News / Science & Technology

College Plan to Kill Oxen Draws Global Protest

Cerridwen  Farm is one of a few college-operated farms in the United States to support working draft animals.. (Courtesy Green Mountain College)
Cerridwen Farm is one of a few college-operated farms in the United States to support working draft animals.. (Courtesy Green Mountain College)
Nina Keck

Officials at a small rural college in the northeastern state of Vermont have announced their intention to slaughter a beloved pair of oxen which have worked on campus for a decade. 

Green Mountain College, known for its courses in sustainable living, plans to serve the oxen meat in its dining hall. 

The plan has touched off an international outcry via social media.

End of the road 

For a decade, Bill and Lou were a near daily sight working the campus farm. Earlier this year, Lou stepped in a hole and hurt his leg. The injury hasn’t healed. Since oxen work as a team, the 11-year old pair was retired. 
 

Ben Dube, who graduated from Green Mountain College last year and now works on the farm, gives Bill a scratch. (VOA/N. Keck)Ben Dube, who graduated from Green Mountain College last year and now works on the farm, gives Bill a scratch. (VOA/N. Keck)
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Ben Dube, who graduated from Green Mountain College last year and now works on the farm, gives Bill a scratch. (VOA/N. Keck)
Ben Dube, who graduated from Green Mountain College last year and now works on the farm, gives Bill a scratch. (VOA/N. Keck)

Bill and Lou’s big brown eyes, curving horns and gentle but massive girth have made them minor celebrities on campus and beyond.  Many say that’s what makes it so hard to believe the college wants to slaughter and eat them. 

“These two individuals have become veritable mascots for the school," says Miriam Jones, cofounder of Vine, an animal rescue organization in Springfield, Vermont. "They are the profile picture on the farm’s Facebook page. They are known by name. This is why the outcry has been so significant all over.”

Online petition

A petition to save Bill and Lou on Facebook has attracted over 40,000 signatures from all over the world.

Vine offered to take the oxen to live at its farm for free. Vine’s Pattrice Jones says they were stunned when the college declined, citing sustainability as one of its reasons.

“We do not believe that the way to conserve resources is to kill the elderly and disabled  to prevent them from using up resources because they’re not useful anymore," Jones says. "We just ethically find that repugnant.”

Philip Ackerman-Leist heads Green Mountain College’s Farm and Food project.

“We have been very clear from the beginning that this is not a petting zoo," he says. "It was going to be a sustainable farm operation.”

Going to slaughter

Seventy percent of the college's students eat meat, according to Ackerman-Leist.

Twelve years ago, when the college began developing its sustainable farm program, vegetarian students specifically asked that livestock be included to confront the realities of eating meat. 

Lou and Bill, GMC's resident oxen team, made their debut on the farm in 2002. (Courtesy Green Mountain College)Lou and Bill, GMC's resident oxen team, made their debut on the farm in 2002. (Courtesy Green Mountain College)
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Lou and Bill, GMC's resident oxen team, made their debut on the farm in 2002. (Courtesy Green Mountain College)
Lou and Bill, GMC's resident oxen team, made their debut on the farm in 2002. (Courtesy Green Mountain College)

He says the debate goes way beyond Bill and Lou. Faculty and students have spent a great deal of time discussing it.

“It’s something I think about a lot. I actually have 50 head of cattle at home, most of them have names and I interact with them on a daily basis," says Ackerman-Leist.  It’s never an easy decision for a farmer to say it’s time for an animal to go to slaughter.”

Philosophy professor Steve Fesmire teaches classes on animal and environmental ethics at the college.

“Sending Bill and Lou to sanctuary can legitimately be regarded as avoiding the issue," he says. 

Ongoing debate

Fesmire believes the controversy over Bill and Lou has forced an important discussion on campus and beyond - namely how we feel about the 10 billion other animals that are slaughtered in the United States every year - and how they’re treated.

Andrea Jacques is a junior who plans to study veterinary medicine.  She says she agrees with the decision to slaughter Bill and Lou and is surprised at the backlash from people off-campus.

“Most of the students here understand why things are the way that they are,” she says.

Campus officials say meat from the oxen will provide the school with over a months’ worth of hamburger. Jacques says it’s silly not to use it.

“I don't choose to eat hamburger necessarily but if I was, this would be the one that I’d choose to eat, because I know they’ve had a great life compared to some hamburger that you get which may not have had the best life.”

She says if people think there’s something wrong with that, they may want to reconsider their food choices. 
 

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by: Kit
November 05, 2012 3:55 PM
I quite frankly applaud these fine people at this Green Mountain College. The whole point of the place is to live in Coexistence with the land and live within the circle of life. These beautiful creatures have helped to sustain these people for years and they will continue to sustain them even with their death, because that is how life exists. One can debate over and over but when you truly look at it one has to kill something in order for the body to be nourished, be it plant or animal. People need to respect Any Life they take into their body to sustain themselves. We really need to look at all life as equal in every aspect and people need to learn to Coexist with one another as well as the planet and it creatures.


by: Dr Kendra Sullivan Godin from: Massachusetts
October 28, 2012 12:10 PM
I find it very distainful that this small college will slaughter Lou and Bill to serve to students and faculty as a .meal. The message being sent to your students is that once something becomes of no use to you then it is expendable. Lou and Bill have earned the respect as living breathing animals to be allowed a retirement to a greener pasture to live out their remaining years. I find this whole matter a misguided means to shirk the responsibilty of proper care for two animals that have worked tirelessly over the years. I believe that the administration of this college should be admonished and stopped for this useless, heartless decision. I feel if this decision is carried through then your school will feel the repercussions for years to come. Heartlessness follows those that allow and promote this type of condoned behavior. I only hope you will revisit this decision and take the viable solution to allow Bill and Lou live out the last remaining years in comfort.

In Response

by: Dzenad Dedic from: Houston
November 02, 2012 1:10 PM
Agreed - this is too sad... humanity is evolving too slowly - it is just taking too long!


by: Jana from: Prague
October 27, 2012 8:16 AM
Would you like to be killed just because of being ill or old? I think not. And the poor two deserve to stay alive and to spent a good time before their time to go home over the rainbow bridge comes.


by: Steven Fesmire from: Poultney, VT
October 26, 2012 9:54 PM
Vegan abolitionists have long sought a photogenic target for a campaign against what they call they call “happy meat” of small-scale animal husbandry. Human slavery had to be abolished wholesale, not incrementally toward better and kinder masters. Just so, animal rights abolitionists believe the system that transforms sentient beings into meat for human consumption is wrong. It doesn’t matter whether the culprit is a large-scale industrial operation or a downscaled, sustainable Vermont family farm. They are correct, at least, that the economic sustainability of small-scale animal husbandry, as with the large-scale animal “factories” that provide almost all meat in the U.S., drives a thorny logic of culling. Green Mountain College’s recent decision to slaughter our ailing and aging oxen team presented abolitionists with a beautiful target. And so our small liberal arts college stepped unwittingly into a spotlight.

Green Mountain College is home to students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators whose value orientations on animal ethics are as different as Wes Jackson’s neo-agrarianism is from Peter Singer’s animal liberationism. We explore all of these perspectives in our core curriculum, a twist on traditional liberal arts education that we call the “environmental liberal arts.” Far from shying away from complex tensions and divergences, we seek them out and welcome them. We strive to be a community that listens to, responds to, and thoughtfully incorporates different voices. Yes, Bill and Lou’s voices too, so long as we acknowledge that their interests are not obviously best represented in this instance by those distant from the thicket of actual, on-the-ground considerations.

Steven Fesmire
Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies
Green Mountain College

In Response

by: Des from: Australia
October 30, 2012 7:27 PM
Professor Fesmire is right - the argument against factory farming is just as valid for the oxymoron "happy meat". If Bill and Lou deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so do the hundreds of millions of other animals killed anonymously every day. Students should ask themselves why they accept these deaths - is it just for the taste or the convenience? Most importantly, Bill and Lou's fate should be very clear - the students should not just agree to send them off to an abattoir but should be issued the knives as part of their curriculum, and the whole grisly event should be put on Youtube so that the world can see what is involved in the decision to eat your friends.

In Response

by: Laura Beth from: New Hamsphire
October 29, 2012 11:06 AM
This IS more than about Bill and Lou. www.powerfulbook.com
Read the connection between the very ideology held by this "school" and abuses of power rampant in human society against other humans. The notion of "sustainable" animal agriculture is as deceptive as it is dangerous. These students are NOT being educated, rather, indoctrinated, processed.
Nothing complex here, merely simple , merciless, status quo behavior to satisfy students addiction to meat, and the colleges stubborn refusal to let two beautiful animals live. This is not over.


by: Ian from: USA
October 26, 2012 2:32 PM
Anyone who would love to enjoy a piece of these oxen should have the photo (which shown Bill aka the ox's reaction why receiving the scratch from Ben Dube) in front of the plate while he or she is eating.
What kind of peoples who find it is wrong that someone in another country eating dogs, yet they themselves have no qualm eating another animal which clearly shown affection & trust in them ?


by: Scarlet
October 26, 2012 12:31 PM
I understand the school believes they are doing the right thing, and I believe wholeheartedly that this is better than any factory farming situation. The only positive aspect is that hopefully this is raising awareness and making people think about their food sources and question their reasoning (they are against these two being slaughtered, yet will eat meat that was raised inhumanely and doesn't have a name.)

That being said, it is still horrible what this school is doing to these two happy, gentle creatures that trust their caretakers. It doesn't change the fact that these two that have been shown love their entire lives will spend their last moments terrified in a horrific slaughterhouse, most likely watching eat other get slaughtered. I don't believe the lives of these two need to be sacrificed to spread awareness.

If the school is really doing this to make a point, the ones who love Bill and Lou the most should be the ones to slaughter them (since they are still sending them off to have someone else do it), and it should be videotaped and posted on the school's website.

Have a heart.


by: Tina from: Schenectady, NY
October 26, 2012 12:30 PM
"Andrea Jacques is a junior who plans to study veterinary medicine. She says she agrees with the decision to slaughter Bill and Lou and is surprised at the backlash from people off-campus.

“Most of the students here understand why things are the way that they are,” she says."

Wow, she sounds like a genious. I thought veterinarians practiced healing, not slaughter.


by: SaveLouandBill
October 26, 2012 11:59 AM
So Bill and Lou's "worth" after working years at Green Mountain College comes down to them being slaughtered for one month's worth of hamburger? This is absolutely disgusting and despicable. GMC: Teach some compassion for these beautiful sentient animals by retiring them to Vine Sanctuary who have generously offered a home to them at no cost whatsoever to the college. For ways to support Bill and Lou see: http://tny.cz/284ea186

In Response

by: Tina from: Schenectady, NY
October 26, 2012 2:47 PM
Bill and Lou have given enough to that school. They've carted students around for over 10 years. Why is it necessary they give their lives as well? Eating meat is absolutely unnecessary. There's no such thing as "humane" slaughter. The fact there is a sanctuary willing to take these two animals and let them live out their lives peacefully is quite frankly a no-brainer. Let them go to VINE and be done with it.

In Response

by: tassieread
October 26, 2012 1:11 PM
It isn't a matter of value or worth at all. Members of the college community eat meat and the college is committed to provide it in a sustainable way. If Bill and Lou are sent to the sanctuary other cows will be consumed in their place, probably from less idyllic settings or even from a factory farm. What makes the cow that would take their place any less deserving of sanctuary?


by: Virginia Abreu de Paula from: Brazil
October 25, 2012 11:31 PM
The students who are against it should get on strike on something like that. Or just leave for another school. Maybe this way these people would rethink about it. Hey, where are ALF group to invade the campus and rescue Bill and Lou?


by: Nemesi from: Italy
October 25, 2012 4:02 PM
They are my brothers.
What can i do ?
I'm nothing.
My heart is broken.

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