My admiration and adulation goes out to all of those farmers that have big animals and do it humanely. With winter coming their job caring for the animals becomes infinately harder. To me, anything bigger than a chicken is a big animal. Well, maybe except for pigmy goats. Of course, my rule is to not raise an animal that can take me in a fight. Although poultry meets that criterion, I refuse to raise turkeys. Turkeys can get large and are agile, I am just saying.
The knowledge big animal farmers have to possess and shear dedication is daunting, and to do it all humanely amazes me about them. The dedication alone makes me think what I do is just playing. I know I am not but, by comparison, I have it much easier then my counterparts. Do not get me wrong, shoveling five feet of snow around a trailor, so the chickens can get out. is no easy task.
When you choose to be a humane farm, in my opinion, that choice is made from one of two motivations; one is reason the other is emotion. Reason looks at the facts of animal production and takes into account, taste, productivity, health, environmental impact, total cost, rate of return on your investment and workload. Then there is the emotional decision. You take into account the health of all the animals, you anthropomorphize to a certain extent and you want to make their brief existence on this earth as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. No matter the reason an unstressed animal performs and tastes better and they need no or minimal drugs because of the healthy environment they inhabit. No matter what motivation drives the choice, both ultimately benefit, people, animals and the environment.
I think when reason comes into play there is less angst when dealing with mortality. Having talked to colleagues and reading posts here, I know there is grief no matter how slight. I can see it in the words we all use when describing the loss, be it to slaughter, age and illness or shear economics. Even with reason your heart is in it, because with reason comes compassion and with compassion comes some amount of strings attached to the heart that will be tugged when a beloved animal leaves.
I fall squarely into the emotional category. Mortality was and still is my biggest hurtle. I did not want any animals, at all, because I knew that mortality, for whatever reason, was going to fall on my shoulders. I would be the one to bury an expired animal or put one down to relieve its misery or taking the life because of economic reasons. I was against the notion of animals and concentrated on fruits and vegetables. We did eventually get into animal husbandry as has been chronicled in our blog. As I age and mature, in my new role, I can say that my heart is not hardening but that I am getting less unsettled when dealing with mortality. It still takes a toll and I am reminded of Dr. Temple Grandin’s statement that ordinary people “can become sadistic from the dehumanizing work of constant slaughter.” We fall way short of anything close to that but the thought is there.
I will tell you since we have gotten our processors license I have stayed away from processing our layers. I realize this will happen within the next two years and it will not be easy on me. However, knowing they will be going to the soup kitchen to feed the less fortunate makes me feel better. That thought is what got us through the first culling. (See Spent Layers and Humane Farming).
I do find the thought of processing our own layers appalling and hard for me to accept. You see our layers trust us to keep them safe. Yet, this last time their demise will be at my hands not that of someone else. The hens do actually become pets as much as you try to keep a distance. When you deal with them everyday, twice a day, they grow on you. You start to see contrasts and nuances, in each of them. At most we have seventy birds on the property but some seem to have their own little variance from the others. Some walk right up to you and follow you around others mill about.
When we take a tour of kids around the farm, the older layers are my go-to girls. I can walk up to one pick her up and let them see a chicken up close and personal. The hen stays calm without throwing a fuss and lets the children pet or touch her. I will talk about the hen and point out the waddle, comb, beak, nostrils and ears. I skip the vent unless asked, “Where do the eggs come out?” I will then point to the hen’s ear and tell them that is how you can tell what color egg the chicken will lay. I usually get responses from the parents at that point because it is a fascinating tidbit. Education is a big part of our existence and mission.
No matter why a person decides to be a humane farm the practice is good for the animal, the environment and healthy for the consumer. As for the farmer, I think that the practices make us all feel good. Once again, that giving back aspect makes a person feel good. By providing open spaces, natural grazing and comfortable living conditions we benefit from production, the animals thrive and the environment recovers naturally.
Buy Local: Who is your farmer?