Taking a life

Written by Steph Coombes.

“We’re going to do a killer, would you like to come?”

“Sure!”, I replied enthusiastically. “I haven’t done a killer in years!”

My enthusiasm wasn’t toward the prospect of killing an animal, but the opportunity to be involved in harvesting meat. I consider it to be an incredible privilege.

Knives were sharpened, and trays for the meat loaded onto the back of the ute. A rifle in its case was carefully placed on the dash.

As two vehicles headed out on the dirt road, we began chatting casually about all thing’s cattle and station life.

Then a mob of cattle came into sight. Both vehicles slowed to a crawl, and the two-way crackled to life as the drivers of each vehicle discussed which animal was to be killed.

I find it hard to articulate how I felt in that moment.



It was as if I had forgotten why we were out in the vehicle in the first place.

This wasn’t the first time I’d participated in the slaughter and butchering of beef cattle.

In addition to several “killers” on stations, I’ve also spent a good chunk of time on the ‘kill floor’ at a number of abattoirs.

And yet, here I was, feeling … guilty? Like I wanted to say “No, no – let’s go back to the homestead instead”.

The driver of the vehicle I was in came to a stop, rolled down the window, and steadied his rifle. With a seemingly insignificant contraction of his index finger on the trigger, a 500kg cow dropped to the ground.

It was an incredible shot.

We drove over immediately, and I proceeded to do the five-finger check to ensure animal was indeed dead. I did this for my own piece of mind – as the fella who shot the cow had already done his own check.

The fellas immediately set about bleeding, skinning and butchering the cow.

As the cow was transformed from, well, a cow, into a mass of muscle, fat, organs and bones, my unease dissipated. It was back to business as usual.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past 6 years reflecting, analysing and questioning my choice to participate in the farming, slaughter and consumption of beef cattle.

I believe you shouldn’t be able to eat animal flesh if you’re not willing to be involved in the process of procuring it. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity but at the very least we should be willing to read or watch a program about it.

The other night I opened a coffee table book about Sir Sidney Kidman, and the foreward captured my thoughts:

“Though claiming to love McKellar’s sunburnt country, we cling to the fringe of its coast like mussels to a pier…. We are amongst the most urbanised, suburbanised and citified of people. The closest many get to the bush is via landscape painting in the galleries, overblown fillums like the hubristically entitled ‘Australia’ or glimpses of picture-perfect farms in TV ads proclaiming the freshness of their fruit and veg.

However most visitors to the supermarkets remain blissfully, willfully ignorant or the origins of food. Just as milk is kept at a safe distance from cows, the lamb and beef are commodities that appear miraculously in the meat section. Few want to consider the chain of events, from paddock to plate, via feedlot and abattoir. The smells, the din, dust and drama of flocks and herds are remote from the cosmeticized produce retailed at prices that simultaneously astonish and anger the farmer’s who battled everything from drought, banks, and supermarkets to provide it.” – Phillip Adams, AO

I am of the opinion that everyone should carefully question and challenge their choices when it comes to consuming animal products.

It’s something I hadn’t ever really questioned until I was living in the United States and undertaking a class in Animal Ethics (even thought I’d studied Animal Ethics in Australia several years prior).

I think it (the consumption of animal products) something that we’re raised to believe is normal, natural, and inevitable – and as such, we generally don’t question it.

For many of us, consuming animal products is as much of a given as the sun rising each day – it’s just what happens.

You know how Amish people get to leave their community for a year to experience the world, and then they must decide if they want to go back or not? I think that’s a concept that could be applied to so many things in life.

For the most part, we just accept what we’re told, and don’t challenge it.

It’s this concept of challenging ingrained beliefs that I’d absolutely love to see applied to our beliefs surrounding the consumption of animal products.

Not only has this experience (of challenging a wide range of long-held beliefs) really challenged me and forced me to confront some very uncomfortable feelings, it’s given me an understanding of how and why other people hold different beliefs – e.g., vegetarians and vegans.

And it’s not a simple “yes or no”, answer either. For me, it wasn’t just about whether or not it’s ok to consume animal products, but also under what conditions.

I think there’s an expectation in agriculture that if you’re in, you’re all in. If you support livestock production, you support ALL livestock production. I think that’s why when some farmers spoke out against live export, so many people were shocked.

I’ve shifted from an ‘all in’ to ‘conditional’ position.

When I lived in the United States I went Vegan for a year, and over the whole three years, my consumption of animal products declined significantly. Personally, I had enough experience in some of their production systems to know that I wasn’t super keen to consume the product coming out of them.

When I returned to Australia, I held a lot more trust in what I was picking out of the refrigerated section of Woolies and how it came to be there.

These days, my shopping cart looks quite different to how it did a decade ago – and yet I am as much a part of the agricultural industry as I was back then.

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

So the question I leave to the readers of this article is: Will you take the time to intentionally and carefully reflect on your beliefs regarding animal agriculture, or will you leave thinking that I’m some kind of hippie that’s lost her marbles?