Traditionally, most pictures of Saint Brigit have one of two things in them, if not both: a cow, and a book. As a goddess, Brigit is patron of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft. She comes from a rural society with a cattle-based economy, and she inspires and oversees the work of scholars and artisans. As a saint, Brigit is responsible for the blessing of cattle, and her miracles related to the production of milk, butter and meat are many.
In Maryland, USA, St. Brigid's Farm is dedicated to raising beef cattle humanely on grass* instead of grain, and veal calves are given far gentler lives than is normal in modern times. Here are a few words from their website:
"Our farm is named after St. Brigid, the patron saint of dairymaids and scholars who was renowned for her compassion and often featured with cows at her feet. She perfectly represents the pairing of Judy, the dairymaid and Bob, the scholar...
"The 55 acre farm, located on the scenic eastern shore of Maryland, is planted in permanent pasture, comprised predominantly of perennial rye grass and clover. The seasonally calved herd intensively grazes from April through November...
"Milk from our outstanding Jerseys is marketed through our cooperative, Land O’ Lakes...
"Grass fed Jersey beef and veal is...a delicious and healthy alternative to the options at the supermarket...
"The pairing of a dairymaid and scholar has resulted in a beautiful farm which produces high quality milk, beef, veal and dairy stock. Stop by anytime for a real life visit."
Looking through the website and reading the links they provide, I was enthusiastic about St. Brigid's Farm. But I am uncomfortably aware of the issues concerning the meat industry and veal in particular. Before writing this post, I wrote to St. Brigid's Farm to ask about how they raise their calves. Below is our correspondence.
"I would like to do a posting about St Brigid's Farm for my Brigit blog, but I'd like to know more about how you raise veal. Although you mention TLC on your site, and link to an interesting article on veal, it isn't clear exactly what SBF's methods are. There are lots of photos of mature cattle grazing but only one of a calf, with its mom; the other calves are shown tethered and separated from each other and their mothers. I know that although Brigidines love the image of the cow, many are vegetarians and most others are very careful about humane treatment. I'd like to be able to tell them straight out what you are up to."
"In answer to your inquiry, we raise calves in three different ways and consider all of them humane.
Have a look at the St. Brigid's Farm website. You'll find lots of information there, a great deal of which is gleaned from the many (and often beautiful) photographs. For those who wish to preserve a rural lifestyle while improving on modern farming techniques, there is much to encourage you here.
*See "How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet" for more info on the issue.