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.