let's talk farm animals

Another perspective of intensively raised livestock

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few weeks investigating the concept of a “factory farm”. It’s an interesting label because it seems to come with inherent biases of agriculture and food production - the name itself implies a 1930’s concept of human exploitation. I’ve also been surprised how commonly and in a generally flippant manner it used when discussing agriculture on social media or in person.

Broiler chicken barn

Broiler chicken barn

During my investigation it became quite evident that when people refer to factory farms they are generally referring to large scale intensive livestock operations. And these references are overwhelming negative. My first impression is that big equals bad. And it is not an outrageous jump to make - I can imagine how any non Ag person would react when walking into a broiler barn with 15,000 chicks or onto an Alberta feedlot with 20,000 head or upon hearing the words ‘robotic milkers’ for dairy production. Big equals anonymous care where staff simply do not care, that technology has replaced individual attention, and where health and welfare are of little concern.

Now, I’m not here to justify size or type of production but I do want to offer some insight and perspective into large scale intensive farming that others not involved with agriculture might not have realized.

First large scale production lends itself to specialized care and management. For example, on a large beef cattle feedlot there are trained herds persons that specialize in health management. They are educated in beef cattle health, work weekly if not daily with a veterinarian and check each animal daily and sometimes often twice daily for any signs of injury or disease. These herds people work every day outside with the animals regardless of whether it’s plus 40c or minus 40c. There are also specialized positions for feeding, for care upon arrival and for managing the feed stocks. On a large scale dairy for example, nutritionists educated exclusively in dairy cow nutrition would be balancing rations based on nutrient analysis of each different type of feed ingredient available on the farm (how many of us would like to have our diets and meals planned by trained professional?).

Beef cattle feedlot in western Canada

Large scale also offers the advantage of more specialized care for individual animals (not what you would expect is it?). For example sick animals can be separated into quiet pens (sometimes called hospital pens) where they can be given special treatment and pampered because there tends to be the infrastructure available to do so. On dairies, different groups like younger heifers (females who have never had a calf) can be placed into different pens than older and more aggressive cows where they won’t be bossed around and will get enough to eat.

These operations are also, not surprisingly, efficient. Because animal management is so fine tuned the resources required to produce the same amount is reduced. Part of this efficiency is due to the elimination or control of parasites and disease that otherwise could not be controlled. For example Trichinosis in pig production where small worms can be passed from raw or even undercooked meat to humans. Because of intensive livestock production, we have been able to largely eliminate this parasite so that it is no longer a concern to human health.

I have noted time and again that there is room for many different types of production systems in Canada. It appears that society has slowly been manipulated into believing that big is (dare I say it…) evil. But please take a moment to think about the advantages that size and specialized management offer and how those can translate into advantages for not just humans but animals as well.




Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 16th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Education and public awareness,Uncategorized
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2 Responses to “Another perspective of intensively raised livestock”

  1. Alain D'Aoust
    September 16th, 2014

    This is a fair argument. My rebuttal would be directed towards the topic of environmental sustainability as well as the quality of the product from large feedlots and other livestock operations. Large operations such as this are run using energy derived primarily from petroleum. This includes supporting large feed corn operations, daily operations of the feedlot and transportation. The amount of energy expended to produce and deliver commercial meat is extreme compared to the amount of calories produced for human consumption. To add insult to injury, we can add in the wasted meat that is left unsold at supermarkets. For these reason and more, I will continue to support local, grass-fed cattle and poultry. In terms of sustainability, there is little argument to be had. There is little transportation. The animals are fed what they have naturally evolved to eat (grass, usually. This is why cows have rumens) and the quality is always better because the product is typically fresher and not quickly finished with corn, allowing the animal to mature longer, resulting in better product. Supporting small operations typically also means supporting your local economy as well. To respond to what is explained about animal care: there is no reason why a small scale farmer cannot provide the same care to animals and in fact, it stands to reason that the care would a lot better as not only can each animal be given individual attention, there is less need for disease control due to less crowding.

  2. anonymous
    October 22nd, 2014

    Alain you must be ill-informed about the quality of grass-fed beef and poultry. Beef an poultry that is put on the plates in fancy restaurants are not grass fed for a few reasons. 1. It tastes much better. Theres no debate there. 2. It is tender. People pay for tender younger animal. No debate there. 3. People are willing to pay for a superior product no-matter the cost of transportation. Also animals that are grass fed are not fresher. They are tough and tasteless. As for the disease control animals that are in big groups do much better health wise than isolated instances. I know these things because I have raised cattle my whole life

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