A Tribute to Eldon Wesley Kienholz (1928-1993)
By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
“Slowly I began to realize that animals should not be treated as just impersonal numbers, or things I could treat however I chose.”
“Re-Searching the Heart: An Interview with Eldon Kienholz” by Karen Davis, The Animals’ Agenda. April 1991.
Eldon Kienholz was born on May 27, 1928 near Moscow, Idaho. He lived on farms near Pullman, Washington until he was 22. His family raised “wheat,
field peas, alfalfa, barley, oats, potatoes, pastures, dairy cows, steers, pigs, chickens, turkeys, geese, horses, goats, sheep, dogs and cats.” He
was a member of 4-H and active in Future Farmers of America. He got his PhD at the University of Wisconsin in 1962 in Biochemistry & Poultry Science.
From 1962 until 1988, Eldon was a professor of animal science specializing in poultry nutrition at Colorado State University. In 1988, he chose to retire
early, rather than continue to perform cruel experiments on chickens and turkeys for the poultry industry.
In November 1992, Eldon learned he had lung and bone cancer. He died on Labor Day, September 6, 1993. I received the call from his family early in the
morning as I was getting ready to head out the door to Hegins, Pennsylvania to join the protest demonstration against the annual Labor Day Pigeon Shoot in
In the 1980s, Eldon underwent a spiritual transformation with the help of his new wife, Polly. Together they became vegetarians. As an undergraduate at
Manchester College, in Indiana, Eldon had been among the first group of students to attend the Peace Studies Institute at the College in 1948. In July
1990, he published an article in the Peace Institute’s Bulletin titled “Will There Be Peace Before We Are Vegetarians?” In it he
noted that “In the 10 minutes you take to read this paper, we will kill about 200,000 animals in our beloved U.S.A., just to please our taste buds.
Is that peace?”
He went on to say, “Peace on our planet does not just include stopping the burning of our rain forests or irresponsible dumping of toxic wastes. It
includes eating as far down the food chain as possible, and a change of attitude about our present exploitation of this planet. This means that we must and
will change our economy. We need to confront our enormous consumption, our materialism. At present the call is for ‘strategies for sustainable
economic development.’ That is a step in the right direction. However, somehow we must and will come to live at peace with our planet, and I expect
that will come because of a spiritual change in us, not just physical changes.”
As a poultry scientist, Eldon entertained audiences by impersonating Abraham Lincoln as “Abe for agriculture.” However, in 1990, he wrote to
me, “Now that I have become a vegetarian, that speech has changed. One of the things I have been thinking is that Abe Lincoln would have been a
leader in the animal freedom movement, had he lived in these times. So what I do now is to compare views of human slavery and animal slavery.”
In an article titled “Decisions From the Heart,” published in Behavioural & Political Animal Studies, in July 1988, Eldon
described the personal changes that had taken place in “the life of one traditional animal exploiter,” and on February 13, 1990, he wrote about
his life-changing experiences in a letter to Donald Barnes, then director of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and himself a “traditional animal
exploiter” who, like Eldon, had grown up on a family farm and gone on to pursue a career in science abusing animals. Don worked as an experimental
psychologist with the U.S. Air Force where he performed radiation experiments on chimpanzees, until he too began to question, and ultimately to reject, the
work he had taken for granted. (Don Barnes’s Air Force experience is the basis of the film Project X.)
In his letter to Don Barnes, Eldon wrote: “My background was the 560 acre family farm. Yes, and I killed thousands of squirrels and sparrows because
they were pests to farming. My pay was a smile, and then bragging about how good a shot I was.”
He goes on, “So neither of us had any problems with exploiting animals in research because of our backgrounds. As I read about your days of
motivating animals with shock, I thought of my days working with a psychologist from Denver (Dr. Graham Sterritt), and how I devised a way of feeding
chicks with the aid of an esophageal cannula hooked up to a pump. The slurry that was fed had the right amount of both food and water, so that the chicks
did not need to peck to prehend either feed or water. And the end result of all of that research with Dr. Sterritt, a NIH Fellow [National Institutes of
Health], for 5-6 years was that chicks peck independently of whether or not they need to peck in order to eat. I still cannot believe all of the money
spent to study that.
“Even worse,” Eldon continued, “was the de-winging and de-tailing of both broiler chicks and turkey poults, with the hope (and excellent
hypothesis) that we would be able to produce such meat with 15% savings in feed costs. And then I heard your question, ‘How could anyone do such
things?’ Yes, my entire life I, too, was rewarded for using animals, for exploiting them. Even administrators, other professors at the university,
many commercial poultry people, my family and friends; they all admired what I did, without any obvious exceptions.
“Oh, I do remember that I took a new girlfriend out squirrel hunting when I was about 16 years old, and I turned around from shooting across the
little valley to find a baby squirrel not 10 feet away. I blew its brains out, and then I wondered why my girlfriend threw up and wanted to be taken home,
immediately. Within a year that girl, Roberta Tucker, ran away from home and disappeared for many years. I wondered if part of her disgust with life was
because of me and the baby squirrel. But somehow I put that out of my mind 99% of the time, and eventually dismissed it as an anomaly in my life. . .
From “What Would Abe Lincoln Say Today?” By Eldon Kienholz
Eldon Kienholz as Abraham Lincoln.
One day a group of students challenged me to answer the question, “What would Abe say about our treatment of animals in this country?” I took
the challenge and have spoken on that subject, dressed as Abe and speaking as if I were actually Abraham Lincoln.
Human freedom, freedom of human slaves, was the all-consuming topic of the days in the mid-1800s, so there was not much said about other animals. Even so,
Lincoln said that he did not care much for a man’s religion, whose animals were not better treated because of it. Earlier, as a young man of 20, he
waded an icy stream to rescue the family dog, when others said it wasn’t worth the effort.
Lincoln said that persons who mistreat animals should be watched, because they are the type of person who will end up hurting humans, too. As a boy, amidst
the derision of his young friends, he rescued a baby bird who had fallen out of a nest. He once shot a turkey with his father’s rifle. As he watched
the bird kick his last and die, Abe vowed that he would not kill another animal, and it appears that he kept that vow.
Thus, there is ample evidence that Lincoln would be among the animal rights activists these days, helping to convince people to change their attitudes,
showing by example that animals are to be respected, and by writing and enforcing laws. I would expect Lincoln to be a vegetarian, if he were living, now,
So, all of this was in the back of my mind when the Colorado State University staff newspaper, “Comments,” came across my desk a few weeks ago.
The lead article was that two widely celebrated CSU professors had just been named “CSU Distinguished Professors.” Both of them had built their
careers on the backs of animals. One was a top animal science professor specializing in beef meat research. The other was a reproductive physiologist, who
had trained over 30 PhDs, had authored many scientific papers, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. And I was thinking, “What would
Abe Lincoln say about that?” Would Lincoln approve a university or an entire scientific community giving its highest awards to researchers who used
animals, restrained animals, used them as slaves, and perhaps worse?
When universities and the National Academy of Sciences give their highest awards, should they recognize only “achievement,” or should they
acknowledge those professors and researchers who have benefitted humankind where it was needed most? How important are improvements in animal meat
production and animal reproduction studies? At the present time, are we not more likely to find real help from any other kinds of professors in our
What endeavors are most likely to bring peace, brotherhood, tolerance, understanding, and long-term quality of life to the citizens of this nation and the
world? We are increasingly concerned about the environment, preservation of life, and about our ability to find answers to life’s problems as they
arise. Do we not have eminent professors in those areas? If not, then why not?
So, what would Abe Lincoln say and do if he were with us now? I think he would say:
That we humans have made huge progress in certain physical aspects, but not much progress in the psychological and spiritual aspects of life, and that we
need to bring all the aspects of life into a proper balance.
- That 200 years ago it was common to think that human slavery would never end; but it ended, and trends now suggest that animal slavery will end within the
next 200 years, perhaps sooner.
- That the battle to end animal slavery will be fought on many fronts, but one very important battle will be in the universities, where minds are shaped and
trained for making this world what it will become.
That the EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION was one major step to help end human slavery, that many people gave their lives to bring equality among the human races,
and that the job is not done yet. Therefore, do not expect the battle to be easy, or the war to be won quickly. We are in for a long siege, for many battles. But one day a future president of the United States will write the EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION FOR ANIMALS.