An Ethical Question Regarding Livestock

An Ethical Question Regarding Livestock

I’ve probably mentioned it on this blog at least once or twice, but my husband is vegan due to animal rights reasons.  He hasn’t always been vegan during our relationship, but for the past four years veganism has been a steady part of our household and life.  I think he’s in it for the long haul, and I support him in his choices.

That being said, I’m not vegan.


I’m also not planning on becoming vegan (though I’ll never say never) despite having this conversation multiple times with Tim, seeing all the documentaries, and reading many articles.  At the end of the day, I simply don’t have an ethical problem with consuming animals and animal byproducts as part of my diet.  I do get upset about the factory farming and mistreatment of farm animals, but that’s a separate though related issue.

My husband knows me and knows I’m an animal lover.  Though he disagrees with my choices, he let’s it go and rarely steps on the vegan soapbox.  The question has certainly been posed before (by him and by other vegans) as to how such an animal lover or a horse person could be okay with consuming animals?


It’s interesting, and I can’t 100% put it into words.  No, it’s not because I “can’t live without bacon” (note to meat eaters: please do not ask vegans/veggies how they can possibly exist without bacon… they don’t appreciate it).  And before you pull the “oh but I bet you think horses are just so much worthy than cows” double standard line… I also am not against horse slaughter with the current state of breeding in this country.

I’m not here to judge anyone’s choices, but curious on the topic.  Are horse lovers in general more vegetarian/vegan prone because we love animals so much?  Or on the other hand, are we actually more aware of livestock/farm life from our horse experience and therefore fall into the more traditional dietary habits?  I suspect the later.


Not here to step on anyone’s lifestyle choices or start a shit storm, but I am simply curious.  Share your thoughts in the comments if you like!


54 thoughts on “An Ethical Question Regarding Livestock

  1. A lot of my equestrian friends are vegetarians or vegans. I, however, am not. I’m careful with where I get meat because I’m against the inhumane slaughter houses but I’m not against a farming or hunting and etc where the animals are treated properly or where they die quickly without suffering. I’m very religious (Baptist) and I believe that God gave us animals for a reason and one of those reasons was for food. That being said, He also said to treat them with respect. I have nothing wrong with meat eaters or vegans, it’s a personal thing. If someone feels convicted to become a vegan, I say follow your heart on it. I am against most slaughter houses because I hate how they treat the horses. So many of them are so cruel. And this is why I’m also against people breeding more horses into the world now. But that’s a different topic for a different day, lol!

    I was born into a farming/ranching family and we treated our animals properly. Our animals have never wanted for anything or starved and if they got hurt or sick, they’re taken care of. That kind of treatment, I’m okay with. People who just have them locked up 24/7 and then butcher them painfully is not okay.

    1. Pretty much my sentiments, word for word. I eat meat, I believe it was given to us for a reason, and I don’t agree with inhumane slaughtering practises. We buy organic free range meat, and would like to try raising our own livestock one day.

      bonita of A Riding Habit

  2. I am not vegetarian or vegan, although I gave up beef many years ago, because it gives my husband terrible heartburn. My toddler is allergic to dairy and eggs, so I have been trying some vegan recipes for her. Some have been delicious, others have not. Coconut ice cream is very good, by the way!

    I read Temple Grandin’s book, Animals Make Us Human, this summer. It was very eye-opening. She speaks for and works to raise the welfare of animals used for food. Some of her observations were very depressing. I learned that chickens (for food or eggs) and dairy cows often suffer from very poor welfare (and end of life treatment) probably worse than beef cattle. Breeding sows (pigs) also have terrible lives. Grandin does not propose that everyone become vegetation or vegan, but she does describe many ways that the welfare of these animals can be improved and monitored and that we owe it to domestic animals to treat them humanely because we are responsible for their existence and dependence upon us. Sadly, capitalism and profits are not in these animals favor and much of the public is ignorant of the practices in place which put food on our tables.

    I am trying to only purchase free-range eggs and chicken and I have switched to soy milk (toddler can’t have regular milk anyway), but what about all the foods on the shelf that contain eggs, dairy, or chicken? I think Grandin’s approach is probably more likely than mass shifts to veganism to help more animals.

    1. I need to read that book. I’ve seen the Temple Grandin movie, and have to admit I love her discoveries and passion for this subject. I agree with you that it’s more likely we’ll see a greater change from fixing the cruelty than we will stop eating the products all together, but if someone chooses to not support the industry by eating something else I can certainly respect that.

  3. I’ve been meaning to write about this on my own blog, just haven’t gotten to it. As an animal lover, horsewoman and farmer, I have a lot of experience with this. What vegans fail to take into account or don’t understand is just how bad our entire food system is not just the livestock portion of it. That package of tofu has every bit of cruelty and abuse attached to it as a package of bacon, not to mention the environmental disaster of our current crop production methods. Most people just don’t understand the system well enough to see it. Also, to my mind, the miracle of life is the same in plant or animal. Isn’t it the same little unknowable spark that sprouts a seed or an embryo?

    It is the nature of life that everything has to eat and everything eats something else. An oak tree is nourished by the decaying remains of any plant or animal that dies beneath its branches. To me, it doesn’t matter what you eat, it matters how that food was raised and cared for whether it be a tomato or a lamb. The animals we raise here for meat live magically good lives in as natural an environment as we can make for them. They never know the stress of trucking, step foot on a feed lot or see a slaughter house. They live and die on the farm. They live outside on healthy pasture in their own families. The land is nourished by their presence rather than damaged by it. It is good for the animals, good for the environment, good for the farmer. I have no qualms about eating a steak raised this way, but I feel awful about buying a vegetable at the grocery store.

    1. I wish all animals were raised that way! I think that would certainly take a lot of the grey area out of the question, even though surely some would choose not to eat meat which is fine.

  4. I grew up in FFA, my mom lived on a farm. I’ve been to slaughterhouses, my mom was a chemist for Foster Farms for a while when I was a kid, and I have no issues with eating animals, I just have issues with certain companies, I have issues with the set up of our farm to plate complex. Some animals I WON’T eat (sheep) and it that has nothing to do with any of the above topics (its personal issue between me and sheep).

  5. I’ve always eaten meat, and after marrying into a ranching family (as well as farmers more distantly related) I have to tell you that those animals are valued and cared for above all else. They live great lives from the moment they set foot on the ranch. I just hope that people do not allow certain companies to tarnish the work of an entire industry who take pride in providing good, quality food.

  6. This is a funny issue in my household. As an equestrian and vegetarian, I am an animal lover and I believe that it is better for my health, the environment, and the animals if I abstain from eating meat. That being said, my sister in law is a vegan and thinks very vocally that riding is a non-vegan (thus exploitative) act. According to staunch vegans, because the horses cannot consent to being ridden and humans get pleasure out of riding horseback riding must be unethical. Obviously my sister-in-law and I disagree and it really irks me that she doesn’t understand the level of care and commitment that goes into owning and training a horse. Anyway, I am inline with “vegan values” to an extent, but I fundamentally disagree about the horse issue which is why I am a vegetarian.

    1. Yeah, I think my husband thought similarly until he knew more about the horse world through me. He told a lot of his vegan friends that a horse with a job (aka riding or driving or whatever) is a SAFE horse usually and many horses really like the work!

      1. Does riding call in the vegan police? I’m obviously on their most wanted list, but my husband and I have joked in the past about ALL THE THINGS that a vegan would get the ‘vegan police’ called on. It seems everyone is a bit different on their range of what’s okay!

        1. The other problem with viewing riding as exploitative is if we stopped riding we would have all of these expensive, useless (at least from the perspective of certain people) horses that would probably be slaughtered or let die which goes even more against the principles of veganism.

  7. Great topic! I know a LOT of people in the veterinary field in general that choose to be vegetarian or vegan as a way to make a stand for animal rights.

    I, however, eat meat for the same reasons that The Dancing Donkey wrote above: life must eat life in some form or another. I couldn’t say it better. We are a hunter/gatherer species and we have the digestive tracts of omnivores. We can adapt to being vegetarian or vegan, yes. But I personally am not arguing with my physiology: I feel better when I am getting some sort of lean meat in my diet. That said, I’m not a huge meat eater: I’ll usually have a small serving of chicken, ground turkey or lean beef with lunch and/or dinner and that’s it. Not out of principle; it’s simply the way my body works best.

    We have a lot of local farms in this part of Maryland, and several higher end restaurants here make a point of buying their meat and produce from local farmers. I think it’s a really fantastic concept. Charles and I prefer to eat out at this kind of location when we go out, and it is wonderful to have the choice. There is a small farm very close to the barn so I will often swing by there to pick up stuff like eggs, milk, pork and local honey. The animals whose meat they sell are right outside the door, living happy lives on the farm. You can go outside and see them, pet them. The chickens are truly free range. I love supporting this type of business whenever I can; I just wish it wasn’t so prohibitively expensive! I wish organic fruits and vegetables and products from animals that are humanely raised and slaughtered weren’t sold at a premium. It seems backwards: why should the genetically modified, artificially raised anything be less expensive? I also support controlled hunting: humans have decimated the natural predator populations in the wild, so there does need to be some sort of population control on species like deer. I love venison and have purchased deer meat from local hunters. I honestly don’t see anything wrong with that either.

    1. I wish I had easier access to venison. I actually prefer wild hunted game than farmed animals ethically. It’s such an interesting topic to me, because people have so many different thoughts and experiences on this subject.

  8. I’m vegetarian and slowly seem to be trending towards veganism. It started as an easy way to not support the factory farming thing, and now it’s turned more into ‘I like animals and don’t want them to die just so I can eat them”. That being said, it’s easy for me because meat was never my favorite thing on my plate. I do wish more people would research and make an educated decision about what they’re eating in general – not just the factory farm thing, but all the additives, hormones, etc. My husband is like you and has seen the movies, read the articles, and still likes a good steak now and then. I’ll cook it for him and am not overly bothered by it -his ethics, his choice. Being a vegetarian is just what feels right for me and not something that is a right or wrong decision.

    1. I think it’s a very personal decision that people should think about, and then do what works for them. More research is always a good thing… I should do more reading up myself because I still crave to junk food and I KNOW that’s not raised well or good for me.

  9. I have NO problem with it as long as it’s done correctly. This includes horses. People breed deer and bison for meat too. That’s what they’re there for. Gathering and hunting is where it all began. I really try to be considerate of other people’s choices in the matter as long as they are considerate of mine. I have a really good friend that is a vegetarian only because she can’t see herself going out to a field and taking a bite out of a cow… I completely get that. Plus she doesn’t like the taste. Just because I don’t like the taste of mushrooms doesn’t mean that I’m going to scoff at other people who DO like mushrooms. They’re a living thing too aren’t they? In the end, it’s your choice. Just don’t force it onto other people. Your husband sounds very understanding in your love for bacon. 🙂

  10. Great topic. Others have said my opinion .. I don’t like the big shaddy companies!

    We buy part of a steer from the FFA kids and that’s the beef we eat… Its raiser well and killed in a humane manner.

  11. I think Dancing Donkey said it best – the most important thing is your food has a good, healthy, quality life and a quick, clean, painless death, regardless of whether it’s a plant or an animal. We raise our own chickens and eggs, and buy all our other meat directly from a farmer who raises and processes his meat ethically. Our fruits and veggies either come from our own garden or from local farmers’ markets. I think the biggest issue with food today is that we are so far removed from our food supply that we truly have no understanding of what it takes to get that steak on our plates – being more aware of what goes into a meal and changing my eating habits accordingly is probably the best life choice I have ever made.

  12. I choose to eat meat because I enjoy cooking and eating meat. I try to choose meat responsibly, buying it from farmers I know (including some of my fellow equestrians) and at the local farmer’s market (when I can get down there). I toured several Tyson poultry facilities while in college, including a slaughter and processing plant. It was fascinating, and I find that most facilities like that are happy to let you take a tour if you are polite and genuinely interested.

  13. Such a controversial topic, but I’m going to throw in my two cents.
    I am vegan for ethical, environmental and health reasons; and also because I get uncomfortable saying I love animals and then eating them. I have a Chinese friend whom I love and I would never suggest eating her b/c of overbreeding issues in her country. I love cheese and steak, but I value life more and it’s hypocritical to say I love animals and then consume them.
    I also am strongly opposed to eating meat for religious purposes. Life is precious and god made all living things equal, why would he devalue the lives of other living creatures to satisfy human taste? And if animals really are here for our entertainment and taste satisfaction, why are other cultures judged for eating shark, dogs, cats, dolphins? Finally, eating meat isn’t traditional. Granted, it’s the ‘norm’ across previous centuries but originally humans are not equipped to hunt down a wildebeest and chow down on it’s raw body. In answer to your question, having horses definitely is an influence to eat well – not only to stay in shape and healthy, but b/c they’re such individual creatures, as is a cow, or pig.

    1. Whoops, in saying that- my partner is an omnivore (slowly converting ;]) and I have no problem with him consuming meat or dairy. Each to their own I guess!

    2. I’m glad you threw in your 2 cents! I think it’s important to listen to both sides of the fence so to speak, and I don’t disregard any vegan/veggie’s reasons for their choice.

  14. This is a great topic, and currently a very present one in my life. I thought very little about the food I put into my mouth until about 2 years ago. I quit with eating fast food every week (I was particularly fond of MickeyDs) and my stomach instantly stopped being in constant turmoil. Then my boyfriend and I watched a documentary called Food, Inc. This put me off of factory farms. And the final straw was watching a documentary about a pig farm being tried for animal cruelty. I honestly don’t know if I could stop eating meat, but I do believe that all animals (humans and the furry ones) deserve to live and die with respect. If I can’t buy free-range (eggs and meat) I won’t buy it at all. It’s shocking the amount of backlash we’ve gotten from this choice (which we don’t put on anyone else). We get a lot of comments now, such as “Oh please don’t turn into one of those snobs who won’t eat regular food”… I don’t understand that thought process.

    1. I think the comment with the ‘regular food’ issue is a really big problem, and I can relate for sure. As a society, we have to start shifting away from free range/well raised food being snobby and “elite” and instead lower how many animal products we consume and figure out a way to sustainable farm all the way around.

  15. Great post and topic! I’m loving reading all the responses too, seems like this minefield is being traversed with success! I love animals, but I also eat meat (it is delicious). We raised our own pigs this year and I have to say that that I feel more settled pulling that out of the freezer than mystery chicken or beef from the store. I am lucky as the little market down the street stocks local meats. I really don’t have qualms about meat, I wish that the practices for getting it were better across the board. That said, the farmers/ranchers that I know truly care for their animals. I also don’t judge people for eating horse, while I personally don’t want to, who’s to say cow is ok, but horse isn’t. I’ve known some really great cows with fun personalities so the people who say horses are ‘better’ than cows don’t make sense to me. It is all a matter of personal conviction, and what your own journey has been.

  16. I totally agree with your later statement. I’m an animal lover, but more than that, I’m practical. It’s impossible for me to live the life I want without meat. I enjoy meat. And, there is nothing wrong with consuming other animals, as that is what we are supposed to be eating for our optimal health. And, my time as a “farm girl” has done nothing but teach me that ethically raised animals live a good life and go on to be an important part in the way the world moves on by being eaten. I have zero problems with people eating horses. I would have zero problem eating horse, if it was an ethically raised and slaughtered horse bred for meat. I don’t want to eat some kid’s pony, in the same way I don’t want to eat some kid’s pet bunny.

    As a Gordon Ramsay lover, you might enjoy his show The F Word (on Hulu+). He explores ethical animal raising, going so far as to raise his own animals in his backyard. Plus, it’s the best Gordon Ramsay show out there …

  17. While horses may not *verbally* consent to being ridden, you will most certainly know when they DO NOT want to be ridden!!! I think of riding as this: it is an agreement between you & the horse.

    I’m of the “we are hunter/gatherers” mind. I feel better if there’s meat in my diet, and, as someone who is pre-diabetic, protein is very important, as it’s the one thing that will keep my blood glucose on an even keel.

  18. I kind of struggle with this and have thought a lot about going vegetarian (I’m not sure I could cope with being vegan!). I don’t have a problem with eating cows or chickens or pigs, etc. but I do have a problem with the system in which these animals are produced because it isn’t the least bit ethical. I’m obviously a huge animal lover, but I also recognize that these animals have a place within our society. Most people don’t have cows just to have cows, they raise them for the benefit of humans because humans have evolved at meat eaters. I think it gets a little trickier with horses because Americans do not think of horses as food animals, though people in other countries do. But like cows and pigs, horses too have a place within society as working animals, just as dogs and cats have their places as companion animals. Domesticated animals are domesticated because they could benefit humans in some way, otherwise they never would have been domesticated. And as controversial as it is, I am pro slaughter (as long as it is done humanely). I think it is far less cruel for a horse to go to slaughter than to slowly starve to death in someone’s pasture. Until the mentality of those who breed horses changes, I don’t think my stance on this issue will either…

  19. People are always stunned when they find out I’m not against horse slaughter per se. I do think it’s a bad idea to eat a horse with all the crap they get put in them during their lives and I do wish slaughter was humane and I don’t think people should buy a horse without some kind of long term plan. That being said, I’m a practical person and try to keep sentiment out of it. Sometimes I wish I could be vegetarian. I think veganism is extreme. But I ethically have no problems with it, although I would reform how animal products are produced quite a bit.

  20. Great post and fascinating comments! I’m an omnivore though I’ve been vegetarian, pescatarian, and vegan for (very brief) periods of time, for various reasons. I have not found there to be more vegans or vegetarians in my group of horse friends versus non-horse friends. To be quite candid, my current choices on food have been very selfish – centered around my weight loss journey rather than greater ethical questions. I buy organic & free-range regularly, but don’t make the time to go to a special butcher or anything. I do think that horse people are animal people who care more about animal suffering than others who have never truly bonded with animals.

  21. My quick two cents: As an animal science major I have a better idea of what it takes to feed everyone. If all animals got to live on happy, little farms and eat grass all day, everyone would be forced to be vegan because the supply would be so low none of us could afford it. At least with my experiences, everyone does their best to ensure the healthy and safety of their animals because between laws and money, they want their animals healthy and safe almost as much as the consumer does.

    So I went to the AQHA congress yesterday and this post was on my mind. I go every year and watch people abuse their horses right in front of everyone, and no one does anything about it. The yanking, slamming, jabbing, etc. is out of control. I have never seen such abuse so widely accepted. It makes me so utterly repulsed, I didn’t watch any of the horses yesterday and just shopped. Why is that so hard for me to witness and yet eating animals isn’t? Maybe I have a realistic approach, but if being a vegan to western pleasure was possible, I would be it.

    1. Definitely understand where you’re coming from, but I think even meat eaters/animal science people need to be looking forward to ways for animals to have a more natural way of life in meat production. Otherwise it’s just a ‘it is what it is’ philosophy which doesn’t sit well with me.

  22. I honestly expected more vegans/vegetarians!

    I became a vegetarian when I was nine, which was also the age that I became best friends with a bird and started taking riding lessons. My father claims that my vegetarianism was the result of watching him skin a deer in the back yard. I claim it was the result of watching a video on how they killed chickens (though, the internet wasn’t a big thing way back then, so how’d I get access to this video I remember?).

    For approximately the first five years of ownership, I rode Archie in a synthetic saddle. I finally cowed (hah) to a leather saddle because the cost/fit issue. I’m sure that there are better made synthetic saddles that would fit him just as well as our leather one, but I’m also not sure that I could afford one (right now). His bridle is leather and has always been leather. I’ve never liked the way that synthetic bridles seem to cause an instantaneous facial sweat. I’ve mentally justified this leather bridle because it’s been the same damn bridle since 2006. While I occasionally lust after other bridles, I just can’t.

    For me, everything is synthetic. I don’t own anything leather. I don’t wear anything leather. My riding boots are super-shitty synthetic. My gloves are cotton (or something). All of my dressy work shoes are synthetic or natural fibers.

    I am what they call a lacto/ovo vegetarian with vegan tendencies. I eat eggs and I drink milk. But I won’t use products with gelatin or lanolin. I prefer my eggs to be cage-free, but I realize that there are problems with that system, too. In an ideal world, I’d give up milk and have my own chickens.

    My hubs eats meat. I get a little freaked out about it, still, but it’s not my decision. He has his own cooking utensils, his own skillets, and his own cutting board and knives. I’ve also never been out there to convert people – my vegetarianism is a personal decision and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to make it for me. I’d absolutely love for him to convert or lessen the quantity that he eats (for reals, a body builder eats a small farm every week). I can’t make the disconnect between the animals that people determine are okay to eat and those that I have a relationship with. The average pig has a higher intelligence than my razor-sharp dog. Chickens have personalities. My mom’s damn goldfish were trained. I’d be the first to starve to death in the apocalypse and I’d never make it on Survivor. I’m also the asshole you never want to go out to eat with, because I’m going to ask the server a thousand questions about broth, oils, and ingredients. But I won’t get squeamish when the goo starts oozing out of your half-raw steak, either.

    1. I’m surprised there aren’t more either!

      I think vegetarianism/veganism is a very personal choice, and you have to do what works for you. I also would gather that the average veggie/vegan might have more empathy than a traditional meat eater… at least I would venture to say you have much more empathy on this subject than I do.

      For what it’s worth, you would not bother me at dinner 🙂 I always scour the menu for veggie options and ask more questions for the waiter than my husband does sometimes.

  23. I am not vegan/veg simply because we were raised to eat MEAT. Its NATURAL. You need that kind of protein and humans have been eating animals for centuries. Sure, there are substitutes, but I doubt the cavemen had tofu. IMO, mot vegs/vegans I know struggle with dietary issues and always look unhealthy. I ‘m sure that’s just me, since a few of my veg friends swear they have never felt better, but I just can’t grasp it. I’m very FOR eating of animals even though I dearly love all my animals. Even our chickens and cows for meat, I love them, but they have a purpose, and that is to be consumed.

  24. Great comments. I agree with many of them (from both sides of the story), although I have to strongly disagree with the thought that you have to eat meat to be healthy.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for almost nine years now. Originally it started as equal parts health and animal rights issues. At the time I was out of shape and overweight and I dropped about 12lbs from simply cutting out meat. Over time I began to notice that I rarely got sick compared to everyone else in my dorm. I also noticed other weird changes like the fact that my hair grows faster and my nails are now super strong (couldn’t grow them out before because they were so brittle, now I haven’t broken a nail in years). I donate blood every two months and my hemoglobin levels are usually high for a girl.

    I’ve ran two half marathons as a vegetarian (one of them in 2:04), I do cross fit, and I lead a very active lifestyle. I very rarely feel like I am lacking energy, and given the weights I can lift at cross fit, I feel pretty strong too.

    I try to eat healthy, but I’m not a fanatic about it. I try to pay attention to how much protein I’m getting, and I also try to not go crazy on the amount of soy that I eat. I’m sure I could do much better, but I think I’m healthier than your average meat eating American.

    As for the animal rights, I was also an animal science major in undergrad so I know a lot about how food is produced. I 100% understand that the large scale production is necessary to feed a nation that consumes the amount of meat that we chose to consume. But that doesn’t mean that I have to buy into it. I understand why we have to keep sows in a farrowing crate, but I also know that pigs are smarter than dogs and I can’t imagine confining a dog to a crate so tiny it couldn’t turn around.

    Originally I might have been ok with the idea of buying locally and humanely raised meat, but I am highly skeptical so I wouldn’t be able to trust any claims unless I personally visited the farm to see the conditions the animals were raised in. Just because something claims to be “natural” or “free range” doesn’t guarantee the animals are happy, healthy, and not overstocked. Not to mention that meat from those sources is going to be much more expensive… when I first became a vegetarian it was much easier and cheaper to just cut it all out.

    I don’t eat any seafood because I can’t imagine that fishing is good for the ocean environment. The thought of seahorses or dolphins getting tangled in nets breaks my heart. Perhaps there is safe seafood harvesting/farms out there, but again, it’s easier in my mind to just not eat it then it is to do lengthy research.

    I would probably be a full vegan if I could, but I know I wouldn’t be healthy, so vegetarian it is. I never try to impose my beliefs on other, look down on them, etc.

    I have absolutely no desire to ever eat meat again and after eight years I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon.

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