I wrote this extra-short story to examine the idea of “humane meat” and the fact that grass-fed cattle end up in the same place as factory-farmed cattle.
667. That is my number, the only name I’ve ever known. When I look at my reflection in the pond I see it on the blue tags hanging from my ears. The others have numbers as well, all sloppily written on the blue or yellow pieces of plastic stuck into their ears. My closest friend has yellow tags – 92. We have spent many days grazing together in the fields, the open spaces a welcome home after the cramped pens we were born in. The cramped pens we were chased back into this morning.
I stand shoulder to shoulder with 92. The press of the others forces my side into metal bars and I cry out in pain. The day is hot and we have no shade. I hear other cries as we stand there, but eventually all is quiet. The heat is draining our energy.
A roaring noise begins in the distance. It grows louder as it gets closer and I twitch my ears nervously. 92 snorts in agitation, eyes wide. If 92 is afraid, then I know this roaring is something terrible. The roarer comes into sight. It is a large metal contraption that halts near our pen. A human steps out from inside of it and is greeted by the humans who chased us here on their horses. They stand close together for a time, then open a large metal door that clangs and makes us all start and stomp our hooves.
Everything is a blur now. I’m jostled on all sides as everyone frantically dashes out of the gate. I didn’t even see a human open it, but they must have. Are we free again? I catch a glimpse of the mountains we were in just this morning, but then metal and black fur are all I can see. The world goes still again as we stand crammed inside the metal box. We are so tightly packed that I am having a hard time breathing. I try to turn my head and search for 92, but it is impossible to make any individuals out. Then the box starts moving. That sets everyone off again. More stomping and crying.
When the box finally stops I feel faint. The heat in here is overwhelming. I think of the cool stream I liked to wade in and wonder if 92 is thinking of it too. The large door clangs open again and there is a rush to get out. I am swept along with the crowd. It is all I can do to stay upright in the desperate stampede. We are funneled into yet another pen, but it feels like freedom compared to the box. I can breathe deeply again.
I feel a huff of breath on my ear and turn my head to look. 92! We stand as closely as possible despite the heat. It is comforting to have a friend nearby.
The pen we stand in butts up to a wall taller than ten of me. Some of the herd are being pulled and shoved through a small door that slams down behind them. They look frightened, but I cannot tell what lays behind that door. 92 and I stand at the far end of the pen, relishing the extra space as the enclosure slowly empties. Several humans approach us from the other side of the fence, shouting and waving their arms at us. We move away from them cautiously, but stop when we realize we are nearing the door. It opens, and I flare my nostrils at the scent coming from it. Blood. Death. Now I understand why the others were afraid.
92 pushes me back but the humans are there. They poke 92 in the rump with a strange stick and he darts forward with a cry of pain. They do the same to me, and I feel a terrible burning jolt. I leap forward, right into 92. They jab us repeatedly with those painful sticks and we stumble through the door one by one. Now we are in a narrow passage with walls rising above my head on each side. The fit is so tight that my flanks rub against the rough, gray barriers. The door slams shut behind me.
There are three of us in here. I do not know who stands at the front, but there is another small door right in front of their muzzle. The stench of blood and death is cloying at my nostrils and I begin to shake. The door in front opens and suddenly there is a human leaning over from the wall to poke the one in front with that painful stick. With a cry, he moves forward through the door and it slams shut behind him. There is a bang and a thud, then the door opens again.
92 turns his head to look at me, eyes rolling with terror. He knows now what happens beyond that door. So do I. We can smell it. The human is approaching to force 92 forward and I desperately try to twist my body around. There must be a way out, back through the first door. But the walls are too close, I cannot turn. I try to back up but only make it two steps before I bump into the door. I kick at it in vain. I cannot kick through metal. I meet 92’s eyes for the last time. The human jabs him with the stick and he moves forward, resigned to his fate. The door slams shut behind him. A bang and a thud. The door opens again.