I'm curious about what procedures you think need to change in the livestock industry?
Practically, or philosophically? There is so much that can be talked about in this field
From a practical standpoint, there are a number of areas where current livestock practices are far from ideal. Farming has a huge history behind it, and many of these practices are ingrained and so difficult to change.
Before I go through the list, I should preface that if you’re not comfortable with the fact that farmed animals die for human benefit, if you just want all farms to stop using animals, then you’re not going to find this list satisfactory. If you’re fundamentally uncomfortable with livestock industries, and you haven’t already questioned why you consume the products it produces or what your alternatives are, then it might be worthwhile.
For now, these industries are not going anywhere. They’re certainly not perfect but we could improve them. Regardless of whether you personally believe all these industries should be ‘just stopped’ you have to agree that will not happen overnight, and that other welfare improvements could happen today.
Pain relief being more widely used. There has historically been an aversion to using pain relief medication in livestock due to expense, drug residues and the lack of products made for and tested in the species. This is beginning to change so there are not more options for pain relief at castration and mulesing , for example, but this needs to be more widely used. Another hurdle to this is that they are prescription products, and in order for a veterinarian to prescribe them they must have been out to that farm within the last year and be familiar with their set up and stock. Not every farm will call out a veterinarian on a regular basis.
Minimize transport time. Transport, whether by road, train, boat or plane, is incredibly stressful for livestock of all kinds. We can measure their physiological stress, so this is definitely not just anthropomorphism. Livestock are more stressed in transport than they are by witnessing death, which is the opposite to what many people would think.
On-farm slaughter and refrigerated transport. Following on from the previous point, we have the technology to transport chilled carcasses. Performing slaughter on farm removes or eliminates a large percentage of the transport an individual animal needs to be exposed to, and will improve their welfare. Animals don’t perceive death the same way we do, having a mini abattoir at the farm entrance isn’t going to bother them.
Using genetics instead of procedures. It astounds me in this modern day that we still have breeders of hereford cattle that breed the horned version, and then de-horn the calves, instead of selecting stock with the polled (no horns) trait. If you want horns then fine, but if you’re going to cut/burn/cauterize them off anyway when why not remove them genetically? The polled gene exists! Similarly there are a small number of merino sheep with a ‘bare breech’ trait, which don’t need mulesing. It would be ideal to spread this trait through the Australian sheep population, but with millions and millions of sheep and a ram only about to impregnate about 60 a month, that will take time.
Enrichment. Toys. Something for animals to play with, to investigate, to do. This has been historically neglected for a long time because originally animals weren’t though to have souls, or to be thinking, feeling entities. We know differently now. Enrichment only improves the lives of these animals, and often reduces unwanted or destructive behavior, like piglets biting off each others tails.
Dam-neonate bonding in certain industries should be reconsidered. In some situations, the dairy industry in particular, neonates may be taken from their mothers within 24 hours to reduce disease transmission in eradication of certain diseases, like Johnes disease, but in other situations it’s because for some mind boggling reason it is more cost efficient for a farm to sell the mother’s milk and feed the neonate on milk replacer.
In a similar vein, giving sows enough space to nurse their litter would be great. They’re kept in sow stalls (basically a cage that they can stand up or lie down in that the piglets can run through) so that they don’t squash their piglets and kill them. That’s great and all, except you can accomplish the same thing by giving the sow more space to turn around it and slopes on the wall of the pen.
So, the important question I hope you’re asking is why don’t we do these things already?
There are lots and lots of reasons someone could grab, but the short (and I dare say more honest) reason is this: Money.
Granting an animal more space costs you money because it reduces the number of animals you can stock in your space. Using more pain relief medication costs you money. Calling out a vet costs you money. Providing enrichment costs you various amounts of money. On-farm slaughter and refrigerated transport is more expensive than the current system.
So if this is all about money, is it the fault of greedy farmers? Well, generally no.
Most farmers actually like the species of animal they work with. And most of them, especially with recent droughts, the current political climate and monopolization of the companies that buy their products, are not making big buckets of cash. More and more farms are selling up and small producers are not keeping up.
They are under constant pressure to lower the prices of their animal products because there’s only a few big buyers, and right now it’s the buyers that dictate what price they’re willing to pay. Because these animal products are perishable, you can’t save them for a rainy day if you don’t sell them, and these buyers are big enough, they can hold out and only pay what they want to pay. This severe downward pressure means farmers get paid progressively less, and these companies make more profits while claiming it’s good for consumers.
^ Look familiar?
So we get cheaper food, the company makes more profit, and the individual farms get screwed.
Especially with milk, there was a huge crisis recently where one of the big milk buyers suddenly declared it had been overpaying dairies, and that not only was it now going to pay them much less for the season (on contract mind you), but that all their dairies now owed them thousands of dollars. After years of downward price pressure on their product many farms could not, and can not, afford this. You can get an overview here.
The point I’m trying to get to is that if these industries are gong to improve, then we need to value the individual animal and its experience of life more than we currently do.
If we value the experiences of the individual animal, and consequently put our money where our mouth is when it comes to their products, then there should be both motivation and financial ability to improve their lives. We could progress from mere ‘prevention of cruelty’ and minimum standards towards animal welfare and good welfare states.
Changing consumer patterns is probably the only way to do this, and it’s quite hard when you’re already paycheck to paycheck, but a in depth rant/discussion about politics/policy/economics etc is beyond my scope, though I would happily add veterinary and industry specific detail to a discussion if someone wants to tackle that side of it.
Fair warning, the picture PETA published, which I will be including, is gory and bloody.
So here we go.
A few weeks ago, I first saw this PETA campaign picture:
As someone who works with sheep and shears sheep to pay for extra expenses, I was outraged. I had no clue what they did to that poor lamb (Found out its a foam replica). Besides the fact that it looks too small to shear, it looks like someone took a chain saw to it, or it was skinned not sheared.
So I wanted to address this. In shearing a sheep, goat, cow, or pig, you do not want to cut the animal. If its done right, you will not cut the animal. I know its hard not to let nicks happen. Animals move, jump, and flinch. Most shearers take very good care of their animals. If I, for example as a shearer, cut up the sheep I’ve been assigned to shear to the point where they have open and bleeding cuts, I would not be asked back. I would not have another job. Word gets around fast about shearers that hurt and cut up the sheep. Several years ago, there was a group of guys that sheared sheep for the members of the local herding dog club. They mishandled sheep and just moved speedily through them, leaving ewes bloody and stressed. You wanna know what happened to that group? They’re no longer in business. They don’t shear because word got around that they mishandled the animals.
I will say, shearing sheep is a tiring job that will leave you sore at the end of the day, no matter if you do one sheep or one hundred. I only average 3-6 sheep a day, so I have to give it to any shearer that shears whole herds in a day, from 30-100. Its hard work, but they do a good job.
Shearing, in its process, is simple. You restrain the sheep, either by setting it on its rear off its feet or tying it to the fence. You have to restrain the sheep or you could injure it if it tries to run or squirm. You then use a set of shears, manual or electric, to shave off the hair. Its just like how we shave, but we use a razor. Sheep are not hurt, and the process can be from a few minutes to an hour (like me). Shearers are paid by the quantity of sheep (usually) not the hours of work. This means that the shearers can spend the time to make sure the sheep get sheared right.
Below, I’m posting some pictures of what sheep really look like after they’ve been sheared:
These are from two different herds that I helped with this past spring. It was a relief for these sheep to be sheared.
But why do we shear sheep?
We sheer sheep for a variety of reasons. For the number one reason, its to remove the hair from the sheep. Sheep started as being used for wool and meat. Early sheep farmers cut off the sheep’s wool to be used for clothing, bedding, and other clothe items that came with eating the sheep too.
Now, farms that raise sheep for anything but wool or hair production, we shear the sheep to keep them comfortable. Where I’m from and where I go to college now, its not unusual for temperatures to be over 100 degrees F for the majority of the day, sheep with a full coat of wool/hair are miserable! It can also be deadly. They can’t cool down like they should and are very susceptible to over heating and heat stroke. That’s why we shear in the spring, before it gets too hot. It also allows the sheep to grow a little bit of wool back to act as sunscreen. We also shear off the wool/hair yearly to keep sheep clean. As sheep poop and pee, it gets on their wool/hair. As their wool/hair grows, it can cover up the sheep’s back end, and eventually, the anus of the sheep. That will make it very easy for bacteria to get back up into the sheep’s body and make them sick or even kill them.
So in conclusion, this sums up my point:
Shearing the sheep doesn’t hurt it. It certainly doesn’t kill the sheep. Its actually beneficial for the sheep to be sheared.
Re: tail docking- I didn't know until recently that sheep are born with tails? Why do people dock sheep tails?
In Australia we dock Merino sheep tails, and perform mulesing at a few weeks old because we have
Lucilia cuprina, a pretty coloured fly with maggots that make a not-so-pretty mess of sheep.
These flies are ubiquitous, they are everywhere in Australia and they cause huge problems. The flies lay their eggs on damp sheep wool, but the maggots will eat both diseased and healthy flesh. The maggots will eat sheep alive.
Short of widespread insecticide use, which doesn’t really control the problem well and has environmental concerns, the most effective method for reducing flystrike in sheep (the maggot infestation) is reducing the amount of moisture that accumulates on the wool. However, even in the driest regions of Australia, sheep will still urinate and develop diarrhea, which moistens regions of their wool.
Crutching sheep, where a small amount of wool is short regularly around their anus/vulva to keep it short and clean, certainly can help, but this is most effective in breeds that are relatively smooth skinned, and in smaller enterprises were it’s easier to round up those sheep on a regular basis.
Particularly in the case of Merinos in Australia, with the wrinkly skin around their bottoms, Mulesing is performed to cut this skin off, letting it heal with scar tissue. That’s as rough as it sounds, but it’s necessary to prevent fly strike and death-by-maggots in the sheep’s life.
There have been increasing access and push for pain relief to be used for this procedure, and there are some smooth-skinned lines, or lines of merino with no wool on the perineum. Genetic Mulesing would be ideal, because then no painful procedure would need to be done to the sheep, but there were only 7 Merino originally identified with this trait, and spreading their genetics through the approximately 70 million of Australia…well, it will take time.
So the short answer is that for now these sheep have their tails docked and are Mulesed to prevent being eaten alive by maggots, though the procedure and current husbandry is not ideal and I would prefer to eventually see a genetic solution.
our chickens: critical thinking is not their strong suit. most of them are trapped outside, because one of the goofy hens Inside tipped the food bowl up and blocked the door. what a conundrum… -sigh- love you, chickens.
There’s nothing like the fair. Visitors can engorge themselves with deep-fried Oreos, hot beef sundaes and heaps of cotton candy. There are rides, craft displays, and, of course, barns full of animals that non-farmers rarely get to see. Yet there’s one day of the fair that’s bittersweet and, for some, downright heart-wrenching. After a year of training, feeding and caring for an animal, auction day is when many 4-H kids must say goodbye.
Every year there are photos circulating online of crying children on market day. Unlike farmers who often have dozens, if not hundreds, of animals, 4-H children work closely with one or two animals for a year, or even longer if the animal, such as a steer, takes more time to raise.
Today there are nearly six million participants in the nonprofit 4-H in the United States. The four H’s stand for “head, heart, hands and health” and as part of the 4-H pledge, members vow to use these four things for the betterment of “my club, my community, my country and my world.”
Hey there, I've been really enjoying reading your blog and have been learning a lot. I'd like to ask about some claims I see being made online about that everyone needs to stop eating meat/animal products imminently to lessen climate change. Is that the full picture? Most articles I see online promote a "plant based" (read: vegan) diet, but is it feasible for everyone to even do that? Would it even help? Thanks :)
This is a very complex question, and a lot has been written on it from different perspectives, but I have to say that it definitely is not the full picture. To be honest, the question you asked could become an entire paper and/or thesis, but here are some reasons why everyone stopping eating animals immediately is neither feasible nor sustainable for people or the climate.
The fact of the matter is, we have to feed -everyone- with the land and resources we have. Climate change aside, that is the problem ag seeks to solve. So a solution is not truly sustainable unless it is capable of feeding everyone and is better for the climate than alternatives. Ok? Here we go!
So, does going animal-free work to feed everyone?
Many people (myself included) cannot safely exist on a diet devoid of animal products. Whether it be due to celiac, soy allergies, corn allergies, other gut disorders, many people need at least some animal products to survive. I have celiac. I also cannot eat soy more than occasionally without getting very sick and risking permanent health consequences. The majority of the items on the list of foods I cannot eat without getting sick and/or putting my health at risk are plant-derived. I am far from the only one like this.
Allergies to plant-derived foods are far more common than to animal-derived ones. Of the top 8 allergens estimated to cause >90% of allergic reactions by the Mayo Clinic, half of them are plant sources, and of the plant sources listed (peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat) those are common sources of protein for vegetarian/vegan diets. If we cut out animal-based protein, where are people with these allergies going to get protein?
Saying “everyone can eat vegan” is ableist, and denies the reality of many people, myself and many of my family members included.
Going totally vegan may actually be bad for some ecosystems
Grasslands and rangelands need grazing to survive. These lands evolved under pressure from native herbivores, which in turn were kept in check by predators. Humans have largely eliminated those predators from a good chunk of the world, or severely reduced them (see the issue with deer overpopulation in the US due to human elimination of predators).
Even if all the land currently grazed by herbivores was returned to wild populations, we risk herbivore overpopulation issues and long-term environmental degradation. If we just remove all grazing herbivores, we wind up with habitat degradation and in many places, increased fuel for forest fires, which causes its own problems. Removing herbivores also changes ecosystem balance for many other species that rely on herbivores to clear out excess brush, provide manure, or alter habitats.
Have you ever seen the rangelands of California or Montana? It would be extremely difficult to grow row crops there, but we are really good at growing cattle and sheep there! Since grassland is 26% of the world’s land area, and 70% of the world’s agricultural area, any diet that doesn’t use pasture-produced animal products will be wasting a lot of land that could be feeding people. (http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpc/doc/grass_stats/grass-stats.htm)
As the world population increases, pressure on existing land usage is going to increase, and so agriculture needs to rise to meet this challenge.
So I think we can make the case that a), a vegan diet will not feed everyone, and b) wastes land that could be used to feed people. So by default it’s not sustainable.
Of this, livestock are a major contributor, but so is soil management, which is needed for growing both human food and feed for livestock.
By contrast, electricity/heat, industry, and transport account for 25, 21, and 14% of greenhouse gases, respectively.
In the US, livestock account for just 4.2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. To contrast, transportation and energy production account for 27% and 31% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, respectively.
The contribution of livestock to greenhouse gases is higher in developing countries, partially due to a lot of livestock eating poorer quality feed or needing longer to reach market, and the fact that grass-fed livestock do produce more methane than livestock fed on lower-fiber feeds.
But as discussed above, those grass-eating livestock are necessary for producing food where other crops can’t grow, and keeping ecosystems healthy.
Herbivores like cows and sheep and goats are needed to preserve native forage-based ecosystems and provide food, but at the cost of producing methane that contributes to climate change. However, if we got rid of every cow and sheep and replaced their contribution to human diets with chicken and pigs, we’d have to grow extra food for them, which means more greenhouse gases to grow those foods, and we’re back at square one
To me, the real benefit of livestock, especially on range situations, is that they turn human-inedible plant protein into human-edible protein. That’s a significant reason why they’re so important to the human food supply.
Livestock also eat a lot of byproducts (brewer’s mash, hulls, tomato pulp, etc) that would otherwise go to waste. This reduces the impact of their feed production and of waste disposal in other industries. We’d have a lot of reject feed/byproducts sitting around if we got rid of livestock, and those would have greenhouse gas production from their waste disposal.
For me, it amounts to priorities - we know a vegan diet won’t feed everyone and it wastes land. We don’t have enough arable land to feed everyone on a vegan diet, even if everyone could go vegan.
We have researchers like myself and my colleagues working to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions no matter what they farm (greenhouse gas emissions are a waste, remember, and cost farmers money). Livestock, especially in range situations and developing countries, eat a lot of stuff that would otherwise go to waste, and help keep ecosystems healthy.
So it’s not just the analytical life cycle of the animal and it’s impacts, it’s what would the effect on climate change be by a) removing livestock and b) dealing with the human food needs met by doing so?
To me, livestock earn their keep, and while it is our job to keep improving livestock systems to be more efficient and help prevent worse climate change, we also need to remember that livestock are an important part of the sustainability of existing systems.