Nautilus

A Eulogy for a Cow

Cull auctions sell animals who have been culled from the herd: those who have been deemed no longer productive or economically viable. Animals sold at cull auctions will typically either be transported directly to a slaughterhouse or be moved to a feedlot or farm where they are fattened first before going to slaughter.

It took me a few minutes to focus on the animals passing through the ring at the cull auction I attended. As soon as I did, I was struck by the markedly different condition of the animals being sold at this auction in contrast to the dairy replacement sales I’d seen. These were all severely worn-out cows—mostly black-and-white Holsteins—their bodies visibly destroyed by years of dairy production. Many of them, it turns out, were not more than 5 or 6 years old, though their bodies looked ancient. Their skin hung loosely on their hip bones and against their ribs. They were dirty, caked in mud, feces, and scabs. Many of them were emaciated and limping badly. Many of them had docked tails. Many of them had udders that were red and infected or dragging on the ground. Their eyes bulged, the whites showing. Mouths foamed with saliva. This was the look of the cull market auction: animals fearful, worn-out, close to death.

Loud bellows echoed through the auction hall. I was immediately overwhelmed, unable to focus on each individual animal because of the scale of the suffering, each devastated body blurring into the next.

close quarters: Pens at a cattle market in Argentina.Beatrice Murch / Wikimedia

We were seated in the front row by the door through which the

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