An Ohio professor has been waging a campaign to try to force a college to abandon its on-campus sheep farm on the basis of animal welfare.
When Dr. David Nibert encountered nine lambs on Antioch College’s campus just steps away from his home in May, he wondered what the school was planning to do with them. The sociologist teaches an Animals and Society course at Wittenberg University.
At first glance, Nibert, who is a vegan, says he believed the lambs were taken from their mothers far too soon. “They were all pretty shell-shocked and all huddled together, wondering what was going to happen to them next,” he says.
He conducted a quick Google search that revealed the lambs would be slaughtered and served to the college’s students as part of its farm-to-table program.
The college has defended its on-campus sheep farming as sustainable, responsible and humane agriculture. The farm was launched in 2011 and provides campus kitchens with just under half of their food.
The program added sheep in 2014 and slaughters nine every November. The students and professionals who work on the farm take pride in how they raise their lambs, letting them graze openly.
Since his initial encounter with the lambs, Nibert has been pushing for Antioch College to release the lambs to a sanctuary, posting flyers and writing letters in local newspapers.
The professor says he’s concerned about the environmental impact of the farm and hopes the program will switch to an entirely plant-based model.
Kat Christen, the school’s farm manager, says the choice to include animals on the farm mimics an ecological system in the truest sense. The farm is open for students to work on so they can learn about sustainable agriculture. Faculty also use it as an educational tool in various courses.
She says the students’ interactions with the sheep give them a real connection to their food, adding that 80 percent of last year’s students were meat eaters. The program also provides plant-based and vegan options, but for those on campus who are eating meat, Christen says the school’s farm is the best place to give them that product.
“If they’re not eating the lambs from the farm, they would be getting the meat from somewhere else and I think that’s a point that’s sometimes lost,” she says.
In an email statement, the college says it will not be nixing its sheep farm and that any changes made to its sustainability model would need to be suggested by someone who is part of the campus community.
“This has mostly been a nuisance for staff who have had to field incoming communications and related requests, and unfortunately even a death threat along with other harassment we’ve needed to take seriously,” it adds.
Nibert, however, says he believes the college will eventually listen to him. He taught at Antioch in the 90’s and says it had a reputation for being social justice leader that he hopes will prevail.