The Flaming Vegan

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Down on the Farm
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Down on the Farm

On the same day that I had my adventures in leafleting, I visited a small farm that sells milk, eggs, and chicken. The rest of my family eats eggs and dairy, so I've been looking for the most humane sources of them that I can find. This farm sells its eggs at a local health food store, and, since it's located in the same area as a school I was going to leaflet, I decided to take a tour. I wanted to see firsthand how the chickens and cows are treated. It's been awhile since the visit, but I'm going to attempt to tell the story from memory.

Upon arriving at the farm, we were greeted by the farmer. He wore a plain olive T-shirt, faded jeans, wire-rimmed glasses, and a baseball cap. No cowboy boots, just a pair of old sneakers. He was friendly and likable.

The first animals he showed us were some adorable female Jersey calves. I got to pet a couple of them. They were in a pen separate from their mothers. One of the sad truths about dairy farming—whether factory or free-range—is that calves are almost always taken from their mothers at birth. Since mother cows form strong bonds with their babies, this leads to profound grief. And the male calves are sold to be raised for beef.

I asked the farmer if the cows get to drink any of the milk from their mothers, or if they're fed a formula. He said if there's any leftover milk, the calves get to have some, but the milk is intended for human consumption, so most of it gets bottled and sold.

Then, we walked over to the “processing area”—the place where cows are milked and chickens are killed. This particular farmer kills chickens by placing their heads into orange traffic cones hanging upside down, and then slitting their necks. He told us this is one of the most humane methods of slaughter. I believe he said it takes about a minute for the chickens to lose consciousness, and five minutes for them to die. I could not help but think that that minute must be the longest and most agonizing minute of their lives.

After that, we hopped in an old farm truck, and drove to where the chickens live. First, we saw the “broiler” chickens—the ones raised for meat. They weren't yet full grown, so they were small, and very skittish. They indeed had plenty of space, living in a rotating pen of pasture with little shelters that contained their food. A large, white, laid-back dog lived with them to protect them from predators. It was almost time to rotate their pen, so the grass was fairly sparse. But it was a far cry from being crammed into cages, or packed together in a shed, as many “cage-free” hens are. I believe the farmer told us that he slaughters the broiler chickens when they're about eight weeks old. I asked if they have the same health problems as chickens in factory farms, the ones that develop from being bred to gain weight quickly and grow enormous breasts. He said they're the same kind of chickens, so they do have some of those problems, but to a lesser degree, since they have room to exercise.

Next, we drove a little bit further to see the laying hens. They were larger than the broiler chickens, and a gorgeous reddish-brown. They also lived in a rotating pen, with sparse grass, and some areas of dirt that they liked to dust bathe in. There was a shelter with nesting boxes and some rafters on which to roost. The hens were curious and friendly, though shy if one got too close. The farmer picked one up so I could pet her. Another dog or two lived there with the hens.

The clucking was amazing. It had a soothing, hypnotic effect. The area had a pleasant barnyard scent with no hint of ammonia. Some of the hens were missing a few feathers from scuffles they'd gotten into. But none of the hens (or the broiler chickens) had been debeaked. For the time being, these hens seemed pretty content. The natural lifespan of a chicken is 5-8 years. Some of the “spent” laying hens at this farm are sold to people who want to keep a few chickens in their backyard, but most are killed after one or two years when their egg production declines. Their flesh is used for chicken soup, pet food, and fertilizer.

After visiting the chickens, we moved on to the full-grown cows. They were just as cute as their offspring. Again, I got to pet some of them. Like the chickens, they lived in a rotating pen. The farmer fed them some hay while we visited. One of the cows had a growth on her udder, one of the health problems common in dairy cows. But overall, they seemed healthy and happy.

Some of their ears were pierced with name tags. I found that intriguing. The cows at this farm live for 2-12 years before their milk production declines; the natural lifespan of a cow is 20-25 years. Since the cows' flesh gets tougher as they age, most dairy cows are sold for ground beef or pet food once they're no longer profitable. I asked the farmer how he avoids getting too attached to the cows to kill them, given that they have names. He then described the mental gymnastics he goes through in order to stay detached, including not giving them human names. In the end, he said, it's a business, and “their purpose is to make money.”

Before leaving, I bought a half gallon of milk. It was $7, including $2 for the returnable glass bottle. That's the price of truly free-range, organic milk. Though I don't make much money, I am willing to pay it. I wouldn't feel comfortable drinking the milk myself, but if my family is going to drink it, I'd at least like to know that it comes from a farm like this one. With extremely rare exceptions, it's about as good as it gets.

Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)

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  1. SnakeWitch
    You're good. I have a hard time accepting to buy milk for my parents.... But like you said, if you're going to do it, it has to be from a good place. Voted! When you have a chance, come check out why soy is now finally getting the reputation it deserves!
    1. Luella Berg
      Luella Berg
      Thanks! I don't like it, and, to be honest, I've gotten into some clashes with them over it, but in the current world in which we live, it's their choice to eat those things. I will check out your soy milk post. :-)
  2. Veganara
    Voted. Great blog Luella, very evocative as to what happens on a free-range farm. It's upsetting to think though that, as you say, this is as good as it gets. I wish all farmers would just transition to crops, rather than going through the "mental gymnastics" you describe to stay detached! It just goes to show it is so unnatural for a human to treat other species like this. You might be interested in my latest recipe for Creamy Asparagus Risotto (dairy-free, of course!), please check it out! :-)
  3. Whitney Metz
    Whitney Metz
    Great post! Voted.
  4. Anita Vegana
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Is your family learning from you when you do this? Do they understand why you make a point of going out of your way and paying more for these things? Mine don't, and even try to make me believe that I'm wrong about it. Let me know. Please read my article, What is a Superfood?, and vote if you enjoyed reading it. Thank you.
  5. Akanksha
    I find it inhuman to treat calves and cows that way! Another great post by you. Do check out my post on healthy eating and vote if you like.
  6. BuddhasDelight
    wow, great article. i have such a hard time even thinking about how dairy is produced, the separation of mother and baby is the thing that really gets me. it is true that small places like this are the best you will get and thank god for them. i have milk drinkers in my family too and encourage them to purchase the organic hormone free local small farm versions, the ones right around the corner where you can see first hand how it is produced and how the animals are treated. oy! dairy breaks my heart! anyway, i think this is a useful and necessary peek into things, thank you so much for sharing your experience. great writing too. voted! blessings... :)
  7. Veggie
    Great post, I voted! I think if more people had to see behind the scenes of even a local organic farm, they would question whether we as humans really need that milk or meat. Far better to buy from this farmer, than from the grocery store! Come see my posts on cookies and pumpkin pie if you would like, and vote if you like them!


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