Veganism, animal welfare & the environment... A farmer's approach.
So, I was visiting a local dairy farm the other week. It wasn’t particularly big, or small. It wasn’t particularly efficient, or inefficient. It used a breed of cow that you would find in most dairies in Europe. They were fed a standard feed mixture of maize silage, protein rich cereals and grass in the spring, summer and autumn. They were housed in a normal barn on straw in the winter and out in the fields in the summer. The milk yield and quality was fairly in line with average production in Europe. The farm was not organic or joined to any particular animal welfare schemes.
Now you must be asking yourself, why am I starting this blog with this farm? What about it, is so extraordinary and noteworthy? Well absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. It was, as I described, a bog standard European dairy farm. Yet, the animals showed no signs of distress. No repetitive behaviors, no fear of humans and no signs of any physical injuries or ill health. All animals got to hang out with each other as a heard. They all had cool water on tap and good palatable food to meet all their needs. They had a warm, dry comfortable bed where they could lie down and stay out of the winter rain and wind. If one of the girls fell sick, well, then the vet was called and tended to its needs straight away. I had never met the cows from this farm before, yet, their inquisitive selves, came straight over to me, with no fears of humans, to have a good lick and chew of my coat, expecting a good scratch of the ear.
I know that my farm animals are happy. I love animals, and I could never live with myself if I let one of my animals suffer. I can also honestly say that happy well-tended to animals is what I have come across 90% of the time I have visited other full commercial farms in the UK and France. They are warm, dry, fed, watered and get to hang out with all their friends, which is all they want.; well they also want the odd good scratch as well.
Now, I am quite unusual for a farmer, as I truly believe that meat consumption by the general public should drastically come down. The level of meat consumed around the world is currently unsustainable, does not help in promoting animal welfare and has a serious worldwide environmental impact. High consumption of meat also has a strong correlation with severe negative health effects. A vegetarian or pescatarian diet on the other hand, show good correlation with positive health effects in studies. You might think that this is a strange view for a beef farmer. But it’s not really. I feel that people should reduce their overall meat intake and instead, concentrate on consuming small amounts of premium, lean, locally, or at least nationally, produced meats and farm products. Such a move tends to promote high animal welfare, traceability and has a much lower negative environmental impact (and in Europe, agriculture often has a very strong and essential positive environmental impact). Spending your hard earned money on such products also tend to also help your local economy, which your neighbours will really appreciate!
Whilst I believe that world farming and consumer habits need to change (the deforestation, air and sea miles, pesticides, administration of growth promoters and antibiotics etc. simply cannot go on) veganism is simply not the answer. I must be clear that I am not attacking the freedom for people to choose to be vegan. The problem is the advocacy of veganism to promote animal welfare and the environment. In fact, the advocacy of veganism is very obstructive to the fight for ever increasing animal welfare and great environmental practices.
Veganism is an extreme view. I don’t mean extreme in a violent or negative way, but extreme in a way that it is a view so misaligned and distant from the views of the majority. Because of the advocacy of such an alternate view in the mainstream media, others, like myself, who try and educate on the importance of animal welfare and the environment get ignored as we are lumped with such extreme views, seen as alien by the majority of the population. By promoting ideas so distant from the norm, rather then taking a more moderate approach, people will never listen to the essential message of animal welfare and environmental protection.
More importantly though, veganism completely falls apart in practical terms when it comes to protecting livestock, wildlife and the environment. The livestock; cows, sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens etc we have gotten to know over the last few 100 years are so far remote from their wild ancestors they simply do not have the capacity to care for themselves. Dairy cows must be milked, or they simply die, as the milk they produce is more than a calf can drink, so deadly infection sets in. Sheep have been breed to not shed their wool as they would in nature and so must be sheared, this must be done by law for animal welfare reasons. We created these animals, and so we have a duty of care to look after them. The only way to do so, and keep them in existence is to do with them what they were created for. Without farming, and livestock food production, all these farm species would simply die out with no financial incentive to look after them. Besides, why do you think cows queue up to be milked? Because they love it! Milking releases happy hormones, as breast feeding does in humans. I have had cows simply fall asleep at the milking parlour they were so relaxed. Yes, sometimes farming practices might appear a bit brutal, but you have to remember cows and pigs for example are very thick skinned animals. A whole lot of force need to be applied before they even feel anything. They are also very powerful and smart animals. If you are unnecessarily forceful with your animals you quite often don’t end up living very long as a farmer! A cow will always win in a fight.
Finally, veganism fails on an environmental level too. The British, and European countryside was created by farming 1000s of years ago. The prairies, hedgerows, highlands and all the millions of wild species (animals and plants) they contain have evolved with farming and continue to be managed by farming and livestock. The end of farming would spell the extinction of 1000s upon 1000s of wildlife species evolved to survive in such an environment and would change the European countryside for the worse, as public funding would simply not be able to support such sites without financial gains made from agriculture. Without farming we could say goodbye to species such as butterflies, hedgehogs and many wildflowers. To deny these facts, would be to deny the basics of evolution and environmental sciences.
I think it is apt to talk about veganism whilst fake news is so prominent. Many adverts and campaigns on social media, from organisations such as PETA are entirely and completely made up, photoshopped and so distant from the truth. Let us use facts and science to promote animal welfare and the environment to the masses. Let’s not promote our own fashion or fad, but lets concentrate on making sure agriculture sticks to high animal welfare and are encouraged to protect the environment their ancestors created. If you are a farmer reading this, then go out on social media and posts photos, videos and anecdotes of your life with your animals. Let the world know what a happy farm animal looks like and what you do as a farmer to protect your local ecosystems.