The yoke’s on you, Bill and Lou – or is it? A letter to two oxen slated for slaughter (Op-Ed)

Lou (left) and Bill (right) quietly consuming resources at home, Green Mountain College / Photo: Christine Celella

By Kalypso Arhilohou

You weigh a ton, wield horns as hard as hammers and as sharp as spears, and you could puree a man’s foot with one slightly misplaced step of your mighty hoof. But it’s perfectly safe to kiss you, hug you, and parade you through crowds at college commencements.

This good humor of yours, Bill and Lou, comes about partly because your kind have been bred that way for millennia, and partly because you’re just nice guys.

Apparently you like people. At least you don’t seem to mind hanging out with us, following our lead, and doing our bidding. Maybe you feel that in return we like you too.

The fact is that lots of people like you, and many say they love you.  The curious thing, though, is that some of the people who say they love you also say they want to eat you.

You seem to love people, too, in your way, but so far this hasn’t moved you to want to sink your teeth into them. Presumably, to you, loving someone, or even just liking him, means refraining from harming him.

Perhaps in your minds there has been an unwritten contract—one based purely on trust.  You must trust the people around you, to lend yourself so wholly to their behest and whim. To trust that much, and to give them your all in labor and docility during your decade in service, you might be expecting the best from them in return.


You’re not alone in that expectation. Many animal-human relationships are based on exactly that same unspoken agreement. Don’t hurt me, and I won’t hurt you.  Love me, and I’ll love you back.

And you’re certainly not alone in experiencing a breach of that promise. Happens every day to animals around the globe, whether they’re used for work, like you, or for food, fur, sport, experimentation, or companionship.

That’s nothing new.

What is new is a funny but terribly important word.  You might be hearing it bandied about the barn: “sustainable.”

Like many of us, you might be wondering what that means, and why it has anything to do with you.


Here’s some illumination from about that word. Sustainable: “a) relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged; b) of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.”

As per a statement by your owners at Vermont’s , this is how the word applies to you, a pair of middle-aged oxen who they are plotting to kill:

“While many of our students are vegan or vegetarian, many also eat meat, and we strive to meet the dietary preferences of all students. Bill and Lou, when processed for meat, will yield over one ton of beef. If this meat doesn’t come from our animals, it likely will come from a factory farm setting which carries with it a significant amount of ecological impact. For example, the American agricultural system uses approximately 5 million gallons of water to produce the same amount of beef (not to mention greenhouse gas production, soil erosion, and water pollution)…

“If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate. As a sustainable farm, we can’t just consider the responsible stewardship of the resources within our boundaries, but of all the earth’s resources.”

This epistle translates as follows. Your owners believe you are no longer worth the plants it takes to feed you. Of course you used to be, for those ten years when you unquestioningly hauled towering loads of hay or walked in monotonous circles to generate electricity. But now that you, Lou, are injured, and you, Bill, allegedly don’t cotton to working with a different partner (according to your owners) your only remaining worth would be as meat on their plates.

Not only that, but if they were to let you live instead of eating you, you would actually be causing harm, they argue. Your existence would waste valuable goodies and foul the environment. In general you would just be a bother when instead you could be hamburger.


If you could, you might ask your owners at the college for further explanation regarding that terribly important word. For example the question of who else gets eaten.

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, after spending more than two years and $3.4 million examining the aforementioned American agricultural system, found that mass production and processing of animals for food “posed unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves.”

In its report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) determined that intensive animal agriculture produces 18 percent of the world’s deadly greenhouse gases, beating out even the transportation sector as a top-tier polluter and contributor to global warming.

Numerous researchers and physicians such as those cited in , and documentaries like assure us that consumption of animal products is in no way necessary or even salubrious for humans. Not only can we easily do without eating animals and all the things that come from them such as dairy and eggs, we’d be better off if we did.

But none of that stops your owners, in between their ruminations on sustainability concepts and principles, from plating up animals. And lots of them.

They say they especially relish the idea of eating you because while they’ve been using you for work, you’ve been treated far better than the animals they usually eat—animals who are bred in quantities of billions only to suffer gruesome lives and deaths as nothing but nameless, faceless, voiceless products on so-called factory farms.

If you could, you might ask your owners why, if those animals on whose carcasses and effluvia they regularly feast are treated so badly, they still want to eat them, thereby supporting the industry that mistreats them.

Apparently your giant size means that for a couple of months your owners will be able to chow down on you instead of on the animals who are treated poorly.

If you could, you might ask them if, after all of your flesh has been butchered and minced and broiled and served and chewed and stuffed through esophagi and sloshed into bellies, after there’s no longer anything left of you for them to nosh, after they’ve reverted to devouring the animals who they say are handled so heinously, will they give those animals another thought?

And what will they do with that funny but terribly important word?


Since that word, “sustainable,” is your death knell, you might ask them if it will ever ring out in a different way, to call for the lives of those nightmarishly abused animals in factory farms, or for the life of the planet—our planet that is being slowly but surely engorged and choked and poisoned on the flesh of arrogance, and the blood of hypocrisy, and the gore of greed?

If you could, you might ask.

But you can’t. You can’t say a thing.

Which is precisely why, if your owners meet their goal, soon you will be carted away to some slaughterhouse—on the sneak since so many others oppose your premature demise—and there you will be expected to behave in the same way as you have behaved all your lives: with gentleness, humility, and trust, expressing your own form of love.

Then, for the sake of a word, everything you are will be taken.

But all the words—the millions of words for and against you that have been and will continue to be said and written and defined and debated—those will remain.

In life, you’ve labored under the yoke of your masters. In death, if it turns out to be the death they envision, you will serve under the same yoke that your masters must also wear, and under which their legacy too will toil long after they have met their own fates.

It will be the yoke of history—a master who is far more discerning, wise, and just than they can ever even dream.

Kalypso Arhilohou’s passions are animals, travel, and writing. She spends much of her time scheming on how to combine the three. 

More AIR on this topic:

Eating oxen Bill and Lou is “morally preferable” to retiring them to a sanctuary, says college spokesman

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24 Comments on “The yoke’s on you, Bill and Lou – or is it? A letter to two oxen slated for slaughter (Op-Ed)”

  1. says:

    Standing ovation,, this is the BEST article I have read. GodBless you and thank you

  2. baubo60 says:

    Masters are dominators. They do not only believe they ‘master’ the Earth, but also all of it’s inhabitants. Yet they are masters of knowing nothing at all until they have mastered their own dominance and learn how to humbly worship land, animals and the Goddess = Women, the life givers and governors of the Human race. In my humble opinion…..

  3. says:

    Bravo Kalypso and thank you for such a brilliant op ed!

    • says:

      Andrea many thanks from Kalypso and AIR for stopping by and for your kind words.

      • says:

        This proud papa is admittedly a bit teary-eyed right now. a0What an inbdericle way to get started in photography! a0Donnell, thank you for being such an inbdericle teacher and mentor for our daughter, and Suzy, thanks for taking a chance on Kyah for your family photos!

    • says:

      Franchement c est super bien, elle fait de super progre8s.Vous avez une petite deleisolme qui est tre8s forte moralement pour son e2ge.Je soushaite bon courage et beaucoup de force aux parents et e0 Lou aussi!!Comme on dit aux antilles PLIS FOCE ET PA MOLI (courage et tenez bon)

  4. First of all, what we sustain is more important than the fact we’re sustaining it. If we could make factory farms a completely closed-loop sustainable systems, that wouldn’t justify them. If aliens could “sustainably harvest” us for food, would we acquiesce?

    Secondly, Green Mountain College doesn’t understand “sustainability.” We sustain the environment so that sentient beings like Bill and Lou can live and thrive. The environment serves sentient beings, not the other way around.

    Third, if those who use the “sustainability” defense as an excuse to eat others’ flesh were truly interested in a sustainable lifestyle, they would go vegan or – at the very least – sharply reduce their animal product intake.

    Lastly, is inflicting avoidable harm on others really sustainable? Following the golden rule is basic decency. We know it feels right to be kind rather than violent when we have the choice. We achieve a sustainable “emotional homeostasis” when we know we’re doing the right thing. When we engage in avoidable harm but make excuses for it, we don’t really fool our consciences; we create internal conflict. It’s been shown that the presence of slaughterhouses increases crime. This is no surprise. Participating in the killing of innocents day after day takes a toll; the pent-up tension of acting against our deepest compassionate impulses gets released in various ways: an ill temper, inappropriate aggression, self-protective glorification of domination, lying to ourselves and others. This does not make for a peaceful society.

    Abraham Lincoln said that the true test of people’s character is to give them power. Will we use our power over Bill and Lou to be merciful and ease them into a well-deserved retirement, or will we use our power selfishly and destroy them just because we can? Will we choose peace or violence?

    • says:

      Gary many thanks for taking the time to visit AIR and to leave this well-written and provocative comment. Yes, wonderful quote – “Abraham Lincoln said that the true test of people’s character is to give them power.”

    • 4BillNLou says:

      What a beautiful response! Thank you.

  5. says:

    Well done! Powerful and moving. Thank you for adding your voice to the throng pleading for mercy for Bill and Lou.

  6. Rebecca Stucki says:

    Beautiful, Kalypso! I hope the students and faculty wake up and realize that another “unsustainable” element in all this will be their reputations in society if Bill and Lou are slaughtered.

    • says:

      Rebecca, many thanks from Kalypso and from AIR for reading and for the kind comment.

    • says:

      I wish I could come but seattle is a bit far from paris…by the way, thkans for your comment, you know hat I am a huge fan of your designs and colours!

  7. says:

    “They say they especially relish the idea of eating you because while they’ve been using you for work, you’ve been treated far better than the animals they usually eat—animals who are bred in quantities of billions only to suffer gruesome lives and deaths as nothing but nameless, faceless, voiceless products on so-called factory farms.”

    This “argument,” as Kalypso points out, shows the trap farmed animals are in. And in her next paragraph she notes how the argument to kill Bill and Lou is falsely framed as a choice between eating animals who suffered gruesome lives and deaths versus animals who were treated a little better (but not well). The poor students at GMC! Either they eat hamburger made of Bill and Lou or they eat hamburger made of cows who suffered (more) gruesome lives and deaths. This would be laughable if it weren’t so despicable.

    GMC makes a good argument for NOT sending your kids to college.

  8. says:

    Beautifully stated! If there are indeed unspoken promises – Bill and Lou have fulfilled their part in the deal… Only a cheat would change the rules at this final point of their lives. I know you’re right about such deeds of betrayal ending in equally harsh judgement. No “free-lunch” will be had at the killing of Bill and Lou. …The cost of a reputation is priceless.

  9. says:

    Thank you for such a beautiful and moving piece. All of us here at VINE are actively grieving — for Lou, for sure, as well as Bill who is left behind and faces an uncertain future — and also for all creatures who are suffering and dying because humans are who we are.

  10. says:

    [...] own special treatment undermines the credibility of this argument, which could plausibly be the result of self-interest. The argument “I am me, therefore I have more rights” is inherently flawed, and, if upheld and [...]

  11. says:

    Thanks Mahesh. I would agree that budget is not the only issue, aogulhth it is common, unfortunately, that companies fail to allocate enough resources to learning and adoption. Your point about people being overwhelmed with new tools is a great one, too, and I’d suggest that companies do need to think very carefully about the sequencing of new rollouts overall as well as the awareness building, training, and support for each individual new tool. We actually have several significant new tools being rolled out here at PTC in the coming months and the sequencing and coordination across these programs has been a big issue.

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