Jessica Stathdee was “losing her mind with grief” and was considering suicide as a way out after four years of hearing mothers giving birth and grieving.
“Mothers were birthing outside my window and I was listening to their labour pains all night, then watching them loving and cleaning their babies until my partner came with the tractor and the cage and took those babies away from them forever, I almost lost my mind with grief then, I couldn’t believe what I had been so complicit in and what evil I had been closing my eyes and heart to while I lived there.” she said
She had just had her own child so she connected with the mother cows and says she became “very Unbalanced”.
“I just looked at the pen full of babies covered in afterbirth, their navels still bloody, and thought, ‘f…, these are real babies’,” she says. “I realized what it took to get the milk. They weren’t machines, they were babies who wanted their mums.”
In speaking about the “leftover” male calves that serve no purpose for the dairy industry she said:
“They’re taken from their mothers and they’re sent away to slaughter at four days old, just so we can take their milk. There’s no excuse for that, none.”
She said she cried nearly everyday for two weeks and by her fourth year there she had enough. Strathdee was willing to leave her partner of 16 years if necessary while ditching this hell on earth called a dairy farm. Luckily her husband (Limbe) listened to her concerns and they were a vegan family from the day they left onward.
“I became an animal rights activist at that time and we both committed to living a vegan life.”
The memories from her time on the farm and the “huge guilt” she had leaving the cows still haunts her.
“I knew I was effectively abandoning all those mothers and babies to their horrible fate. The fate that I was guilty of dealing them while I worked there.”
She is now an active animal rights activist even setting up the New Zealand branch of Mothers Against Dairy (MAD). Through MAD she has organized nationwide protests making a difference.
“People are waking up to what really happens on farms and where their food comes from, how it’s grown. Word is spreading.”
She has gotten crowdfunded billboards up in Christchurch and Dunedin with a third in the works. Back in the summer she was a speaker at the animal rights march where she urged the Prime Minister to start taking animal rights seriously after the PM had remarked she can’t go vegan because she “loves cheese.”
Reactions of course have been mixed to her newfound vegan life and animal rights work but she says farm workers going through the same crisis of conscience that she went through for four years have reached out to her. Death threats have also become a product of her outspoken stance against the horrific dairy industry but she takes it in stride.
“People are constantly coming at me but I just block and ignore. I’ve had people tell me they’ll call the authorities because we’re ‘abusing’ our kids by raising them vegan,” she says.
“Our kids are plump and healthy and I don’t think anyone who knows us would ever comment on how we’re raising them.”
She has stern thoughts on farmers still in the industry saying:
“There’s no way to ethically exploit motherhood. There’s not a better way to do a wrong thing and I don’t believe dairy has a long-term future.”
“You hear about these farmers who are ‘broken’ when they lose an animal but two hours later they’re off taking calves off their mothers again, I really don’t believe this representation of farmers loving their cows they wouldn’t treat their dogs the way they treat their cows.”
Her response to those in the industry that thinks she was just “too soft” is perfect.
“I might have been ‘too soft’ for farming but that says more about farming than about me,” she says. I wouldn’t ever want to be ‘hard enough’ to be OK with what I saw.”
“They’re long, tiring days and people get to a point where they can’t process what they’re seeing, what they’re really part of. They’re too exhausted and broken to deal with it.”
In the end she learned that she was an animal lover by going through this experience.
“I was never an animal lover before this, but one beautiful and ironic thing that came from moving to a dairy farm and abusing cows is this huge love I now have for all animals. I’ve been truly humbled by their majesty and innocence and I wish I could protect them all, and give them the free lives they so rightly deserve, as much as any of us deserve it.”