recent walk between pastures — a regular ritual of rotational grazing — was hurtful to watch. Loading him into a trailer, hauling him over the Green Mountains, and walking him to an unknown field would be agonizing. People may still argue that Bill should be sent to sanctuary. However, Bill and Lou are brothers. They are a team, they have spent their entire lives together, and I would suspect that life without Lou would be difficult for Bill.
Even if Lou were not in immediate agony, Bill and Lou are part of a larger reality. When animals are used in farming for non-meat purposes, they reach an age when they consume more than they provide. Given the tenuous nature of farming, such consumption could push a farm over the brink. This leaves three possibilities: a) slaughter the animals, b) let farms go under, c) cease use of all non-meat farm animals.
Some may argue this logic does not apply to Bill and Lou. First, Bill and Lou are unique animals, and farmers have historically kept exceptional animals. And second, VINE has offered to take Bill and Lou for free. Both arguments are correct.
However, it is important to note that the first argument is based on the exceptionality of the situation and not inherent animal rights. The second argument is not generalizable; we could not sustain animal sanctuaries for every single old farm animal. Thus, the greater dilemma remains unsolved, and we are left with some questions: As an educational institution, should Green Mountain College role model a fairy-tale case? If we agree that old farm animals should be given to retirement homes, and that retirement homes are not viable for all farm animals, should we cease raising such animals? Complex questions raise complex, passionate answers. While I respect diversity of opinion, too many of these answers have aimed to damage Green Mountain College — an institution dedicated to ethical food — while distracting from the greater problems of our food system.
I am vegetarian. The confined spaces, swamps of manure, and gallons of antibiotics in industrial farming appall me. Similarly, I am concerned that four companies control over 80 percent of U.S. beef production. Agree or disagree, it is intriguing that the people who would sympathize most are targeting Bill and Lou, who lived every summer day out in the fields, who have been scratched and petted by hundreds of hands. It easier to get upset about a story with a face — especially a sweet Guernsey face — than statistics. But the statistics here — in 2007 60 percent of U.S. beefers were raised in feedlots with over 16,000 cattle — highlight a deeper problem.
Not only has the campaign to save Bill and Lou ignored these issues, it has harmed a college concerned with such problems. GMC’s farm provides its dining hall with organic, local food, free of sweatshop-style labor. Moreover, GMC brings its students face-to-face with real-world ethical issues, encouraging them to struggle rationally and thoughtfully. As soon as the dilemma over Bill and Lou was raised, the college held an open forum. (The vast majority of students support the college’s decision.) How many schools are willing to risk unrest to ensure that students grapple with morality?
Some will not share my opinion of Green Mountain, and I respect that. But I ask that you object thoughtfully, with humility. The woman who operates the switchboard at Green Mountain has been shouted and screamed at. Administrators have been inundated with hate mail. The sanctuary offering to take Bill and Lou posted false information about GMC, agreeing to remove it only if given the oxen. But vitriol will not solve this problem.
Bill and Lou and I, we grew up together. I am not the only person to come to love the boys over the past 10 years. Such love imparts a sense of responsibility that extends through death. So all else equal, I would rather have those who know, love, and respect Bill and Lou take them to slaughter. And that is what Green Mountain has chosen.
Annie Laurie Mauhs-Pugh, a junior at Dartmouth College, is from Poultney.