To be clear, when we talk about animal care, we are commonly talking about the care of livestock that is raised for food. These are the animals that are targeted by animal rights activists. This is important because these animals are now part of an industry that include feed and equipment manufactures, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians, companies that produce materials for barn construction, fencing, and the list goes on.
As I began my endeavor into animal husbandry, I was often confused by what I saw at the local farm stores and the larger, older neighboring farms. I attended farming events and read the pamphlets that were floating around and none of it resembled what I was trying to do at our farm. When I went to the county fairs, their animals were not the same as mine. The 4H program did not allow our sheep to be shown with the others; there was no place for our sheep at all.
I took it personally but got over it and discovered the real reason for what I was seeing. Again, it was all about money. Farmers like me have to be careful when using the common items and practices of the commercial animal industry. We have to understand that something as simple as chicken feed, for example, is formulated for that customer base which purchases the bulk of the product. What’s more important, is that common practices, what to do and what not to do, are all an extension of that same commercial industry. Since the commercial agricultural industry has dominated farming practices for several generations, common wisdom becomes what is done by way of that industry. Even the universities teach to these practices, being supported in part by the industry itself. So what does this mean, practically speaking? When you go to the store to buy chicken feed, it will often come with antibiotics mixed right in the feed. This is how the factory farms feed their chickens and therefore it is frequently formulated that way. Feeding your birds food laced with antibiotics can give you a good result; that is why it is done. Why we shouldn’t is for another chapter.
So then, my sheep where not given any place at the fair because they didn’t like me, it was because my sheep where not part of the commercial sheep industry. Interestingly, I chose my sheep because they had superior meat. I wanted to sell my lamb to people and have them tell me it was the best they ever had, and they sometimes do. But that is not the way to make a lot of money in the sheep business. You must use one of a variety of “improved sheep”. But what has this to do with good animal care?
Good animal care or rather animal care that is thought to not be humane has evolved by way of the commercial animal industry. We have all benefited from the form of care that the industry has shaped; it is efficient and helps to produce inexpensive food. This is what some are protesting against and it is essential that they know this, know what they are protesting against. To provide better animal care, means to do away with the efficient production of meat.