If you pick up the average book on farm animals, it is about all these things that you have to do to care for them, to keep them alive. You even have to help them while they are giving birth. I remember when I first started this venture that it seemed strange to me that farm livestock required so much care. How could these animals exist without man to care for them? It didn’t make sense. It was much later that I began to understand that these were not natural animals. Not having any background with farm animals, I assumed that they were like any other animal I was familiar with, adapted to their environment. I was wrong.
Commercial agriculture has lead to the creation of a whole new breed of animals that produce a lot of meat, but can not survive in the world, without help, in which they were born. This is the big difference between real animals, sheep, turkeys, etc. and the so called improved varieties that are raised on farms today. At Cota Farms, we began with some of these typical farm livestock varieties, but quickly became exclusively a producer of heritage breed animals. The old world animals are much better adapted to every situation, from parasite resistance to reproducing without intervention. They were replaced, over time, through selective breeding, and more recently by other measures, with varieties that were better suited to the commercial agricultural industry. They produce more meat, in less time, with less feed. In addition to the trade offs I have already mentioned, the quality of the meat they produced was also compromised.
It is unreasonable to think that there would be no cost for an attempt to improve on nature, but it was done nevertheless. Certainly an argument can be made that regular treatments for parasites is not a high cost at all, but the effects of antibiotics and growth hormones are only now becoming evident.
Another result of the changes in animal husbandry was the rise of the industries that profited from this new kind of animal care. Feed and equipment manufactures, pharmaceutical companies, and others, all grew up around the new production models. Add this to the government policies that helped to make it all happen, and you now have another factor effecting animal care, dollars, and lots of them. OK, here it comes; good animal care does not mean spending lots of money.
It is true that if you choose to follow the industrial agricultural models, you will have to invest a lot of capital in a livestock business. Because the value of the meat you will ultimately produce is low, you will have to produce and sell a lot of it to make any money. Furthermore, you will spend even more money on the extensive day to day care that these animals require. Propagating a breed of animals that were not meant to exist, or forcing others to live in a way they were not meant to, is not good animal care.
As I looked deeper into the available literature on animal husbandry, I could find little or no information on the care of heritage breeds and how they differed from those breeds that were common to the mega farms. Even the average small family farm traded the breeds their great grandfathers raised for the new improved ones. I should note that this is not always the case for farms in other countries.
Again, we at Cota Farms do not advocate closing the factory farms, even though they should be greatly improved, because at present we have no other way to feed so many people. What bothers me the most is the attitude that this is simply how it is done and anything else is not suitable. Of course, this attitude has been fashioned by those industries that profit from the way most farms are run today. The increasing popularity of the local and natural food movement is encouraging though.