Monday, September 28, 2009

Free range is the only way to go

My wife’s reading matter is confined to a single subject which can be guessed at when I list a selection of the titles on her bedside table: Chosen by a Horse: How a Broken Horse Fixed a Broken Heart, Talking with Horses and Celebrity Jumping Exercises. When she comes to a passage that interests her she has the endearing habit of reading it aloud to me. I have the no less endearing habit of not listening. Recently, however, she has kept me enthralled with the story of a long-dead and once-celebrated horse that possessed an extraordinary level of intelligence. Beautiful Jim Key (1889–1912) was bred by a former American slave and self-trained veterinarian called William Key, who taught the horse to read, spell, recognise money and do basic arithmetic. When Beautiful Jim Key began to perform these feats in public, he was greeted with scepticism. However, after extensive investigations it became apparent that he not only possessed these skills but also was able to think intuitively and make jokes. Listening to the story of his life, I reflected, not for the first time, on just how blinkered humans are when it comes to the intellectual and emotional capabilities of animals. In my opinion animals experience pretty much the same emotional range as humans. This is true for pets, farm animals and wild animals. It is also true for birds and, for all I know, fish and reptiles, too. My hope is that one day there will be a major backlash against those involved in intensive food production and it will be outlawed. In the meantime, it is important that if we are going to eat meat or feed meat to our pets we make sure that it comes from animals that have enjoyed a reasonable quality of life. It may cost a little bit more but it is worth it. PS This is a picture of one of our own free range pigs sleeping in the sun. PPS For more about Beautiful Jim Key visit

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