Geronimo the alpaca deserved a more dignified end.

Geronimo the alpaca deserved a more dignified end. Everyone present on the day of his euthanasia failed to put his best interests before their own emotions and frustrations.

The whole tragic and acrimonious tale of the euthanasia of Geronimo the alleged TB suffering alpaca lasted four years. It involved court cases and appeals, a 140,000 petition, a demonstration to Downing Street and appeals direct to Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister. Campaigners camped outside the farm reminiscent of the days of the nuclear protests and the story was covered worldwide.

Unfortunately, it ended in distasteful and unacceptable scenes when the poor animal had to be forcibly removed from his farm. Unpalatable as it may have been, Geronimo’s fate was always going to be irrevocable and it should have been everybody’s priority to make his last moments as calm and peaceful as possible. But this did not happen

A media and campaigner scrum.

There was so much wrong on both sides of the fence during his final hours and unforgivably it turned into a scrum which caused considerable stress, anxiety and upset to poor Geronimo. Noisy supporters and demonstrators vented their frustration and emotions and jostled with the media photographers. There were scenes of paparazzi type photographers chasing after the trailer, jumping up to get their last photos as is often seen with prison vans outside courthouses.

This melee unnecessarily forced a Police cordon to be present to protect the government vets trying to lead Geronimo away. Not surprisingly Geronimo reacted to the close proximity of all these uniformed officers and the commotion surrounding him. Accusations by supporters of the government vets mishandling and causing Geronimo distress appear slightly hypocritical and shouts of “call yourself vets” were uncalled for and unhelpful. They were accused of being murderers, executioners, torturers and slaughterers. I am sure the vets and Geronimo would have preferred a more civilised exit.

Geronimo being led away by government veterinarians for euthanasia
Geronimo could have done without the melee surrounding his departure.

Geronimo could have been given a more peaceful and respectful end to his life.

It could have been such a different story. Geronimo could have been given the opportunity for a quiet and humane euthanasia in his stable surrounded by people he knew to calm him during his final moments as we would do with our precious pet dog or cat. Or the owner could have done more to keep the circus away and allowed the vet to calmly lead Geronimo to the trailer or even to have done it herself although this would of course have been upsetting.

Well-meaning supporters allowed their emotions to get the better of them.

The well-meaning people present when he was removed from the farm did the poor animal no favours. They allowed their emotions to get the better of them and they lost sight of the wellbeing of the animal they were supposedly so concerned about. They should have put Geronimo’s best interests first by being more respectful.

The whole episode was tragic and although I applaud the concerted efforts of his supporters to save his life, their actions in his final hours just made his death more distressing and pitiful. If Geronimo had been my pet I would have also have fought to save him, but I would have hated to see the life of an animal of mine end in such circumstances.

Geronimo imported from New Zealand for stud.

Although all the coverage portrayed Geronimo as a beloved pet, he was also an expensive stud animal imported from New Zealand to improve the gene line on the alpaca breeding farm which had apparently operated for 15 years. There are hundreds of thousands of them in New Zealand and Australia bred to slaughter for meat.

He was also one of 45,000 alpacas and other camelids in the U.K. involved in the burgeoning breeding and farming of them for their fleece and their meat. As such they are treated as livestock and subject to TB checks. Unfortunately he was was found to be positive in two blood tests although this has always been contested.

Alpacas are killed daily in the U.K.

In 2020, 205 alpacas and other camelids were culled due to TB and over 28,000 cattle and dairy cows along with countless badgers because of the threat of this contagious disease. Their fate goes mainly unnoticed.

As does the fact that in the UK more alpacas are slaughtered each year for their meat, and because they are either unsuitable for breeding or their fleeces are degrading. There are also large numbers of unwanted and abandoned alpacas each year which has resulted in Alpaca rescues having to be set up.

Realistically we should be attempting to stop the keeping of alpacas, llamas and camels in the U.K. so that this kind of incident need not arise.

He was euthanised on Tuesday 31 August 2021.

RIP Geronimo another victim of our passion for exotic meats and clothing.

Zero Grazing. Just battery farming of cows.

A BBC Countryfile programme recently upset many viewers when it featured a form of battery farming of dairy cows called zero grazing, a sign of how out of touch we are with how our food is produced.

There was outrage from many watchers of the BBC television Countryfile programme recently (June 2021), when Matt Baker the presenter visited a farm that used the zero grazing system for its dairy cows. Although most people have never heard of it, the practice of zero grazing has been gradually creeping into the UK farming industry under the fence so to speak over the last few decades. At the moment only 5% of UK farms use it but it is becoming more popular, and it is widely used across the world particularly in poorer regions like Africa. So, what is it and is it just battery farming of cows?

Cows are kept continuously indoors 24/7

UK farmers have used the system since the 1980’s and involves keeping predominately dairy cows indoors 24 hours a day all year round and bringing freshly cut grass to them twice a day to feed on. Most are never allowed to graze or enjoy the outside. The term refers to the feeding practice rather than the housing system. The fact that many people were shocked indicates how little we care how our food is produced as long as it is cheap and readily available.

It is becoming more popular because herd sizes and forage prices are increasing and some farmers are finding they do not have the space to allow them to graze so are turning to keeping them permanently confined instead. Although more labour intensive having to grow and cut fresh grass twice a day farmers find it less expensive and more productive.

Zero grazing detrimental to dairy cow's welfare.

Zero grazing detrimental to cows welfare.

The benefits are that the cows only use their energy to feed and by feeding ‘clean fresh’ grass it has been proven to drive up milk production. Apparently research has shown cows do not like eating dung tainted grass and who can blame them.  Also, they are protected from the vagaries and extremes of weather and it is a cleaner environment for milk production and managing calves. But it is difficult not to see the parallels with battery and continuously confined poultry and other animals.

Various studies have indicated that cows with the freedom to graze outdoors have lower levels of lameness, hoof disease, hock lesions, mastitis, uterine diseases and deaths compared with those continuously kept confined. Their mental health is also obviously better when they are able to show natural behaviours by being outside and they are less aggressive. One review of the welfare of dairy cows kept continuously confined compared to those allowed to graze concluded that there are considerable benefits from allowing cows access to grazing and that continuous confinement compromises their health and welfare.

dairy cows freedom to graze
Research has shown that the mental health of dairy cows is better when allowed to graze.

Although only a small minority of farms use the method at present it is something to keep a vigilant eye on if we are not to slip into a scenario of battery farming dairy cattle. We already have intensive farming of beef cattle known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) gradually infiltrating the UK farming industry in counties like Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk Cattle. The animals are kept outside in unregulated American style grassless stockades to be fattened up in herds of thousands never to relax on pastureland.   

Misplaced concern over farming methods.

There is plenty of evidence that we are heading for an era when all ruminants will be intensively reared to keep up with the demand from supermarkets and rising populations. Recently there has been concern and opposition by animal welfare groups, UK farmers and by Parliament concerning the UK’s post Brexit trade agreements to import Australian and other foreign meat and dairy products. This is based rightly on perceived substandard animal welfare and cruel farming methods and undercutting UK farmers. But perhaps we should we be looking closer to home at our own farming practices before criticising others. More effort by more of us to change to non dairy alternatives would also help reduce this move to more intensive dairy farming to meet increasing demands.