Oxen team Bill and Lou have been beloved hard workers at the Green Mountain College farm for 10 years.
"They would plow and cultivate, and spread their manure and the manure of other animals," said Ben Dube, a research assistant.
The oxen are part of the farm's plan to be fossil-free. Instead of tractors, Bill and Lou do the work. But this summer, Lou suffered an injury and can barely walk. And Bill can't pull the plow alone.
"Doing any work with them is a question. Even putting them in the yoke and not pulling anything," Dube said.
The school already bought replacements, but kept Bill and Lou as pets until they could collaborate with the students, who were on summer break, about Bill and Lou's fate.
"Because it is an educational, sustainable farm, we think we've got to help students understand how to make farms work ecologically, socially and economically," said Bill Throop, the provost at Green Mountain College.
The consensus: to slaughter Bill and Lou for meat. This would save the school from purchasing meat from a factory for at least a month.
"I feel like it's better for us-- everyone else, since I'm a vegetarian-- to eat a happy animal. It was happy its entire life; to know that it had a good life," said Meghan Mitchell, a freshman.
"In general I think most students think that this is the right way to go," said Harrison Rhodes, a senior.
That's why many on campus were surprised to hear that a new internet petition to stop the slaughtering and send the pair to an animal sanctuary instead has gathered over 4,000 signatures.
"They jumped on one or two facts, took them facts to the edge and didn't really consider the entire situation," said Ernie Kelppeis, a senior.
The petition was created by Green Mountain Animal Defenders, a Vermont nonprofit, but many of the signatures are from other countries like Italy, the UK, even Albania and Belgium.
"Those people that are signing that don't really have the same understanding that's gone through with Bill and Lou," Rhodes said. "There's been a lot of discussion from the farm crew and the whole campus community."
Throop, who is also an expert in animal ethics, says this situation highlights farming's dilemmas, but the petition is not making him change his mind.
"Really the motivator is how do we educate well? And we think educating about the moral complexities is a part of educating about how to run a sustainable farm," he said.
Throop says he believes this is a situation where it's OK for reasonable people to disagree, but he feels the right decision for his school was made.
About 70 percent of GMC's students eat meat.
Officials say the slaughter will happen sometime later this month.
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