Reuniting with Eric Shelley

At the end of the summer we took a lovely road trip to visit Eric Shelley at his farm in Cobleskill, New York.

Me Eric Duke Cow

We started our day with Eric (and son Duke in tow) taking us to see the cow & calf herd. We hadn’t seen these animals for over a year so it was amazing to see that the calves we met before are now full-grown cows nursing their own calves. It was quite the contrast to recently being at the Cornell University Dairy Barn where the cows are all in a barn without their calves. Of course the main distinction is that those were dairy cows at Cornell and Eric’s herd is raised for meat, not milk. Nonetheless, it is impossible to make a judgment about the animals’ collective happiness. They all seemed content to us.

Calf Nursing

While in the pasture with the cows, Eric introduced us to Audrey the cow! He sent us pictures of her last year and said that if it was a male they would call him David and if it was a female they would name her Audrey. So, Audrey got to meet Audrey and it was quite the honor!

Audrey Meets Audrey

We didn’t really hit it off at first since I was wearing perfume and she acted like I smelled repulsive and sneezed when she smelled my hand. Eric explained to us that scents like perfumes are unnatural and unpleasant to them and if I had more of a pasture/barn type of smell she would have not been as suspicious. Audrey and Audrey were able to stay on neutral terms and accept each other’s differences.

Closeup Audrey Cow

One thing that absolutely amazed us was how fearless Duke was around these majestic animals. At not much over four years old, he is as big as one of their heads and yet reached out to them as friends. But never without Daddy’s hand attached. Eric explained to us that as docile as they can appear, they are still prey animals with a “flight zone” and will react quickly to any perceived threat by collectively running to avoid that threat — not considering that one of us might be in the trajectory of their fleeing.

Duke with Cow

After visiting with the cow-calf herd and meeting Audrey, Eric took us to his barn to see the new additions to his animal family — pigs!  We loved watching Duke playing with the pigs like they were puppies! At such a young age Duke has been able to embrace the contradiction of loving and caring for what you know you will kill for your food.

Duke with Pigs

Eric’s older son, Beau, was also fascinating to watch as he interacted with the animals. He was only four in October of 2011 when he watched an on-farm slaughter of a lamb with us — his first experience of slaughter. He has grown so much in the past three years, yet he is affectionate as ever with all of the animals on the farm. It was really heart-warming to see him with one of his Aunt Cindi’s dairy goats.

Beau with Goat

One thing that we’ve always enjoyed about visiting Eric at his farm is the vast array of fresh meats and produce. It was a lovely end-of-summer day and we got to have lunch together with his family at a picnic table outside. Eric served us his famous recipe of chorizo along with freshly harvested vegetables and other homemade delights.

Me Cindy Beau Luch

At the end of the day we were able to sit with Eric and reflect on how far Farm and Red Moon has come over the past four years. We would not be where we are now with the film or been able to experience what we experienced about animal agriculture and slaughter had it not been for Eric’s generosity and willingness to educate us.

Me Eric Outside Interview

We are always honored to visit Eric’s farm as it is a place where animals are cared for with the highest standards of husbandry and stewardship. Yet it is bittersweet because we know these animals will die prematurely to be our food. But what is important – and what we have found in making this film – is that the animals should be treated as humanely as possible while alive, and to be killed as humanely as possible when slaughtered. Eric lives this and teaches this. And we can see this reflected in his sons.

At Cornell University with Dr. Joe M. Regenstein

Learning about humane kosher and halal slaughter and the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative

Audrey Joe Cows 2

Halal symbol kosher_symbol

cornell logo

Cornell Dairy Barn Sign

On August 1st we traveled to Ithaca, New York and spoke with Dr. Joe M. Regenstein, Professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University . He is also the director of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative. This program provides research, teaching, and extension programming in the area of religious foods, particularly kosher and halal. The program is contributing to efforts towards religious slaughter that fully meet the needs of the various religious groups while fulfilling modern animal welfare requirements.

Close Joe with Hands Explaining

As Dr. Regenstein explained the guidelines of religious slaughter, he stressed that as with any method of slaughter, the key is to do it right. However, he clarified that kosher and halal slaughter requires a lot more attention to detail.  With standard slaughter methods (non-religious) the animal is stunned so it is insensible to pain when its neck is cut to be bled out. Typical methods of stunning used in the developed world include a captive bolt gun, electrocution, a CO2 chamber, or a gun shot. The traditional methods of slaughter in Judaism and Islam customarily prohibit a pre-slaughter stun. Rather, the animal dies by the cut to the neck causing a rapid loss of blood pressure and unconsciousness from 10 seconds to 33 seconds. Therefore, the time from cut to unconsciousness is a critical factor in assuring humane treatment.

Cows Walk Toward Us

Interviewing Dr. Regenstein at the Cornell Research Center Dairy Barn also brought up the topic of how little the public knows about animals in food production. For example, he strongly dislikes the advertisements that show cows out in the field of a farm chewing grass, because that is not how most dairy cows live. They live their entire lives in barns like this one and do not make any attempt to run outside if given the opportunity. As Dr. Regenstein eloquently said, “Animal welfare is about animals, not what looks good for us. Some things don’t make good visuals. They are not meant to make good visuals. They are about making an animal comfortable. And what makes an animal comfortable may not be what we want to see – like dairy cows indoors.

Cows in barn in arow

In closing our interview, Dr. Regenstein declared the following: “I believe strongly that when done right, religious slaughter can be equal to or possibly even better [that slaughter with stunning]. But I also admit that it is more difficult to do and there is more bad slaughter out there. You are dealing with cultures that have not developed the American and European sensitivity to animal welfare, so we have lots of work to do.”

HERE ARE SOME USEFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HUMANE SLAUGHTER AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:

Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center
https://www.animallaw.info/article/detailed-discussion–methods-slaughter-act

United States Code, 2011 Edition

Title 7 – AGRICULTURE
CHAPTER 48 – HUMANE METHODS OF LIVESTOCK SLAUGHTER

Section 1902 – Humane Methods of Slaughter – includes ritual slaughter
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title7/html/USCODE-2011-title7-chap48-sec1902.htm

Section 1906 – Exemption of Ritual Slaughter for Religious Freedom
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title7/html/USCODE-2011-title7-chap48-sec1906.htm