Sheep Talk

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Everyone who knows me knows that I love animals more than I love people. When I was growing up, I was adamant that I wanted to be a vet, and nobody ever seemed surprised. When I started my undergraduate studies in animal science, it just seemed to fit. The only problem is that animal science, isn’t vet science. It’s more agricultural related, and at the time, that didn’t bother me. We learned cuts of beef, we learned how to grade sheep for judging, and we learned how to sheer the wool off a sheep. I even hand delivered several baby lambs and helped remove a lamb from a sheep after it turned around inside her, so momma and babe could both be safe. I think this is when my love for sheep really grew. In hindsight, I think this was the beginning of the end for me.  The beginning of the Kaitlyn I am today and the end of the Kaitlyn I used to know. 

 Photo credit: Kaitlyn Norman-Powers

Photo credit: Kaitlyn Norman-Powers

After those lambs came in to the world, I hand fed some of the orphan lambs for months in shifts with other students. I learned to sheer sheep safely with the least amount of stress on the sheep. I started a friendship with a sheep for a judging class in which we had to learn how to walk sheep, show sheep, and hold sheep. I named her Adelaide. For the rest of my time in undergrad, I visited Addy and gave her treats. I even took Addy on walks. She didn’t like me much.

My focus started to shift from vet studies to research when I joined a ruminant microbiology laboratory studying nutrition in ruminant animals. Side note: ruminant animals are animals that have a four-compartment stomach. This includes animals like cattle, deer, giraffes, camels, and of course sheep.  One of the studies we were conducting was on sheep. We had a barn full of sheep and I personally named them all. I now know that was mistake number one. I helped watch these sheep for months. I called them my sheepies and I truly loved them. For months I fed and cared for the sheep coming to the barn every day at 5:30. It was hard work but rewarding work and we were doing really interesting science seeing how nutrition effected their well-being and how the microbes in their gut adapted to different forms of nutrition.

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“In hindsight, I think this was the beginning of the end for me. The beginning of the Kaitlyn I am today and the end of the Kaitlyn I used to know.”

- Kaitlyn

Then the study concluded. I was there that day. I remember it so clearly. It was a hot New Mexico afternoon and, in that field,, we put down all of the sheep.

 I cried.

I cried for what felt like hours and I knew I would never be a vet. In the span of an afternoon I’d lost near a dozen sheep I had cared for and I lost a future I had always thought I was going to grow in to.

Ultimately, I went in to science and research but I never worked with an animal again. Instead, I stuck with yeast and bacteria as model organisms for my studies.

When people ask me why I’m a vegetarian, I think of this time often. It was four years later that I became a vegetarian though. The wonderful thing my animal science education gave me was an appreciation of how animals can be used humanely for food. I have several friends with cattle ranches. I’ve helped round up cattle, brand them, and castrate them. I’ve seen farms and farmers ethically take care of their animals, and then I’ve seen feedlots. I’ve seen animals in cages, I’ve seen things that as I am writing this now make me cry. I’m not a strong enough person to disassociate an animal’s life from the meat I’m consuming. I’m just not. Quite frankly, I don’t want to. I won’t judge you for it or any other person for that matter, either on your choice to eat or not to eat meat. It’s a personal choice and I’ll admit to you the smell of bacon makes me question that choice every so often.

 Photo credit: Kaitlyn Norman-Powers

Photo credit: Kaitlyn Norman-Powers

I tell this story today of all days because it is World Animal Day. No, I’m not asking you to become a vegetarian. I’m simply asking you for one day to think about animals. Really think about the animals around you, in your home, on your plates, in the jungles, in the forests, in the woods. And do one simple thing that can help an animal today.

Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Give your pets a hug and a kiss. Donate to a good animal cause. Heck even sit down and watch Planet Earth today. Just do something to recognize all of the beautifully unique and amazing animals that make this planet what it is.

Mission of World Animal Day

To raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe. Building the celebration of World Animal Day unites the animal welfare movement, mobilising it into a global force to make the world a better place for all animals.  It's celebrated in different ways in every country, irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology.  Through increased awareness and education we can create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.