Rows and rows of cows. Acre after acre of filth. The rain drenched my clothes, but I barely noticed. Desperate cries and passing cars were all the noises I could hear. Feces was the only stench I could smell. Overwhelming heartbreak was the only emotion I could feel.
At any given moment, Harris Ranch is imprisoning and exploiting over 100,000 cows at their feedlot. Located in Fresno County, CA, Harris Ranch is the largest ranch on the West Coast.
We decided to call ourselves “Kids Against CAFOs." The term “CAFO” is a euphemism for “slaughterhouse,” it stands for “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.” I’m 15 years old, one of my best friends is 16 years old, and we set out on a mission to find out what Big Ag is up to. In between schoolwork, we began to plan.
I began doing research, deep into the internet, to find anything and everything there is to know about Harris Ranch. It seemed too good to be true that they championed transparency, sustainability, and humane practices, so I continued digging.
I discovered that the facility at Harris Ranch has been found to be producing and emitting methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and other pathogens.
I discovered blogs and social media posts from Fresno community members expressing concern over the environmental destruction being caused by the feedlot. The drought, a disastrous issue in Central California, came up repetitively. The amount of water being used, both to hydrate the cows and to grow crops for their feed, is proving catastrophic.
Animals at the feedlot have been visibly mutilated. Just about every single cow has a large tag lanced through their ears. Many have also been branded. Branding is a practice where a mark, carved into a giant metal rod, is placed in a hot flame. Once it’s burning, the metal is pressed against the cows’ backs. It’s important to remember this is casually done with no pain relievers or anesthetic.
I live with two cows at Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary. Just giving them an injection causes clear discomfort. I can’t even imagine punching a hole in their ears, or burning them with hot metal. How anyone could do that to such a gentle being truly blows my mind.
The company proudly claims to make animal welfare a primary priority. In the past, Harris Ranch has been known to arrest activists for taking pictures of the feedlot from public property. It definitely raises eyebrows that they are trying so hard to keep their practices in the dark.
A few years ago, there was a bill passed in the United States called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, labeling anyone who interferes with an animal enterprise as a terrorist. It appeared that Harris Ranch was taking full advantage of this unethical law.
On the morning of March 20th, 2018, my friend, Ateret, and I drove two hours from San Luis Obispo to Fresno, CA. We made backpacks that read “KIDS AGAINST CAFOS” and purchased matching outfits. We gathered our things and went on our way. If they are really so proud, we figured that maybe they would show us the barns - on a Facebook livestream.
We pulled off of the freeway, and parked on public property. I grabbed my backpack, threw it over my shoulder, and got out of the car. I grabbed my camera and Ateret grabbed the livestream, and we began to bear witness to the cows within. I didn’t want a single one of them to suffer alone.
It was only a matter of minutes before security began to harass us, threatening to call the police if we didn’t leave. They said it was illegal for us to take pictures and document the animals at the ranch. We told them we would like to tour the facility, and we wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. The security guard drove away, and we continued to document the horrors. Looking into the eyes of the cows, so filled with despair, was utterly heartbreaking.
Growing up, I was taught that animals in farms live happy lives. I read storybooks and fairytales where cows, chickens, and pigs roam on grassy fields and even ASK to be eaten. Harris Ranch was nothing like that.
The police arrived and asked that we move our car to a different location, which we politely agreed to do. When we made it back to the car, the police were there, taking down the licence plate and talking with a farmer. They asked for our IDs, and myself, being 15, told them I don’t have one. We were told we were free to go, so we got into the car and began to drive.
Only a minute after, their lights began to flash and they pulled us over. Intensely, they demanded to know if we had an arrest record, if we were on probation, and where we lived. I asked if they were treating us unfairly because we were animal rights activists, but they hastily dodged my question.
After evoking our Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, they gave my friend and driver, Ateret, a ticket. Ateret, and one of her parents who lives in Colorado, will have to appear in court sometime in the coming weeks.
I grew up with people telling me that police officers are the good guys, protecting the people in our country. But if that’s the case, I don’t understand why WE are the criminals, while animal abusers are let off with a slap on the wrist.
The fact that animals are suffering at Harris Ranch is as plain as day. Even the police officers, who may not know anything about animals, should be able to see that.
As long as animals are being exploited, and our right to know where our food comes from is being violated, our world will be filled with violence. I would like to see a world where children, like myself, are not told that animals are things to be used and abused. I would like to see a world where animal agriculture companies are transparent, and animals are sent to sanctuaries, not slaughterhouses.