BOOK REVIEW: Stockyards

Stockyards

Most children’s books that deal with the subject of farm animals and their fates do so on a fantasy plane: happy, content, and impeccably groomed animals cavorting against Disneyesque backdrops. Stockyards is not one of those books. I search my mind for my gut reaction to this picture book; the terms I am grasping are “rare” and “appalling.” At the same time, it is nothing if not truthful.

I rescued this book (copyright 1984) from the library discard pile. It is, as the title suggests, a nonfiction, photo-heavy study of what goes on at “livestock” auctions, presented to a juvenile audience. The best I can say of it is that, unlike many other of its ilk, it does not try to disguise where meat comes from nor the environment the animals endure.

 Whips are common accessories for the men managing these manure-splattered stockyards. When the animals are a focal point of the photography, their fear is often palpable. And thus we see spent dairy cows, their udders swollen and occasionally their tails docked, being ushered into holding pens. In one of the most affecting images, a Hereford calf walks flush against a wide-eyed Holstein who is apparently serving as a surrogate mother in these confusing surroundings. We see old ewes, their lambing and wool-producing days evidently over, crowding together in a confusing melee, their backs marked with red paint. There are newborn Holstein calves, cowering in the corner of their pen as buyers look them over. And in the most graphic image, a steer is held in a cattle chute, his eyes rolling and tongue lolling as he is held fast by the ear and nostrils.

Once again, there is no sugar-coating in this book; the word “slaughter” is not shied away from, and it is even defined in the glossary: “kill, especially the killing of livestock.” Pictures of animals are juxtaposed with talk of hamburgers, meat-packing plants, and butcher shops. For that reason alone I give Stockyards two stars. Youngsters who read this book are challenged to face the origins of meat, and by default, may be driven to ponder their own food choices. That’s a good thing.

But back to the animals. The final page of the book pictures a haunting image of a ewe staring directly into the camera along with these words:

When the animals have been sold, the purpose of the stockyard has been accomplished. From here the animals will go on to whatever destinations their buyers have in mind; some to feedlots to grow bigger, some to meat-packing plants to be made into food, and some to farms to become milk cows or breeding animals which will provide more pigs, lambs, or calves to be sold at a stockyard.

What a life. And for what? While looking through the life moments captured throughout this book, I am reminded of a quote from Isaac Bashevis Singer: “For the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.”

ALA Stockyard Investigation

 (review originally appeared at goodreads.com)

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