By Daniel Lovering
(Reuters) - Animal welfare activists protested on Friday a Vermont college's plan to slaughter two oxen seen by some as symbols of its farm program and serve the meat in the school dining hall.
The oxen, named Bill and Lou, were raised at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont and used in a program to teach sustainable agriculture, said school spokesman Kevin Coburn. The animals were used to plow and gather hay instead of fuel-burning tractors.
Coburn said one of the oxen had suffered injuries and could no longer work, and slaughtering it for meat followed the school's farm policy and the practices of working farms. The school decided to slaughter the second animal after failing to find a suitable ox to pair with it, he said.
"They're not pets or mascots," Coburn said. "They are working farm animals."
On Friday, a small number of protesters gathered at the campus with signs that said "Save Bill and Lou," said organizer Laura Slitt, who said more protesters were expected on Saturday. The protests were promoted by the advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Bill and Lou were already destined for the meat market when the school acquired them 11 years ago, Coburn said.
"We raised them, nurtured them," he said. "They've had a good life."
Since deciding after a community forum to slaughter the animals, the college and farms that might perform the service have been besieged with angry emails, phone calls and personal threats from across the globe, Coburn said.
The college still plans to slaughter the oxen but has been unable to find a slaughterhouse that meets its requirements and is willing to process the meat given the threat of outside intimidation, Coburn said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)