What is Good Animal Care? Chapter 4

Housing is an often looked at factor when considering good animal care. What is ideal varies with species but there are some basics elements to housing that serve the needs of most. One of the first things that come to mind when one thinks of the farmstead, is a barn. The big old barns are particularly appealing to me. They are very expensive. I recently visited one that was built in the 40’s; it was like a cathedral, with arches and a great open area that was three stories high, no loft. I can’t imagine what they had in mind when they built it. It was amazing.

To have a barn like that today would call for a level of business that I don’t hope to acquire. A modest, modern barn is expensive enough and requires being a profitable farm for many years to pay for it. Add that to all the other things required to operate a farm and the capital outlay is tens of thousands of dollars. We don’t do it that way, we just can’t.

The hoop house is the shelter of choice at Cota Farms. We started with one, paid for it, and went from there. A dry place, protected from wind, rain and snow is all provided by the simple hoop structure. I believe it supplies this to a better extent than does the barn and for a fraction of the cost. There are of course, some things it can’t do, but we adapted.

One problem with any housing is poop. Yes, poop is a part of animal husbandry that must be dealt with. One distinguishing factor between livestock and some other animals like dogs and cats is that livestock poop where they sleep and eat. This fact is a key problem with the mega farm. To help achieve high efficiency meat production, large numbers of animals are confined in small areas. Handling all the waste generated by these animals is a major endeavor and sometimes leads to local environmental problems.

Since eating and pooping go together, it just makes sense (cents) to get them out of the shelter, or barn, as much as possible. I am surprised at how the more traditional farmers that I come across do just the opposite. In some operations, like the classic feed lot, the animals never leave their housing. This practice has led to the need for yet more farm equipment: spreaders, loaders, conveyors for larger operations. One farmer told me he doesn’t let his chickens out with snow on the ground because they bring it back inside with them, making the floor wet. I think it is a lot easier to put down a little more straw than remove the extra poop. The more important concern is the ammonia; it is far more detrimental to the health of the birds than a wet floor.

In some large scale production facilities, buildings are climate controlled. This is necessary if you want year round egg production. This is efficient only when compared to shipping eggs from some balmy location. That is how we get tomatoes in January.

Forcing animals to adapt to some climate they were not designed for is not good animal care. Spending a lot of money to compensate for this mistake is not good business. If you need to provide heat for your newborn goats, then you probably need to consider a different breed of goat, one that is more adapted to your region.

We have made this mistake also, following the lead of other farmers in the area. I was always worried about our animals when the winter weather turned extreme. It’s not just a matter of weather; this concept applies to other factors as well, like parasite control for example. A regular schedule of drugs is not the answer to a parasite problem. This is a perfect example of the difference between good animal care and practices that serve to support the meat industry, the agriculture industry, the pharmaceutical industry.

We raise a breed of sheep at Cota Farms that is well adapted to our farming practices as well as the climate. They are however, not well adapted to the requirements of the sheep industry and are therefore seldom seen.

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