How animals are treated on farms
The living conditions on animal agriculture farms are generally extremely unsanitary. The USDA has regulations on sanitation and “humane” practices but many of these are left to the farmer’s discretion, all of them are difficult to enforce, and the ones who are caught are usually only charged a small fine and given a slap on the wrist.
* Note that the following are not exceptions to the rule. Many of these practices are viewed by the law as “humane” and perfectly legal.
Artificial insemination is the process of forcibly impregnating an animal, often to achieve reproduction to maintain or increase the supply of animals in a farm to keep up with demand. This also includes male animals. In animal agriculture this is often done to cattle, pigs, sheep, turkeys, and chickens. This is done for a variety of reasons including breeding purposes (aka artificial selection) to make breeds more specialized for each particular industry, to avoid injury to animals during natural copulation (especially between animals who have been bred for size such as cattle, and to synchronize births.
Artificial insemination is rape. Just because it is done to a non-human animal does not mean it is less of a crime. When any sentient being has an object forcibly inserted into their vagina and/or anus, especially as a means of impregnation, it is rape. In fact, the restraint device employed in many animal industries is called a “rape rack”. This device was invented by Harry Harlow, an infamous vivisector who also invented the Pit of Despair, which he used to separate baby rhesus macaque monkeys from their mothers to model clinical depression.
Cattle and other animals are branded for identification. There are two methods commonly employed in branding. Hot branding (aka, “fire” branding) is by far the most common and involves using a red-hot iron to burn off the top layers of skin, leaving a scar in the desired design. Cold branding (aka, “freeze” branding) is less common and is done by using liquid nitrogen to freeze the top layers of skin, killing the pigmentation cells. The result is white hair that is easier for farmers to read on darker colored animals.
Pain relief medication is done at the farmer’s discretion. Because it is not required by law, it is thought to be optional and is extremely rare as it is viewed as an unnecessary extra expense. Branding is extremely painful and animals must be roughly restrained to keep them from kicking and flailing in their agony as they try to escape.
Branding strips a being of their individuality and turns them into a number — an object. When we view a living, feeling being as an object, it becomes far easier for us to abuse and exploit them. Can you think of any other instances throughout history that robbed beings of their personhood through branding?
Cattle, pigs, horses, goats, and sheep are castrated, almost always without anesthetic. This is done to diminish animal’s inclination for sexual behavior, usually in regards to aggressive actions toward humans, other animals, and property. It is also done as a means of boosting an animal’s weight gain and growth, as well as stopping an animal from becoming sexually mature, which renders their meat undesirable because of taste and odor produced by pheromones.
Pain medications are generally not administered during the genital castration process. This is usually because administering anesthetic not as efficient. If the animals are to be slaughtered before sexual maturity, castration is not viewed as necessary, though often it is still done to reduce the likelihood of aggression between animals in cramped quarters.
Veal crates are small metal or wooden stalls designed to confine veal calves. This is done so that their meat stays tender and white, fetching higher prices. The crates prevent the calves from turning around, laying down comfortably, or excercising. Their waste falls through slats on the floor to a pit below.
Gestation crates are narrow metal cages just large enough to fit one pig (usually just 6.5 ft x 2 ft). They are used to house pregnant sows until they are about to give birth, when they are moved to farrowing crates. Female pigs who are used for breeding live all of their lives in these two types of cages. Their bodily waste drops through the slats on the floor into a pit below. These poor animals are driven insane because they are denied the ability to perform basic necessary functions.
“I think gestation crates for pigs are a real problem … I mean basically you’re asking a sow to live in an airline seat.” ~ Temple Grandin
Battery cages are frequently used in the egg industry to house hens. About 8 to 10 hens are confined in the space equal to the average size of a filing cabinet drawer. Their excrement drops through the cages into giant mounds below the cages.
Feedlots are the last stop before the slaughterhouse for beef cattle. In a process called “finishing”, these cattle are fattened up on a high grain diet to pack on those last pounds before getting trucked off to slaughter. They are desolate wastelands of feces, urine, and filth. The stench surrounding these establishments is absolutely nauseating.
“Dehorning hurts. It’s a lot of stress and we should be giving them a lot of anesthetics. The research is clear. The dehorning is the single most painful thing we do.” ~ Temple Grandin
Cows, goats, and sheep are de-horned (also known as dis-budding, when done to young animals before the horns fully develop) to make the lives of farm operators easier. Farmers say that dehorning benefits the animals, because they tend to get frustrated in the conditions they are forced to live in and can take this frustration out on each other, resulting in deep cuts and even disembowelments. This can be rather costly as the cost of replacing a cow is much higher than the cost of dehorning a cow. Rather than giving cows enough space to roam around and giving them a natural life, farmers view dehorning as a more “humane” and more importantly, a more profitable alternative.
Pain reliving medications are generally not used when dehorning animals. There is a small minority of farmers who use anesthetic, though the vast majority do not. According to the USDA, more than nine out of ten dairy farmers do not use anesthetic when dehorning cattle. The older an animal is, the more painful the dehorning process. This is because there are sensitive nerve endings at the base of the horns, connected to the skull. As an animal matures, these become more strongly fused and formed, and results in a much more painful experience.
Common tools for dehorning include: hot iron, knife, dehorning cup, and dehorning scoop, though embryotomy wire can also be used. The dehorned animals often bleed profusely, and so heat cauterizing is often used to stop bleeding (in essence, putting a hot iron into the bloody wound where the horn has been removed). The animals often bellow and groan in pain and discomfort, and writhe and wriggle in a futile attempt to escape the pain.
In animal agriculture, a “downed” animal is an animal sick, crippled, cannot stand on it’s own and/or is otherwise nearly dead or already dead before slaughter. Because livestock animals can naturally have a considerably long life span (eg.: cows can live 20-25 years, pigs can live about 25 years, and chickens can live around 20 years), the general reason behind farmed animals dying so early in their lives is because of unsanitary and tortuous living conditions. Animals are often kicked, punched, beaten with hard objects (chains, tire irons), shocked with electric prods, rammed with forklifts, and sprayed with high pressure hoses to get them to move onto the truck heading to the slaughterhouse, or into the slaughterhouse itself.
The above is an age-restricted video due to it’s graphic content. If you are unable to watch the video for whatever reason, please read this life-changing true story about an anonymous cow born into the meat industry. Her story has changed many people’s lives, and has helped many people consider a vegan lifestyle.
Downed animals are used in everything from leather to gelatin — their diseased meat is even sold as food to unwitting consumers. A recent bill banning the use of downer cows in food production was signed by Obama on March 14, 2012 in an effort to decrease the chance of another mad cow disease scare. However, downer pigs and other downed animals are still unprotected and their meat is still processed and sold for human consumption.
Duckling and Chick Culling
Culling is the removal of rejected parts of a group. In the egg and foie gras industries culling refers to the removal and disposal of male chicks and female ducklings. Culling is done to increase profit margins and decrease expenses.
In the egg industy, the reasoning behind this is simple: certain breeds of chicken are better for meat (they grow very large, very quickly — called “broilers”), while other breeds are better for eggs (their egg production and quality is higher than that of other breeds). Because the male chicks of a specialized egg-laying breed are unable to produce eggs and are also unable to grow large or fast enough like broiler chickens, they are discarded, usually on the same day they hatch. The methods for “euthanization” (as the industry calls it) are to either send them down a conveyor belt that leads to a meat grinder, where the male chicks are literally ground up alive, or tossed into garbage bags and suffocated, or simply thrown into dumpsters or trash cans and left to suffocate under each other or simply die of starvation. Chick culling accounts for two hundred million male chick deaths per year in the United States alone.
In the foie gras industry, the reasoning for culling is that male ducks are prefered because they have meatier livers than females and therefore yield a higher quality product. The livers of female ducks are considered too “veiny” for foie gras. Like male chicks in the egg industry, female ducklings in the foie gras industry are often immediately disposed of in a similar fashion. They can also be raised for their meat, though this is less common.
In certain industries, like foie gras production, animals are force-fed to warp their bodies into unnatural states. Foie gras is considered a delicacy in many countries and is viewed by many as something glamorous, as it is generally relatively expensive. Foie gras, French for “fat liver”, is produced by shoving a long tube down the throats of ducks and geese and pumping their stomach full of corn meal mush several times per day. After a period of about 15 weeks, their livers have swelled to a gargantuan 10 times it’s natural size. Many ducks and geese in this stage die before their “harvest” weight, and are discarded. Some farmers say that they know their stock is nearing harvest when many of them start dying because of the sheer amount of stress put on their bodies. Respiratory difficulties, infection, and rupture of internal organs are common causes of “premature” death on foie gras farms.
On many egg farms, hens in the egg industry are forced to molt. Chickens naturally grow a new set of feathers in autumn; this is called “molting”. Forced molting is induced by keeping the hens in darkness and putting the hens under stress, which is usually done by withholding food for a period of about two weeks. The purpose of this cruel practice is to boost the flock’s production, egg quality, and ultimately, profitability of older hens during their later laying seasons. Egg-laying hens, as they are called, live about 2 years before their production has declined to such a point that they are worth more as meat than they are as “producers”. When not treated as egg-laying machines, chickens can naturally live to the ripe old age of 20.
Forced molting has been outlawed in many states and countries outside of the U.S. because of animal welfare laws. However, the alternative to forced molting is to simply send them off to slaughter once their production declines, rather than attempting to boost their output via forced molting.
There are two ways in which animal’s DNA is genetically modified: 1) in labs, and 2) through breeding. We do this so that the animals are better suited for our purposes than for their own purposes.
Genetic modification has been a fact of animal farming practices since domestication of livestock animals began some 12,000 years ago. Animals are selectively bred to achieve specialized breeds for meat, milk production, egg production, fur, leather, wool, down, and other animal products. The domesticated livestock animals we have become so familiar with today through millenia of genetic modification via selective breeding have been rendered unfit to survive outside of captivity. In many cases such as with pigs, turkeys, and “broiler” chickens, animals have been bred for size to such an extent that when allowed to live the rest of their lives past slaughter age (45 days for “broilers”, 4 months for pigs) they grow so large that they develop chronic health conditions which they ultimately die from prematurely. Pigs that have been rescued from farms that are left to live out their lives in peace often have their hooves split in half because of the extraordinary amount of weight being applied to their feet because of their unnatural size (made possible by genetic modification to suit our needs for fast meat, rather than their own needs for a long and healthy life). Turkeys who outlive their slaughter weight/age in sanctuaries often have to undergo surgeries on their uterus because when they lay eggs their uterus is pushed out.
None of these are valid reasons to continue eating and exploiting animals. We created their suffering; perpetuating it does not justify our actions against their genetics. The answer is to eliminate demand, which will eliminate supply. This means that we will no longer be breeding livestock animals for human consumption.
Cows on dairy farms are milked multiple times per day by machines. These machines suck everything they can out of the cow’s udder: milk, blood, pus, bacteria, and even chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics used to keep cows productive and profitable for as long as possible until their trip to the slaughterhouse. Because there is no way for the machine to know what to take out and what to leave in, it sucks everything out. This milk is pasteurized, homogenized, and bleached to hinder contamination as well as make the look, taste, and texture more appealing than raw milk (which tastes much different than the common milk found in grocery stores, and also has a yellow tinge to it).
Cows do not need to be milked by humans. Their udders will not explode if we don’t milk them. Mother cows only need to nurse their young. In the dairy industry they are deprived of this ability so that humans can have it instead.
Mother-infant separation occurs when an mother an her child are torn apart from each other and forced to live in separate areas. Any mother can relate to the fear of losing one’s child, but this is something animals on farms must go through every second of every day, and often must endure the agony of being unable to care for their offspring multiple times in their lives after multiple pregnancies. The bond between a mother and her child is perhaps the strongest bond found in all of nature, especially regarding mammals. In evolution, this is because in order for a species to ensure that the next generation will thrive (and that their genetics were successfully passed to the next generation), they must care for their babies long enough to teach them how to survive on their own, as well as protect them from predators who prey on the smallest and weakest of a herd or group. A mother-infant bond is necessary for the survival of many mammalian species.
Mother-infant separation is exemplified in the dairy industry. In fact the dairy industry is built on top of it and would crumble without it. This is due to the simple fact that in order to produce enough milk to be profitable, a dairy cow must be impregnated and give birth every year. However, when she gives birth the first thing the calf will want to do is suckle. The dairy industry does not produce milk for cows, it produces milk for humans, as cows don’t have money and are unable to pay. To solve this problem the dairy industry takes the calf away from the mother and hooks her up to a milking machine so they can sell the milk to greedy humans who, unlike the calf, have absolutely no biological or nutritional need for it. The calf is either sold into slavery as a dairy cow (female), fattened up on a feedlot in the meat industry (male or female), or chained to a filthy stall where they are unable to turn around or lay down comfortably and slaughtered for veal (male). Calfs are denied the milk that nature and their own mothers intended for them and are instead fed synthetic formula. Mother cows will bellow for days and nights on end, calling out to their stolen child. There have even been instances of mother cows escaping and traveling many miles until they are later found suckling their baby. A decision no mother should have to make, dairy cows who have had twins have even had to make the decision to sacrifice one of the children so that she other could be free in hiding.
Pigs must also endure mother-infant separation. Once a sow is near to giving birth, she is moved to a farrowing crate. Farrowing crates are similar to gestation crates in that they are designed to restrict the movement of the sow, however they are built with the added purpose of allowing newly born piglets to suckle. After two to three weeks the piglets are taken from the mother and she is reimpregnated and put back inside of a gestation crate. The piglets are fattened up in a process called “finishing” and slaughtered at about five months old.
Chickens in egg farms go through mother-infant separation as well. Although they never get to see their babies hatch, hens are very protective of their eggs. They have very strong mothering instincts have been known to defend their children to the death. Their mothering instincts are so strong that in the wild, they will even steal the eggs of other hens and care for them as their own. The egg industry denies hens the ability to perform basic instinctual functions that are an integral part of a hen’s psychological health.
Mulsesing is a practice in which sheep have large strips of wool-bearing skin surgically removed near their buttocks to reduce the risk of infection from fly-strike, a life-threatening infection caused by a parasitic fly. Fly-strike is common in wet, hot areas such as Australia, the only country that still practices mulesing regularly on over one million lambs each year, even though most other countries have already banned the cruel procedure. Fly-strike can occur when an animal who is soiled with urine and feces comes into contact with a female parasitic fly carrying eggs. She lays the eggs on the sheep’s rear end and about eight hours later the larvae begin to hatch. They then proceed to tear at the skin, causing sores. The larvae tunnel through the hosts tissue and literally begin the eat the animal alive.
But how did sheep combat fly-strike before humans were here to “help”? Sheep have been selectively bred throughout the centuries with an emphasis on wool density and thickness. Compared to their wild ancestors, who only grew the amount of wool they needed, the domestic sheep of today suffer certain health risks that would never have developed so commonly had humans never tampered with their genetics.
Mulsesing is done to lambs under one year of age because the area that must be removed is much smaller while the lambs are young, and is thus thought to be less painful than if it were done to an adult sheep. Because of the severe pain inflicted during the mulesing procedure, anesthetics are encouraged, though not required by law. Sheep are restrained in a device that holds their head and limbs, while a certified mulesinger carries out the barbaric task. This is very stressful and painful for the baby sheep, who are having an area of skin the size of a dinner plate ripped from their flesh. The wounds take about four weeks to heal, and during those four weeks lambs are at high risk of contracting tetanus as well as fly infestations due to the open wound. Once the wound is healed, scar tissue forms which stops wool growth in that area and thus stops the risk of fly-strike.
Alternatives to mulesing include crutching on a regular basis, which is simply the shaving of sections of wool from an animal. As long as it is not done in a rush, this is a perfectly humane alternative to mulesing. There is no blood, no pain, and no permanent mutilation. The reason this is not done by many farmers is because it is too time consuming, and involves regularly checking up on the well-being of the animals, which is something many farmers would rather not concern themselves with. Crutching is nevertheless still just as exploitative as mulesing. Sheeps wool is not ours to take.
Cattle, pigs, and sheep have their tails amputated. Reasons for tail docking vary, according to the species. Generally, it is implemented to curb aggressive behaviors between frustrated animals in close quarters as well as keeping the rear of an animal clean, which lowers risk of bacterial and parasitic infection.
A common method of docking an animal’s tail is using an elastrator — a rubber ring that is tied midway around the tail, cutting off blood circulation. Over time the end of the tail shrivels and eventually falls off. This is often done by clamping down on the tail with a metal device and twisting the tail until the bones break and the tail is able to be ripped off. This is generally done without anesthetic.
In a study by the National Animal Health Monitoring System, over ninety percent of lambs in the United States had their tails docked.
Teeth and Beak Clipping
Teeth and beak clipping are common practices in the pork, chicken (meat), and egg industries. Pigs have their teeth clipped and chickens have their beaks clipped to prevent the animals from attacking and “cannibalising” one another due to the confining and disgusting environment they are forced to live in. Teeth and beak clipping are known to make the wounds more prone to infection.
Pigs are remarkably intelligent animals — numerous studies put their IQ’s higher than that of dogs — and when denied their natural need to play in mud, have social communication with their peers, or even be able to turn around, they become agitated and are literally driven insane. They begin to pick on each other, bite each other’s tails, and even kill and eat each other. Cannibalism in pigs is not normal in the wild, however in factory farms it is commonplace because of their inability to perform their most basic behaviors and attend to their most basic needs.
Chickens are highly social animals and are far more intelligent than most give them credit for. When cramped in battery cages and large, poorly ventilated warehouses, chickens begin to peck at each other in their frustration. In the wild, chickens use their beaks for many important functions including preening, eating, and exploring their environment. A chicken’s beak serves the same function as a human’s hands. When we deny a chicken the ability to enjoy the use of his or her beak, we are denying them the ability to experience and explore the world around them.
Teeth and beak clipping is excruciating. Like other animals with teeth (including humans), pigs teeth contain pain-sensing nerves. When their teeth are cut these pain sensing nerves are triggered and the pig experiences intense pain, like any of us would. Chickens beaks are composed of cartilage and nerve tissue, and are also capable of feeling acute pain. When beaks are cut with a hot blade or laser they experience pain. It seems so obvious, but because it is not our own pain it becomes easy to dismiss. When we put ourselves in their place and imagine what it would be like if this was happening to us it becomes much easier to imagine what their pain must feel like. Fortunately for us, we only have to imagine. For pigs and chickens, they must endure this every day for as long as people consume meat and eggs.