Have you ever talked to a sheep? I know it’s a bizarre question. If you have it’s probably because you are a real animal lover.
It’s easy to do. Just lean over a gate in the countryside and you’ll be amazed at how they listen. People talk to dogs and cats every day. They rarely however talk to cows or pigs, but sometimes they will have a natter with a horse.
I find it amazing how we can be attracted to the company of a domestic pet but totally ignore the farm animals. The horse is the exception. It’s seen as being capable of being the family pet, but obviously just a bit on the big side.
The expense of keeping one is therefore prohibitive. Having said that, most families would treat a horse with the same love they show Tibbles or Fido. The same cannot be said about cattle and pigs. They are seen as dirty and quite smelly.
They are there to provide us with food and milk and we seem to have no obvious affection for them. It’s a case of feed them, fatten them, milk them, sell them and eat them.
I come from farming stock, but I would be no good as a farmer. I could never send an animal I was on speaking terms with to the slaughterhouse. I’m not against farming, I’m just too soft to do it.
I was moved this week by two animal topics I covered on the radio show. The first one was Bovine Tuberculosis. Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has started a public consultation on the best way to deal with Bovine TB.
When the disease hits a herd it can lead to heartbreak for the farmer and despite compensation, major setbacks in the business as animals are destroyed.
It has been suggested that the best way to stop cattle getting the disease is to kill another entirely different animal. The farmer has his sights set on the badger.
The reason is simple. Badgers can play a part in spreading the virus and therefore one of our most protected creatures may be facing a cull. I feel sorry for the badger. It is a beautiful animal.
I’m lucky enough to live in an area of Belfast where I can sometimes see them cross through my back garden. The country boy in me should be more sympathetic to the farmer. I should be able to accept the killing of the badger for the betterment of the agricultural community.
After all I’m from a farming background and if I don’t support the project I run the risk of being seen as a Townie. I know I’m not however, because Townies don’t talk to sheep.
The sheep with its listening ear has similar qualities to the horse. It has a calming effect, but lacks the elegance of our equine friends and is easily ignored.
The beauty of the horse was central to the other radio topic that touched me this week. We discussed The BBC One Panorama programme that showed how some racehorses are disposed of. To put it bluntly they are led into a large shed and shot with a rifle. I thought it was sickening to see.
There is an argument that too many horses are bred for racing and when they outlive their usefulness there is no room for them. Many are rehomed but a considerable number are shot with some going into the continental food chain.
It’s the way the business works and as with farming it’s important to remember it is a multi-billion-pound business that many of us support when we place a bet or go for a day at the races.
The hidden cameras showing the horses being led in and the rifle being aimed brought a tear to my eye but as I’ve said, when it comes to animals I’m too soft and in ways two-faced.
I wear leather shoes and I drink milk, but as a vegetarian I can talk to a sheep knowing it won’t be on my plate for Sunday lunch.
Frank presents U105 Phone In Monday-Friday from 9am-noon