Living With Animals – Conferences at Cheese

At Cheese we insist on the theme of animal welfare. Let’s turn back to this theme this year as well, and consider the animals’ diets, living spaces, mutilations and pastures.

Jocelyne Porcher is a sociologist at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique and author of the book The Ethics of Animal Labor: A Collaborative Utopia. Porcher will be among the speakers of the conference To Raise Animals or To Live With Them, to be held on September the 17th at 5 pm. 

Let’s start our argument with a chapter from her book:


Salers is a rustic breed, known for her high reproductive attitude and strong maternal instinct, a peculiarity that makes her the best of mothers: milking is only possible in the presence of calves. Over the centuries, breeders have adapted to this particular feature of Salers by developing a specific breeding system known as Système Traditionnel Salers.


“The results of this ‘modernization’ which in fact was an initiative of industrialization, are visible today: animal husbandry is held up to public scorn in a way that could not have been even a few years ago. Hundreds of breeds of animals have disappeared, squeezed out of existence for specialization. Many cattle farmers, raised in the cult of maize-soya rations, are incapable of returning their cattle to the fields because they no longer know how to feed them with grass. This is true for the majority of pigs that pasture and digest grass.


The gift of good life

The gift of good life is not a rule that is taught in agriculture schools. […] The vast majority of the breeders and wage-earners I have encountered, even in the context of industrial systems, and whatsoever is the species in question, considers that good life for animals is first of all a relationship with the world to which they belong, namely nature. […] To give them a good life is, in some way, equivalent to giving access to what belongs to them: soil, grass, sun, rain, birds singing, wind, snow… An entire world of sensations and experiences that make an individual exist.

Access to natural world goes hand in hand with freedom of movement, social ties, food diversity, the ability to express the behaviors of a species (plowing the ground for a pig, grazing …), the ability to express their own vitality (running, fighting, playing, contemplating).

The gift of good life begins with giving the animals an environment in which they can live their lives. For cows, just as for sows or poultry, the relationship with nature, meadows, woods or paths is very important. For animals all this has a healthy function but also a nutritive function. Grazing is an essential part of feeding cows that in a natural or complex meadow can exercise a selective choice of plants and “eat what they like”. […] Animal relations are a key component of the system.

Cows, sows, sheep are social animals. It is therefore important to allow them to establish relationships. These relationships are articulated with those existing between the breeder and his animals. The breeder has a working relationship with the herd, then has a relationship with the individual cows, just as a teacher who has relationships with the class and each pupil in particular. Pedagogical analogy is often used by breeders representing their work with animals as a form of education. […] Good life implies a stand-alone relationship with the world of nature but also protection from the breeder, which in fact allows animals to live in nature without being subject to its constraints. The good life of a breeding animal is not the same as that of a “wild”. […]


The producers of the Roman Caciofiore Presidium breed sheep predominantly of Sarda and Comisana breeds, with a small presence of Massesi and Sopravvissane. In part of the year, they leave them free to graze in what remains of the Roman agro. Feed does not include the use of silage fodder and products derived from GM crops. Photo by Alberto Peroli

“Animals talk to each other and talk to us”

Good life is also the involvement of animals in the world of work, in relations with humans. The relationship that is established is an enrichment because animals require ties. Words and caressing are the first vectors of such ties. The majority of breeders speak with the beasts and are not words in the wind, but words addressed to an interlocutor. In the morning they turn to the group: “Hello, girls!” When it is time to go out: “Come on, let’s go;” When it comes back: “So, ate well?”; In the evening: “See you tomorrow,” and to each one in the course of the day, “Come on, beautiful,” “let her pass,” “enough with the tease.”

And, unlike what is often said about silence or lack of animal words, breeders feel that their world is very expressive. Breeders talk, but animals always say things. They express themselves in their own way: belated, sneezed, grunts and body language, in ways that fit the situations. Animals talk to each other and talk to us. […]

For many breeders, cows, goats or pigs are part of “home”. They belong to a family where human and animal genealogies meet. But they are also “pet” animals, as comrades of their breeders. Animals share their daily lives.


The fracture of a bond

The constant magnification of the areas reserved for livestock and the growing number of animals that breeders have to deal with today, however, is becoming more and more detached from almost like a fracture of a bond. […]mOur fellow citizens do not know better what breeding is. Many do not know why a cow that produces milk needs to have a calf. And that, therefore, drinking milk is equivalent to eating calves or kittens or lambs, or feeding it to others. Many do not know the link between eggs and hen.


The Saviore Valley Faturì Presidium aims to link the production of cheese to the recovery and preservation of Adam’s blonde goat. This contributes to the maintenance of a local economy based on livestock production and dairy production.


Now, eating eggs, is, basically, eating hen. Many people declare vegetarian while consuming eggs, milk and cheese […]. Most of our fellow citizens ignore what is breeding and what a breeding animal is. In general, they also seem to ignore that breeding animals are domestic animals.

Our relationship with breeding animals and, more generally, with pets today is therefore very confusing. We could be satisfied and, in the best of the worlds that will happen to us, let’s make the selection (almost) natural. The breeding animals, and the breeding itself, are extinct. And so? On the one hand, no one seems to be aware of this extinction, neither the industry professionals nor the ordinary citizens.

The loss remains imperceptible because we don’t know what we are losing. On the other hand, breeding is not limited to mere production of meat and eggs, lawn maintenance or genomic decoding. Breeding can’t be diminished to its production logic. It’s a piece of our culture, a piece of our history. Of the history of men and animals. Our story together. ”

The Ethics of Animal Labor: A Collaborative Utopia
by Jocelyne Porcher
Slow Food Editore, 2017

In our radically artificial and industrialized world, only animals, who remind us of what nature is, can help us recover our humanity. In terms of beasts that serve the production of food, the reactions today are the most varied. From indifference to little awareness, from the spread of vegetarianism and veganism as a reaction contrary to a system that exploits animals in a reckless manner. What is breeding? Is there a difference between “animal production”? What harm does industrialized systems do? Will it be necessary to free the animals as many philosophers and integralists claim?
Answering these questions, the author explains how the ability of men to coexist peacefully depends on their ability to live dearly and in peace with animals. And why saving livestock from industrial systems can be one of the most beautiful utopias of the 21st century.

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