Both. Even when you say you wont get attached, you really do. You just prepare yourself accordingly. My neighbors can't decide if I'm a hard bit of work or if I'm a candidate for joining PETA. I think I alternate as the situation dictates.
I was thinking about this. The "livestock" versus pet thing and livestock farmers, my dirty ol sun baked hat is off to you all. It is a tough job. The boots don't come off till long after the sun goes down.
Livestock doesn't mean they're any less friends, in fact I think they might even be better friends, they are co-workers, we are together under the sun and rain every day; but we have a job to do. We are making eggs, we are making chickens, we are making ducks we are making goats and sheep and yes, we plan on selling them - and someone will likely eat a few of them.
Livestock doesn't mean you don't CARE about them as individuals and as living beings, but that you have a job and that job has to come first. The safety of all has to be put before the love of one at times. Livestock means you do a lot of your own doctoring - which I think maybe gives those who keep animals as stock a bad image in the eyes of those who consider themselves purely pet owners and who may take that pet to a veterinarian for a lot of the things we do in house when we call animals livestock. I think there is this idea that once you have had to put an animal down yourself that you somehow are less attached or that it was "easier" because you had to make the decision and follow through on it. I find it to be the other way around though. When you are covered in sunburn and slept in the field for two nights because your herd got acidosis or enterotoxemia and you're tubing, syringing, injecting like a crazy lady and getting eaten alive by flies and spiders and haven't slept in two days because you're too busy fighting with death, if you identify as a farmer, it's supposed to be par for the course. You have to get up the next day and feed everyone else. Somehow because you are able to give them the small hurts that it takes to fight the greater harm, you must not feel it. It's kind of like a good kick in the shins during a soccer game. It will hurt later. Right now we have work to do.
If you call them pets, then there is this assumption that you have the money to pour into thousand plus dollar medical bills and you take them to the vet, the vet does their vet thing and they give them back to you when they are all better and you shed a few tears, but death is somehow less a part of your reality, or that it is supposed to happen to you less often. That because of this a pet animal should be healthier than a dedicated "stock" animal. Not always the case. One of the first hardest lessons seems to be that you can love your animal to death, as we see with treats and not so safe desire for all "pets" in the home to be able to interact safely in spite of having very different needs. We have to learn not to save our fish from drowning and to not assign the animals human needs while ignoring the needs of the animal. Maybe through experience you start to recognize what you can and can't fix a little better and get a little better at bracing yourself against it, but it's still there. Maybe there is this perception that love can fix it, even when the injuries and ailments are livestock injuries and ailments, and stock animals go fast and love wont save them. They are either healthy looking and it's all good or they're REALLY sick. There is no just sort of under the weather, it's either okay, or really not okay. Plant eaters die fast and decompose quickly compared to meat eaters. It's just how they're put together. It's how nature made them. The same thing that makes them something a meat eater could digest makes them something the earth also digests.
We're very attached to our breeders, because the farm rests on their little shoulders. We recently lost our herd sire who was also my best friend, and let me tell you what. It was a hard blow. It still is. I'm still on and off flinging myself into the void of Ben and Jerrys and random bouts of tears. Can't life. Goat died. Too sad. Then I go out and fix fences, or shovel or water or anything else I have to do. I had to make the decision to say when there was no fixing this, and we fought HARD for that little guy. He fought hard for us and that was the reason we had to end his suffering humanely. There was so much fight in him that staying in his body while it was coming apart around him was not a question for him. He fought for us and his girls, and when we realized he wasn't going to get better, but would die slowly and painfully because he was strong and loyal and couldn't bear to leave us but his body was so broken that it couldn't be willed better or doctored better. We loaded him up in the truck for that last sad ride out behind the orchards. I regret the loss of a good friend, but not my decision.
I'm already on the hunt for a new herd sire, but it's slow going. I learned a lot from loosing my boy, and my criteria are very specific, because the animals I want to breed need to have certain qualities. We are looking to breed a dual purpose homestead mini goat, the girls favor their dairy goat backgrounds, nigerian dwarf/nubian and we had a nigerian dwarf/nubian/boer sire that would have hopefully "rounded out" the dairy shape, put a little more meat on them and made the a bit hardier while still being sized for a small property. We need a few generations before we really get "that goat" Our boy was literally a picture perfect miniature version of a Boer. Everything was everything. My stock guy did us right when he helped us pick him, and this was before I really knew what my goals were for the goats.
The sheep will be table at some point - he has a name. I'm working with him to keep him safe to be around as long as possible so we can breed him before we eat him to recoup the investment, but the goal is to keep the sheep sire rotating and nobody over three years. I'm not really looking to breed sheep for show or pet markets though, they are a sustainability project. I'll be sad of course, but I think it's easier when you know what your goals are and it is planned rather than when death shows up uninvited. The goats are my passion project as far as refining my stock goes.
My layers mostly have names. Some of them share names. The Australop sub-flock all share a collective name "the sweeties" the barred rocks are all "Gibbs" and they wyanodottes have their own names for the most part because somehow they seem to get into more adventures resulting in identifiable features. (Hazel has blue eyes, Ripped neck had her neck ripped out as a chick by another hen and the others are "the normals" ) It's not deliberate or anything. I don't name them as chicks because they change so much over the first year I'll end up calling them something else all together anyways and sometimes they don't have any marvelously unusual adventures or traits that end in a name. You always have your besties, the animals that you have a special partnership with, even amongst the herd and the flock. There are a few that honestly I wouldn't miss. One that has been trained by a neighbor to act like a jerk every morning at 5am I could really do without. Blasphemous as it may be to say. The rabbits at times annoy the daylights out of me. Their names change weekly. Mostly because they injure me more than anything else does. I've shed more blood handling them than any other animal we have. If there was a crisis related to any of them though, I would be out there in the pens for as long as it took, sitting in poo, measuring CC's and doing everything I could think of. My stock guys and go to farmers would smile in that sad way and tell me to keep on keepin on. We asked for this life with eyes open, and it comes with great joy and great sorrow. Loss is inevitable, love anyways. Fostering life can't be done any other way. If you want to create something worth having you have to put everything you've got into it. Dare to dream the dream. We never truly beat death, we only buy time. A few more days, a few more years. It never is truly beaten. It will come again. Raising stock just means you know that you will take some casualties. Doesn't make it any easier, in some ways, it's harder, but much like a pregnant mom with other children, you can't lay down and indulge feeling bad. The rest of the family needs you. No rest for the wicked. Boots on the ground. When you're fighting, there is no room for squeamish. You load that needle, you stick em and you do what you have to do. Learn to stomach tube on the fly? Alright. Lets do this thing. I think most of you can relate to that. We do things that would otherwise be considered insanity in the name of fighting the good fight and because it's a specialized type of animal care, there often isn't much help available.
Again, I salute you all, it takes tenacity and great love to fight this fight. It takes strength, will and a big dream to keep on keepin on and that we will continue to do. I don't think of them as "stock" so much as the front line of my dream team. Loss just makes me more determined. It will not be in vain.