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)
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)
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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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Daniele Halle from: Canada
October 25, 2012 3:10 PM
Why is human kill kill kill, this is unacceptable, those oxen serve MEN all there life now they are older so, KILL them, we'll I hope the meat go rotten and everybody get sick, KARMA

by: naomi cohen from: new york
October 25, 2012 12:33 PM
there are two precious lives at stake here. there is no reason in hell why they should be destroyed just because some snotty kids don't care about their lives. i pray someone with a heart will take control of this tragedy, and spare their lives.

by: Gail Werner from: Independence, NJ
October 25, 2012 11:34 AM
This is not an exemplar school if they make such illogical decisions, and the president will not accept phone calls. What a poor example for to show students.Not a wise choice for a so called Methodist school, where is the compassion, a much more logical teachable moment!!!

by: GJ
October 25, 2012 10:48 AM
This is like killing members of the student body! Lou and Bill are loving and tame and have worked all their lives for the college. How could anyone with a heart and conscience murder them and then feed them to their supposed friends? Eating meat is cruel no matter how you look at it, but eating animals you have named and known for years is sending a very callous, anti-compassionate message to the students. Please, can't somebody step up and buy them and give them a loving home for the rest of their lives?

by: Pamela Wolfe from: France
October 25, 2012 9:03 AM
If Lou and Bill have been WORKING on the farm for the past decade they are ENTITLED to their retirement - we're not talking about animals who were raised specifically to end up as food !! The decision to slaughter them, for no justifiable reason, is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the College and is (most likely) more a question of saving money on food supplies. I wonder how many of the students would actually eat the "burgers", in any case, knowing exactly where they came from - I know I COULDN'T if I were in their shoes !! Has the college even consulted the students? I very much doubt it !!
If an offer has been made to "adopt" Lou and Bill, then this offer should be accepted by the College as it is the DECENT and PROPER thing to do and will be a good example to students of RESPONSIBILITY, LOYALTY, HUMANITY, and HONESTY !!!!!!
In Response

by: Bill Burger from: FL
October 25, 2012 10:06 AM
I want my burger to be nameless.....We eat and use MILLIONS of tons of animal products. This is the Circle of Life. Cows are on this planet to eat not to be friends with. They are food. If not for humans then for every top level burger eating animal. They do not have the right to live due to the lack of an opposable thumb, its real simple, no talk no live goodbye we eat.

by: gmc from: FL
October 25, 2012 8:49 AM
Seems they are only worried about filling their gluttonous bellies and saving money. Have they forgotten about the other BILLIONS of animals murdered for their flesh already? These Oxen worked hard and deserve some R&R. They are not simply animals, they are beloved pets with souls and personalities. This Jacques needs some serious help if all shes worried about is a months worth of food.. and these oxens had a great life? They slaved for a decade and were loved by people and so as their REWARD, they will be eaten. I say they kill her as shes not contributing much except blowing air around. NO? Too extreme? IS IT? why because shes a human? Between the two, I choose animals every time.
In Response

by: sharon baldwin from: nevada
October 25, 2012 7:40 PM
I am class of1963 GMC I wish I could emailthem direct I am now elderly and disabled I'll give them my body after I die to eat in the dinning hall when I went to school there we were not allowed to wear sneakers to meals because they were not womanly for meals I started a sneaker rally-- we pelted the deans house with our sneakers--message received, we could then wear our sneakers to the dinning hall for meals--maybe those ox should pull down Ames hall maybe they would pay attention I am ashamed to even say I went there. From the First PROTESTER at GMC. If you can post this online I would appreciate it . I am computer illerate and I don't have an E mail! My name is Sharon Baldwin, class of 63 GMC.

by: Anonymous
October 24, 2012 11:40 PM
One of the reason the planet is being destroyed is because people have no compassion and generosity, towards anything that lives. They should teach thankfulness and compassion to their students. Be thankful for what Bill and Lou gave to them for so many years and give them the gift of life. This is also a huge, big lesson that the students need to learn: probably the biggest one that they ever had.

They should show to them that generousity, thankfullness and compasion are the biggest enviroment lesson of all. The students expect that from them: that's why they want Bill and Lou to be sent to the Sanctuary.

by: ann from: canada
October 24, 2012 10:14 PM
With regards to the oxen. We all get the fact that we kill millions of animals to eat them. These two have fullfilled a different role for us.
As such they should be allowed to live out their lives.

Perhaps there could be a study. Imagine that. What happens to oxen and cattle when we choose not to eat them. does anyone in NA even know?

by: Anonymous
October 24, 2012 5:54 PM
I eat meat. I like meat. I've raised animals for food. Cows with names aren't meat, they're pets. The National Park Service and Forest Service mules and horses we used for packing supplies into the back country were retired to a pasture or adopted out, unless they were injured and in pain. Some stupid college dorks think they know about sustainable agriculture. We used to leave our old people in the snow to die when they became unproductive. Don't you think that would be a good use for some of these old senile college professors.
In Response

by: Nemesi from: Italy
October 26, 2012 4:02 AM
They are my brothers. U eat my brothers. I hope u meat slaughter reviv.
In Response

by: kytlanda from: Richmond, KY
October 25, 2012 2:33 PM
I fully agree. These are pets and regardless of weather we eat meat or not, we do not eat our pets. Hiding behind the arguement of sustainable agriculture is a mute point. Killing these two oxen proves nothing except that the university has no conscionence. I propose that those individuals in favor of killing the oxen to support sustainable agriculture offer themselves to be butchered instead. After all we all could use a few less unfeeling people in this world.
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