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.

A visit to White Oak Pastures with Eric Shelley

In August of 2013, David and I had the pleasure of taking Eric Shelley with us on our second visit to White Oak Pastures in Georgia to meet with Will Harris. Having these two phenomenal farmers meet each other was rewarding for us. Will Harris graciously gave Eric a tour of the farm and the abattoirs. He never skipped a beat in regard to explaining his passion for being the herdsman and the land steward that he is. He and Eric saw eye-to-eye on every aspect of animal welfare and humane slaughter.

While driving through White Oak Pastures in Will Harris’ Jeep, we had a lot of time to talk about what it means to raise animals for meat. Eric spoke about how he ethically believes that if he is going to eat meat, he needs to understand what goes into it. He doesn’t feel that he can make any judgments about it unless he is aware of the whole process. Will expressed how animals don’t voluntarily sacrifice themselves to be our food and fiber and leather, but they do make the sacrifice. And he is glad that some consumers are willing to learn about meat production in detail.

Eric was fascinated by the precision and skill evident in Will’s poultry abattoir. Will was sure to give Eric the time he needed to take it all in.

Will Harris graciously gave his entire day to us so we could understand all aspects of his farm and the abattoirs. He took a special interest in “talking shop” with Eric about  what it means to be a land steward, herdsman, and environmentally conscious meat processor.

We relished when we got to go right into Will Harris’ cow herd.  They were very curious and even took turns in “tasting” the Jeep! As Will explained to us, “Their noses and tongues are their hands.”  He also told us about how it is a “closed herd on the maternal side.” That means, as Will told us, that “all female cows on the farm were born here, and their mamas were born here, and their grandmamas were born here, and their great grandmamas were born here – for hundreds of generations back to 1866 when my great grandfather brought a herd here.” The important feature of this is that the “cows fit the land.” Will doesn’t need to use fly control or antibiotics. The cows don’t get sick because they have a great immunity to any pathogens on the farm.

We were also very fortunate to meet Brian Sapp, the Director of Operations.  Eric and Brian had a lot to talk about in regard to how much skill and perseverance is needed when working with live animals in the processing plant.

Brian took time out of his busy day to show Eric all aspects of the meat-cutting operations. It is amazing how many details go into assuring food safety.

When we were at White Oak Pastures in August of 2012, Will Harris was just beginning to make arrangements to raise hogs. It was lovely to finally see them, particularly in this wooded habitat where they could root around freely and wallow in the mud puddles.

At the end of the day, we all sat down in Will’s office and reviewed some of the footage from previous shoots. We were happy to be able to share our work with both of them present and appreciated their feedback.

Eric Shelley Visits Audrey Kali at her Home

On March 12th, 2013, Eric Shelley, instructor of meat processing at SUNY Cobleskill who is featured prominently in Farm and Red Moon, came to visit us at Audrey Kali’s house to talk about the film.

Audrey was happy to be able to show Eric the hide she had tanned from the lamb slaughtered on his farm in October of 2011. She also got a chance to show him her study where she does a lot of her research on humane slaughter issues. Seeing Eric in the context of her home was a refreshing change from seeing Eric at his farm or meat processing lab.

Eric and Audrey sipped coffee in her dining room, and Eric explained how he showed some clips of the film to his students in his meat processing certificate class, and how two of the Muslim students were so excited to see that halal slaughter is included in the film. Eric stresses to his students that the film is trying to help people see what goes on behind slaughterhouse walls, especially since most people don’t really know what happens.

As Eric says, “It goes back to the fact that in the past 30-40 years, we have, as a society, become separated from where our food comes from. We put up concrete walls so that people don’t see. All they see is the final product. And they’ve got the images of chickens out running around in pastures and crowing at the sun.

Eric also conveyed that he liked the idea that someone who wasn’t raised in farming is doing the film. He and his family were raised around farm animals and understand that animals are raised for meat, and when the animals pass, they are meat. However, he wonders about Audrey being sheltered from it for all those years, and if looking at it all of the time now is affecting her in adverse ways, causing many sleepless nights.

He noted that the students in his class wondered, “Why is she so wound up about this thing? Was this a surprise to her that this was going to happen?”  Eric explained to his students that Audrey willingly stepped into the role of being around it all of the time, and then on top of that was spending a lot of time reviewing the footage.  He explained that Audrey has been dwelling on it.

But, as Eric expressed, in his profession, one does not dwell on that moment. As Eric said, “I think about the moments before, and how much the farmer has given them the best possible life that they can have” instead of dwelling on those couple of seconds when the animal may have felt some pain. He said, “All of those seconds before, it was in bliss with the way it was raised; it was healthy, doing what it wanted to do.”

Eric also told Audrey that it is important to make Farm and Red Moon for people who haven’t had the experience that his children have have witnessing the full cycle of life and where their meat products come from. He said that through the course of making this film, he has come to realize that people need an accurate view of where meat comes from, what goes into it, and what happens to it, before it makes it to our plates. He believes that in order for people to make an educated decision about whether to consume meat and what kind of meat to consume, they need to understand the process of slaughter.

And he stresses that “we do everything we can to make it happen right.”

Eric explains how he teaches captive bolt stunning to his students.

Eric meets Audrey’s greyhound, Vico.

Audrey shows Eric the print of Chagall’s Farm and Red Sun which inspired the new title of the film.