Cybernetic Livestock
cybercows
Image from Steve Bowers
Most meat products consumed in the Terragen Sphere in the Current Era are vat-grown or assembled by bioforge technology. However there is a niche market for meat products which are derived from livestock; connoisseurs claim to be able to detect the difference between meats which have been part of a living animal, and meats which have been produced in other ways. Hambushes and other genetically-developed plantmeats are regarded as inauthentic by certain connoisseurs (especially those with augmented senses). Many of these connoisseurs also reject engenerated/ bioforged meats; those are regarded as forgeries, and any attempt to simulate the taste of a free-range animal is treated with disdain (no matter how accurate it may be).

However there are certain ethical considerations surrounding the slaughter of living animals for meat. Most meat animals consumed by humans and other meat-eating clades are presapient, and many sophonts are reluctant to cause suffering of any to creatures capable of feeling pain or distress. One strategy that may be employed is genetic engineering, which allows the creation of livestock with minimal sentience and unable to feel pain. However such creatures are incapable of independent living, so must be grown in sophisticated life-support systems; the resultant meat is often regarded as second-rate, compared that derived from to so-called free-range or free-living stock.

In some polities, particularly within the Terran Federation, livestock is geneered to have a short lifespan, expiring painlessly when ready to be consumed. However many provolved species, especially ungulates, are unhappy with the idea of presapient creatures who are designed to die in this way, even though almost all of these life-limited creatures are entirely neogen forms.

An alternative strategy is cyborgisation, usually referred to as cybernetic livestock husbandry. The presapient consciousness of a cybernetic livestock animal is contained within a separate removable structure, which is removed when the body is harvested for consumption. This cybernetic structure may take the form of a detachable processor containing the higher order functions of the animalís mind, or a completely detachable head containing the animalís brain (or a simulation thereof).

Detachable heads are designed to shrink when detached, so as to fit onto the body of a young animal, and automatically adjust in scale as the body of the stock grows. New livestock can be grown in an artificial womb or engenerator, with encephalisation reduced to avoid the development of higher brain functions until the cybernetic implant or new head is attached at `birth'.

This process allows livestock to grow to maturity in a pastoral setting, and when the stock has grown to the required size, it is harvested. The detachable cybernetic implant (or artificial head) is removed before the body is slaughtered, and recalibrated for reuse on a younger animal. Some cyborgised heads contain a certain amount of fully biological neural tissue, genetically or otherwise modified for longevity, while others use simulated neuronic equivalents only. Usually the head is configured to resemble the original animal closely, although stylistic considerations sometimes produce more fanciful results.

The most advanced form of mind transfer used in cybernetic livestock husbandry uses a backup cache to record the animalís mind before consumption, and the mindstate is transferred to biotech computronium in another animal's womb. When that animal gets pregnant the offspring has the mindstate gradually downloaded into it as it develops. This gradual integration was developed during the Second Federation, and is the usual method used in the Sophic League and elsewhere.

This technique allows the body to live a relatively normal life between birth and consumption, growing larger over time; most connoisseurs of meat produced from free-range livestock approve of this process as it produces an authentically exercised body for slaughter. Livestock with cybernetic transfer equipment installed experience a life extended to an arbitrary degree, mostly an uneventful one (apart from periodic reincarnation with a new body).

Although the very early attempts at cybernetic livestock husbandry were not always successful (in particular the unfortunate rogue cyberpig event on Danzig I in 2109), modern cybernetic livestock is almost universally well-adjusted and content, capable of living independently in a variety of pastoral environments and responding well to periodic body-replacements. Cybernetic cattle and sheep are most common, but cybernetic pigs, kangaroos, crocodiles, dinosaurs and dragons are also raised for consumption in this fashion in some locations.

Cybernetic livestock husbandry remains very much a niche market, but ranches using this technology may be found on a few megastructures and some of the larger terraformed planets.

Other, similar strategies are sometimes used to achieve the goal of authentic meat without killing the animal concerned; some modified food species produce additional or excess tissue which can be easily harvested. Examples include the long cow and the multichicken. Alternately the livestock can be entirely reduced to biobot status; microbots are injected into the embryo that infiltrate and take the place of the central nervous system as it develops. These bots form an artificial nervous system which prevents pre-sentience from ever arising; the animal bodies are coordinated remotely by a farm AI system.

Certain provolved carnivore clades use one or more of these strategies to provide prey animals for hunting purposes; a provolved lion may chase a cybernetic gazelle knowing it will survive the experience, or a remote controlled wildebeest that will put up a predetermined amount of resistance. Relations between provolved predator species and provolved prey species, or between nearbaseline humans and provolved livestock species, are complex and vary with location; see the entry on Sadalmelik for an example.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 31 July 2012.