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Livestock/Deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter

Rhoda M. Wilkie
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The connection between people and companion animals has received considerable attention from scholars. In her original and provocative ethnographyLivestock/Deadstock, sociologist Rhoda Wilkie asks, how do the men and women who work on farms, in livestock auction markets, and slaughterhouses, interact with-or disengage from-the animals they encounter in their jobs?

    Wilkie provides a nuanced appreciation of how those men and women who breed, rear, show, fatten, market, medically treat, and slaughter livestock, make sense of their interactions with the animals that constitute the focus of their work lives. Using a sociologically informed perspective, Wilkie explores their attitudes and behaviors to explain how agricultural workers think, feel, and relate to food animals.

    Livestock/Deadstocklooks at both people and animals in the division of labor and shows how commercial and hobby productive contexts provide male and female handlers with varying opportunities to bond with and/or distance themselves from livestock. Exploring the experiences of stockpeople, hobby farmers, auction workers, vets and slaughterers, she offers timely insight into the multifaceted, gendered, and contradictory nature of human roles in food animal production.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-650-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Food Animals: More Than a “Walking Larder”?
    (pp. 1-16)

    During the mid-1990s, people in southern and southeastern England took to the streets to protest against the export of live animals through their towns. At the peak of the protests, more than 2,000 people congregated every night in the Essex port of Brightlingsea to impede trucks taking veal calves to Europe (Brown 2006, 1). The antics of protesters and police attracted extensive local, national, and international media coverage, making this one of the United Kingdom’s highest profile animal-related campaigns in recent years. That many campaigners (such as pensioners and mothers with young children) had never protested before challenged the media...

  5. 2 Domestication to Industry: The Commercialization of Human–Livestock Relations
    (pp. 17-42)

    The domestication of animals more than 10,000 years ago threw up a number of intended and unintended biological, cultural, and socioeconomic consequences that continue to resonate today (Cassidy and Mullin 2007). In this chapter, I outline some of the main perspectives on and debates about this significant interspecies legacy and then trace the emergence of the Euro-American “animal industrial complex” by identifying some of the key sociohistorical, economic, and technical factors that contributed to the industrialization of cattle production and slaughter in Western societies (Noske 1989; Rifkin 1992). As this takes us to the hub of human–livestock relations, I...

  6. 3 Women and Livestock: The Gendered Nature of Food-Animal Production
    (pp. 43-64)

    ʺOld Macdonald’s Farm” is a popular children’s song that portrays a highly nostalgic and romanticized image of traditional livestock farming. It conjures up a small-scale family farm where the farmer dutifully attends to his farm animals. The farmer is assumed to be male, and farming is presented as men’s work. Even today, the commercial production, marketing, and slaughter of livestock, especially cattle, continue to be predominantly, although not exclusively, a man’s world. However, the term “family farm” juxtaposes the personal and the public and brings into focus the interdependent nature of these two normally distinct, and largely gendered, spheres of...

  7. 4 ʺPrice Discoveryʺ: Marketing and Valuing Livestock
    (pp. 65-88)

    The livestock auction is the public face of the commercial livestock sector and plays a pivotal role in the marketing and pricing of animals bred and sold for human consumption. In this chapter, I trace the ascendance of the modern auction system, and auctioneering, in Britain during the nineteenth century and discuss some of the components that go into valuing livestock. I also show how key players in the early years of the fat-cattle trade, such as drovers and dealers, were increasingly displaced and eclipsed by the growing importance of butchers, as demonstrated by the notion of the “butcher’s beast”...

  8. 5 ʺThe Good Lifeʺ: Hobby Farmers and Rare Breeds of Livestock
    (pp. 89-114)

    This chapter considers the experiences, attitudes, and behavior of people who espouse a less commercialized attitude toward farm animals. In this case, I focus on hobby farmers who typically own, breed, and sometimes show fairly small numbers of rare breeds of livestock. Although some hobbyists entertain ambitions to function at the edge of commercial livestock production, many of my contacts opted for relatively low-profit or nonprofit pursuits. Moreover, many of them enthusiastically claim to practice more traditional, natural, and welfare-friendly methods of farm-animal production than their farming counterparts in the commercial sector. The current appeal of going “back to basics,”...

  9. 6 Sentient Commodities: The Ambiguous Status of Livestock
    (pp. 115-128)

    Farm-animal workers clearly get to know and become emotionally attached to some of their animals, but the majority of petted livestock still go to market or slaughter. Over the course of the next three chapters, I show that this is just one of a number of tacit productive paradoxes that lie at the heart of producing and killing livestock. I also draw attention to some of the emotional and cognitive challenges underpinning human–livestock interactions, because this provides a useful starting point from which to explore how workers pragmatically manage these challenges. Although these aspects are alluded to in this...

  10. 7 Affinities and Aloofness: The Pragmatic Nature of Producer–Livestock Relations
    (pp. 129-146)

    Even though commercial livestock production is overtly governed by economic interests, non-monetary values can also be discerned. Hobby farming, by contrast, is less profit-oriented, which allows more expressive attitudes to come to the fore. The coexistence of instrumental and substantive concerns more accurately depicts the indeterminate nature of the byre face in which commercial and hobby producers have to negotiate pragmatically their interactions with their animals. Those responsible for the routine handling of livestock have to come to grips with seeing some, or all, of their animals as undistinguished tools of the trade while also regarding some, or all, of...

  11. 8 Livestock/Deadstock: Managing the Transition from Life to Death
    (pp. 147-172)

    Animal slaughter is an inevitable part of producing meat: One minute you have livestock, and the next you have deadstock. It is a pivotal transitional stage in which “every animal must be killed by bleeding, and this must be done in an abattoir; these two conditions must be fulfilled for the meat to be deemed suitable for human consumption” (Vialles 1994, 33).¹ Some present this transition as a relatively clearcut event. A former slaughterer initially explained, “I can’t say that I ever thought of myself as being surrounded by death. You were surrounded by cows or surrounded by sirloin steaks...

  12. 9 Taking Stock: Food Animals, Ambiguous Relations, and Productive Contexts
    (pp. 173-186)

    Most people in modern industrialized societies choose to eat animal-derived protein. Thus, for many, but not all, consuming meat is a legitimate cultural norm. However, the task of killing food animals is generally regarded as “‘dirty work’ … an undesirable and repugnant job” (Thompson 1983, 215). Clearly, the transformation of animals via slaughter into edible flesh is an inevitable and pivotal part of producing meat. In practice, this stark productive fact makes sense. Morally it can be less straightforward.¹ For example, many consumers avoid thinking about this in-between stage because it triggers varying degrees of cognitive and emotional unease. But...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 187-202)
  14. Glossary of Doric Terms
    (pp. 203-204)
  15. References
    (pp. 205-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-234)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)