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.