What is Good Animal Care? Chapter 10

Here is how good animal care reasoning can be derived from nature:  a common impression of good animal care, or, animals that are cared for in a good manner, is chickens freely running around in green pastures, doing chicken type things.  This is a pleasant image, very emotionally engaging.

We know that this is not how most chickens live, but why not?  Is it alright for most chickens not to live this way?

This example allows us to look closely at what is going on.  When considering the chickens roaming around the meadows, the serious student of animal husbandry knows that it is not realistic for chickens to do this.  Chickens are among the most fragile of all livestock and would be prey to a frightening number of predators.  Like most fantasy, this image must be supported by a lot of practical measures that are generally left out of the reflection.  This meadow must be well protected and include a secure shelter nearby because when the sun goes down the chickens will just sit down and wait for something to come and eat them.

Unless you can provide for many thousands of acres of protected pasture and well guarded housing in those pastures for the millions of chickens that are raised in this country, pastured chicken is not good animal care.  At Cota Farms we raise several dozen chickens on pasture and have shelters that are guarded by large dogs.  We also use exterior lighting, traps and even cameras when necessary.  Even so, on occasion we still lose some chickens to predators.

Animal Husbandry Economics 101 tells us that the market for pasture raised chicken is small.  It is a superior product which costs more than commercially raised chicken.  Again, it is not possible to separate the notion of good animal care from the cost of that care; we can’t even do it for people.

There is one species of farm raised poultry that still has its wild, natural, counterpart with us.  Where we live, wild turkeys are plentiful.  We raise these same wild turkeys; turkeys are relatively easy to domesticate.  It is important to distinguish between natural turkeys and what is commonly taken for turkeys and what most people are familiar with.  The broad breasted white turkey is the result of turkey engineering and is the turkey sold in stores.  If you raise these birds along side the natural ones (something we have done), it becomes evident that the changes to the turkey leaves it totally lacking the fundamental abilities of the natural bird.  It can not flee or perch up high away from predators, it can’t find its own food, it has very little disease resistance, it can’t even engage in reproduction.  All of this is lost in favor of a large hunk of dry white meat.

An argument can be made that the bird itself is a result of poor animal care.  It can also be argued that this bird, and animals like it, is necessary to feed the vast numbers of people.

This illustration of the turkey can be applied to other farm livestock to help one understand why simply providing an atmosphere appropriate to a similar wild animal may not be appropriate for the livestock.  Unfortunately, reasoning and logic will never overcome emotional appeals made to those who are unacquainted with the realities of large scale food production.  This is partly the fault of these same producers who have labored long and hard to disassociate the livestock industry from the end product sold in the grocery stores.

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