In support of animal welfare

I recently came across an article entitled What consumers can do to improve the lives of farm animals. It was written by Matthew Prescott, Food Policy Director of the Human Society of the United State. Prescott’s recommendations, in support of improving the status of farm animal welfare, were to:

  • Change your diet.
  • Ask your legislators to support farm animal welfare reforms.
  • Support the movement to let pigs turn around.
  • Encourage food businesses to switch to more humane products.
  • And … get social and let your friends know you care.

While reading the details of Prescott’s individual arguments I felt he had omitted one of the simplest ways for us all to improve the status of farm animals … and that is to eliminate the role of corporate agribusiness and to directly, and actively, engage in raising animals ourselves. I understand that few of us are in the position of being able to raise livestock but perhaps those of us who are not farmers can consider becoming members of a local CSA or purchase meat and poultry directly from farmers known to be humane and responsive to the needs of their animals.

A large number of folks consume meat as beef, pork, lamb, or poultry. Whether or not this omnivorous population includes you, consider that the animals we consume are farmed and that someone had to kill them as part of the process of getting them to table.  My argument recognizes the fact of omnivory and is a comment on a humane approach to livestock husbandry. It is a statement about the quality of life those of us who raise livestock must provide for the animals we raise and respect. This is not an apology for behavior that some may find offensive.

We purchase meat birds as day old chicks. Once fully feathered and on pasture these animals thrive on green grass, supplemental feed, fresh air, and sunshine. None is confined. None is herded, run, or chased and none has experienced fear or pain. Our birds live as good a life as we are able to provide and I challenge anyone to argue to the contrary. I do my part, and then some. At seven to eight weeks of age it is their turn to close the loop and to do for me what they had been brought into this world to do. As one would harvest a grain crop so may an animal crop be harvested at the appropriate time. Words matter and perhaps this issue is simply one of the words we use to describe the process, slaughter, kill, butcher, sacrifice, harvest, process. Which do you like? Which makes the process easier to understand or perhaps less distasteful if it is indeed distasteful to you? Do the first three have a negative or diabolic connotation? If  the last two make you more comfortable, so be it. And in the light of recent stories in the popular press concerning charges and revelations of animal cruelty in the animal slaughter industry, allow me to point out that we take very seriously the issue of humane slaughter. Our animals are processed with the utmost seriousness and consideration. Their end comes quickly, humanely, and with reverence.

Is animal husbandry of this sort inherently cruel? Are the ethical treatment of animals and the ultimate consumption of them mutually exclusive? Should husbandry motivated by the food chain cease? No, I do not think so. Farm life brings with it the bitter and the sweet. The ways in which we go about administration and acceptance of the former defines us as farmers and as individuals.

The images below show how it is we raise meat birds here at the farm. I hope you do not find them disturbing. Not thinking about such things doesn’t make them go away. Clicking an individual image will take you to a carousel view while the x in the upper left will bring you back to this post.

8 thoughts on “In support of animal welfare

  1. I notice you skipped including images of drawing the birds. My father, with his degree in biology, always used butchering time to teach me and my brothers about an animal’s body and it’s health. This was a necessary part of having fluffy chicks and bouncy cute lambs, this knowing how to care and to improve care, even in the midst of a butchering. My mother violently disagreed with him on this, calling it disgusting and gross and seeking to limit our contact with any part of the process that would expose us to blood. These days were always coloured by her six or seven-hour long rages that began with how much she hated the farm, and progressed from there. My parents represented very, very different views of life, responsibility, and honesty that went deep into their psyches. I think it was from these experiences that I found myself believing, very strongly, that we humans cannot be mentally or physically healthy without coming to terms with the reality of who we are and how we survive. We do best by ourselves and the rest of the planet by shedding conceptions of “good” and “bad” as we might try to apply them to a reality that cannot be contained by such a binary.

    This past year, with her first year in a fully urban school (no farm kids at all), my 12-year old daughter was asked by her teacher if the students would kill an animal for their own survival (a question arising from a book they were reading). She told me she put up her hand, to indicate “yes.” All the other girls said absolutely not. The boys thought they were macho by saying they would. Then, the class turned on her, demanding why she didn’t fit into this tidy gender division. She was teased and challenged, told she couldn’t kill an animal because she was a girl. She explained that she had lived on a farm, had helped clean, feed and water chickens in their raising, then helped butcher them. She’s remained a little defiant about some of the ideas and attitudes of these city kids since then, so keenly aware of the complexities a farm life has impressed upon her.

    • Wow … nicely said … really well expressed. So much of this … no … all of this resonates deeply. We (in a larger sense, not you and I) are so entirely out of touch with all that is important. Although Joanna and I have, in some ways, found this farm life of ours very difficult we both agree entirely that it was the absolutely BEST thing we could have done for our daughters. They both went on to Ivy League educations (after being home schooled) and jobs after graduation and they both, to this day, speak (almost weekly) of the farm as having been the most important part of their upbringing and education. Tell your own daughter that and to stand firm, even as the winds of her classmates opinions continue to blow. In the same way the tree is strengthened as it swings in the stiff breeze your daughter will be stronger for standing firm for what she believes (but you know that M, don’t you). Thanks so much for your brilliant and thoughtful response. D

      • Thank you, and I will continue to encourage to hold tight to the truths experience has taught her. So often the difficulties in life are the jewels of our experiences, the things that teach us the most and lead us to greater peace and happiness within.

        I have noticed on Elke’s blog that you are considering a move … is it time for a new set of experiences for you and Joanna, or, will farming remain part of your lives?

        • Opps … you saw that did you … hmm. Yes, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been teaching now for 32 years and am ready for a change. We never really intended to move to Pennsylvania, but a job brought us here. So, we’re contemplating settling a bit further north and east. Stay tuned. The farm has been truly wonderful and neither Joanna nor I would trade the experiences we have had … much like the ‘jewels’ in the comment of yours to which this is a reply. For all it has taught us though, we believe that it is now keeping us from moving on. Now that the kids have fledged, we no longer feel the need to keep things going at such a pace. And even having a large flock of sheep is more than enough to keep us thoroughly tethered here. We’d like to spread our wings and fly a bit more and, as you probably know, it’s difficult to do that with a working farm. So, my little secret is out. I will keep you posted (no pun intended) on how (and if) things should proceed. D

          • Best of luck, and I am glad for the both of you. You have hinted at the need for change, so this seems a happy possibility. I’ll look forward to hearing more when the time comes.

  2. Excellent treatment of this tough topic – we raise our own meat or purchase from a local farmer or CSA and feel fortunate to not have to purchase any other way. We’ve extended our stance by sending our kids out into the world making ethical food choices while they are in institutional situations. Some day I may go vegetarian, I think about it sometimes, but well, I had steak tonight … (from the beefer down the road). We do love our animals up, too, but you’re right. Farming does not come without bitter moments. A recent and tragic example is the farmer that raises pork locally and is very humane and conscientious, processed/slaughtered on Saturday. Well, Saturday was unseasonably warm. They and the butcher had to make a decision that it was possible that it wouldn’t be the best to sell the pork. So there went all that work, all that growing and raising and money, the lives … because the weather ended up throwing them a curve and they couldn’t get around it for whatever reason. Isn’t that a heartbreak? So they’ve had to give back all of the deposits and extend the order to those that are still interested but it will be farther out. And they’ve got a family to feed, too …

    • Oh my … what can I say? At least those involved were conscientious and did the right thing – even in the harsh light of the tremendous loss. I can’t imagine – well, yes I can. Although we butcher all of our own poultry (turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens) we don’t do anything ‘that walks around on four legs.’ We simply don’t have the proper facilities (large, walk-in, coolers and such). We are lucky to have a federally inspected custom butcher about twenty miles from here – we are grateful. Joanna and I don’t know what we would do if we couldn’t raise our own food. As it is our family and friends claim (although it’s far from the truth) that we purchase nothing from the grocery save toothpaste and toilet paper! [Every once in a while Joanna threatens to stop purchasing toothpaste – she says we can clean our teeth with baking soda. I draw the line at toilet paper – we will ALWAYS, ALWAYS purchase toilet paper … and chocolate too.] Anyway, hasn’t been said that you can often judge folks based on the choices they have made? Making the choice to live as you and your family do may not have been difficult in one sense – but the ramifying consequences of that choice have been many (I laughed, knowingly, the other day when you described having to hose off your lawn furniture – the turkeys had been there). Driving down to the local grocery would certainly be easier – wouldn’t it? Regarding the education you have provided to your kids … Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young said it best … ‘Teach your children well.’ Apparently you have. D

  3. I think that Native American cultures have it right: slaughter animals with respect, and then use every possible part of the animal.Though different methods are used, I think the Pairodox Farm approach reflects those values. Unfortunately that kind of care and thoughtfulness seem difficult, if not impossible to maintain on a large scale. But I think that as consumers, we can all still choose where we get our meat and be sure to use it wisely without waste. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that …

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