Last week, a pregnant Holstein cow was tragically and unnecessarily shot and killed at the California State Fair. The dairy cow was displayed in a birthing area where she was intended to give birth to her calf in front of spectators. Likely panicked due to the unfamiliar environment and crowds, she escaped and made a run for it. Veterinarians on the scene attempted to tranquilize her, but the tranquilizer gun didn’t fire. Citing public safety concerns, the supervising veterinarian, who in news articles referred to the mother cow as a “nutcase” who was “a little mean,” approved the plan to shoot the cow. She was shot multiple times in the side, killing her as well as her unborn baby.
Then, over the weekend, I read about yet another animal, a steer named Yellow 98, who was recently on display at the Warren County Farmer’s Fair in New Jersey. While the steer didn’t escape from this summer’s fair, he did make a run for it while being shown at an event last year, leading police and others on a 30-hour chase around the Delaware River. Eventually, he was caught and returned to his “owner.” This fall, Yellow 98’s life will come to an untimely end as he is sent to slaughter – even after all the lengths to which he had gone to preserve his life. When asked about the steer, who captured many people’s hearts after they read his story, his “owner” said, “He goes for what he’s intended, like all steers.”
Since the inception of state and county fairs, the events have been a stage on which local farmers could competitively exhibit their livestock before sending them to slaughter. Over the years, the events have become more popular with the general public and have expanded to include carnival rides, live music and games. While humans might enjoy the excitement, the animals certainly do not. Many farm animals, including cows, are frightened by the loud, chaotic atmosphere of these types of events. Their natural instincts tell them to flee, to find a place of relative calm and quiet. That is precisely what the mother cow and Yellow 98 were doing when they made a run for it.
Fair supporters claim that such live animal demonstrations are not just for entertainment, but also have educational value. They say that through these exhibits adults and children alike can view the life stages of farm animals and, theoretically, get to understand them better. Seeing a farm animal in a confined area at a noisy state or county fair, however, does not give an accurate portrayal of the life of that animal. Animals in such positions are traumatized by their unnatural surroundings, scared for their own lives, and terrified by the large number of people approaching them at once. This is not education, but exploitation.
As people who care deeply about farm animals and understand their complex nature, we need to throw our voices behind them and demand that fairs end the cruel practice of putting them on display. If people really want to learn about these incredible animals, they should skip these events and make a beeline to one of Farm Sanctuary’s bicoastal shelters instead. Here, the animals are valued as individuals and we give them the space, care and environment they need to live their lives comfortably and more naturally. State and county fairs are not fair for farm animals and we should do what we can to educate others about the alternatives.