How can we accompany our animals with dignity into the future?
Livestock farming is in many ways a story of unparalleled success. It is also facing serious challenges today. These relate in the first place to the way we understand the nature and purpose of farm animals; secondly, to our ethical connection with them and thirdly, our daily interaction on the farm. The biodynamic model in which farm livestock is integrated within an agricultural organism is being severely tested. The theme of the coming year and the Agricultural conference of 2015, aims to encourage a new depth of understanding, gain clarity regarding ethical questions and develop creative insights for daily practice.
1. Understanding the nature and mission of animals
Understanding the nature of animals means taking a step from the world of life to the world of the soul. This finds expression in the differentiated morphology, physiology and behaviour of each individual animal species. Each species is highly specialised through having the formative power to impress its inner soul quality upon an organ or system of organs. The highly developed capacities that result are pure genius - yet so specialised that they are limiting. The human being by contrast is a universalist. The non-specialised constitution of man – with upright gait and hands free, the faculty of speech and the conscious relationship to himself and the world brought about by thinking – contains the basis for the human element, for humanity. In other words, the individual person is not human, but rather becomes a human being, biographically, culturally and through development. Animals do not have this possibility. Yet, animals and humans belong together. Specialisation is a form of sacrifice by the animals so that human beings may continue to develop. How can we live rightly in this relationship? How should we understand the domestication of animals in this regard? And what does it mean for the animals and our relationship to them, when we use their organs for preparation making?
3. Ethical Orientation
As the years go by it becomes less easy to justify livestock farming in the public mind. More and more people see any form of animal production as exploitation and like to view themselves as guardians of animal welfare. It is especially difficult when it comes to the killing of animals. Nowadays people are increasingly feeding themselves on the products of intensive livestock farming, which are promoted purely on the basis of price and it would seem they try (unconsciously) to compensate for their bad conscience by developing an over-the-top sentimental relationship to cuddly animals like cats and dogs.
Are we not being faced here with a complete reversal of the ethical picture of ‘brother animal’, so fundamental to all cultures? The relationship to animals appears to test the vulnerability of our own sense of human dignity. How is any orientation to be found? In our biodynamic approach where animals are seen as organs within the whole organism of the farm, do we not have a practical-ethical starting point for developing the necessary orientation? Is this not an opportunity for us as livestock farmers out of our individual sovereignty to create an agricultural homeland for our animals? How can we make this an authentic reality today? What can we contribute to the current public discourse?
3. Livestock Farming in Practice
A research study by the Forschungsring (Oltmanns, 2013) shows that livestock is indispensable for the building up of long term soil fertility. There are thus no practical-scientific reasons for abandoning the principle of the integration of animals in agriculture.
There are however improtant issues to address in relation to the raising, feeding and housing of all the species of livestock; here are some examples:
Hens: The mobile henhouse has brought definite improvements in the keeping of hens. What about the buying in of feed, especially of internationally traded soya? What progress have we made with regard to the raising of chickens to ensure that unwanted day old chicks (either male or female depending on breed|) do not have to be shredded?
Pigs: There is a lot of discussion going on about the fattening of boars.
Small ruminants: The milk of sheep and goats is very much sought after, keeping them will become more common. One problem however is that of parasites.
Cows and cattle: Research and development is in progress in all areas. Loose housing is now in place on most farms, facilities for horned cattle are being continually improved. The practice of raising calves with their mother is becoming widespread, there is new interest in grassland based feeding systems. Much still needs to be developed with regard to medication, especially the drying off of cows without antibiotics.
Increasingly important demands are being made by society on farm animals: In education, social therapy, therapy and leisure. How can these relationships between man and animal be developed?
The extended social organism of the family farm used to be the basis for looking after the animals. In many places nowadays this no longer works. New solutions need to be found. How can new networks and alliances be developed between farms and other regional players? The stockless wine growers have developed many imaginative ideas for bringing “cows into the vineyard”. In the case of predominantly livestock farms this opening out has not progressed so far. Can the care of livestock within an integrated farm organism continue to be the sole reserve and concern of the people who work on the farm? Is there not rather a need for every herd to have wider circle of people, willing to take responsibility and get involved with it in all kinds of ways?
The Michael letter we propose to work with this year is "Where is Man as a being that thinks and remembers?" (GA 26).
We want to try and accompany the work on the theme of the year, its culmination in the Agrculture Conference and its subsequent evaluation, in a more focussed way. It is about developing a more participatory learning process for the future biodynamic land culture.
König Karl, Bruder Tier – Mensch und Tier in Mythos Evolution, Verlag Freies Geistesleben
Poppelbaum Herrmann, Tierwesenskunde, Verlag am Goetheanum
Spranger Jörg, Lehrbuch der anthroposophischen Tiermedizin, Haug Verlag
Steiner Rudolf, The Agriculture Course (GA 327), in particular lectures 2, 4 and 8, Rudolf Steiner Verlag
Steiner Rudolf, Spiritual Ecology, selected texts, R. Steiner Verlag
Steiner Rudolf, Harmony of the creative Word (GA 230), especially the first three lectures.
Steiner Rudolf, Antworten der Geisteswissenschaft auf die grossen Fragen des Daseins (GA 60), Lectures: Menschenseele und Tierseele/ Menschengeist und Tiergeist (Human Soul and Animal Soul/Human Spirit and Animal Spirit), not translated!