Raising Happy Animals
October 27, 2020
There are a lot of reasons I farm. I have shared many of them with you. One of those reasons is that I spent a lot of time on the farm as a kid. My parents tell me that my dad changed more of my diapers on the farm than he did at home. Every time he went to the farm, I would want to go, even when it was bitterly cold. I am just now beginning to understand why I always wanted to go to the farm. I feel some sort of visceral connection to the land and its animals and plants. I cannot describe it, but in many ways working on the farm brings me to a place of communion with God, earth, and nature. The relationships that I form with the animals on the farm are an important part of why I enjoy farming so much. I enjoy watching a pig scratch its ears on a tree in the woods or root out a grub from a rotten log. I can only imagine the lives pigs and other farm animals live in confinement.
I have only seen pictures of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) for pigs. Also, I have read descriptions and talked to people who have farmed that way. Sensationalized reports and videos are often publicized. I remember watching a video decrying some injustice and a worker in a CAFO picked up a pig that began squealing loudly. The narrator railed against the practice of weaning a pig from its mother. The implication was the pig was squealing over the loss of its mother. Granted, the weaning process is not easy for any animal. However, anytime someone picks up a pig, they squeal loudly, very loudly. When we pick up pigs to check for health, they squeal. It is easy to overly dramatize the problems with animals, if someone is not familiar with them. The mass production of pork in CAFOs makes food production more efficient and reduces the cost of the meat for many people.
For me, the primary issues with CAFOs and pigs is that the pigs have little room to exercise. They are raised on concrete to better manage the manure and prevent pigs from escaping. Their tails are docked to prevent other bored pigs from gnawing on them. The pigs are raised in an environment where their distinctiveness is not honored, rather it is suppressed. Pigs enjoy running and playing. They love rooting around in the ground and breaking apart logs looking for grubs. They enjoy an incredibly diverse diet of foods. They offer so much diversity to a farm practicing in regenerative methods of agriculture. They clean up wood lots, fertilize the land, and eat plants and weeds that other animals do not. They are amazing animals whose natural instincts provide a lot of benefits to the farm. We acquire our pigs as weaned babies and train them to our electric fence. Then we place them in wood lots and pastures with plenty of room to roam around, play and root. This video of our pigs shows some of their antics when they are happy and on pasture.
The mass production of meat chickens in large barns has received a lot of attention as well. Most meat chicken that one purchases today are the same general breed and are raised in large barns with thousands of others. While this offers the chickens safety and protection from weather and predators, the manure build up in the last fourth of the chicken’s lives can become toxic as the manure dries and becomes dust. This can be harmful for both people in the barn and the chickens. I prefer raising the chickens on the pasture. We get the chicks when they are a day or two old and we place them out on pasture as soon as they are big enough and the weather permits (often within 8-10 days). We use moveable, open air pens. The pens are moved daily and towards the last couple weeks of their lives we move them twice a day for more forage. They will eat grass, clover, and bugs in addition to their GMO free feed. Their moveable pens allow us to distribute manure throughout the pasture so there is no toxic build up. It is a process that is both good for the soil and the animals.
Cows in CAFOs are placed in lots open air lots where they trample mud, manure and dirt. They have no fresh grass to graze and their diets are strictly controlled. Our cows are born and bred on our farm. We raise them on pasture and they have plenty of room to run and play. Their manure is scattered through the pastures and is an asset to the farm, not a liability.
Finally, we raise all of our animals ourselves. Our beef is born, bred, and raised on our farm. I know the animals individually. Our chickens come as day old birds from the hatchery. I can guarantee that they are raised on GMO-free feeds and are given no antibiotics, hormones, or steroids. Our piglets come to our farm from a breeder I know and trust. I feed them GMO free feed as well and allow them to indulge their natural tendencies. I can rest easy with my conscience knowing I am providing humanely raised and healthy animals for my table and yours.