Meatingplace: Let’s talk about those “factory farms”

This blog post was written by Christine Alvarado, and was originally published by Meatingplace on March 8, 2019

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are strictly those of the author.)

The term “factory farm” has been used to describe commercial chicken operations.  If you look up the term, you find statements like “animals are numbered not named”, “animals don’t eat food, they convert feed”, “their goal is to raise animals as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible”, and “ their goal is to minimize inputs and maximize outputs” Well, yes! Agriculture – whether 25 or 25,000 chickens or 20 or 20,000 rows of lettuce – means you do it efficiently, safely and quickly. That’s how society has safe affordable food.

According to the dictionary, factory means “a building or set of building with facilities for manufacturing” and a farm is defined as “an area of land and its buildings used for growing crops and rearing animals, typically under the control of one owner or manager.”  It is interesting how both of these are positive terms but when used together, our mindset changes to negative descriptor words like dark, dingy, dirty, cruel, and distant.

As a poultry scientist, I love visiting farms because of the amazing people I meet. I always leave feeling appreciation for their work.  But first, let’s address the elephant in the room. I think we all know there are a few bad apples.  Even though they receive the most attention, they are the minority. So, what about the remaining 99 percent of farmers? This is where I introduce the typical family owned chicken farm.

The first chicken farm I ever visited was family owned by Joe who worked in town and Susan who stayed home with the kids.  Recently, she had an empty house during the day as all the kids were officially in school.  She wanted something to do to contribute to her family finances but didn’t want to enter the 8-5 workforce.  She had always farmed; that’s what she knew how to do.  She had a love of animals and raised cattle, pigs, and showed chickens in high school.  She had a degree in animal science but decided instead to stay home and raise a family. So, they built 4 chicken houses on their family farm and she was able to contribute to the family finances, take care of their kids, and do what she loved – take care of her chickens. In addition, she raised her kids with work ethic as they learned how to care for chickens and learned about business. When I asked her if she ever took a vacation, she said “farming is not for those that like to vacation – these birds depend on me and I depend on them for my livelihood.” Chicken farms are owned and operated by people like us who care about providing for their family and who care about animal agriculture.

So, let’s talk the truth about these factory farms……the truth is that chicken farms are located in rural areas, are not industrial, and are family owned.  The truth is that the chickens are well cared for – if not, these farms would be out of business.

The truth is, these farmers don’t go on vacation or have a luxury lifestyle. The truth is that it takes a lot of science knowledge (nutrition, physiology, biology, genetics, microbiology) to properly manage and raise healthy and “happy” birds.  The truth is farmers don’t have to name their chickens to really care for them.  The truth is farmers are not unfeeling people that love to send animals to slaughter – they want to feed their community good, nutritious, and safe chicken.  The truth is that chicken farming is their chosen life, their passion, and they spend 7 days a week working hard to care for chickens so that consumers can eat high quality and safe chicken meat.

It’s not a lifestyle for everyone. So, the next time someone talks about factory farming ask them when the last time they visited a chicken (or turkey) farm and invite them to come along for a learning experience. For today, I am thanking a chicken farmer!

If you want to know about the real story of how chickens are raised, check out the National Chicken Council’s “Chicken Check In” website.

Meet the author, Dr. Christine Alvarado 

Dr. Christine Alvarado is currently a professor in the Department of Poultry Science at Texas A&M University. In addition to academic teaching and research, she has worked in the poultry industry and served as a subject matter expert for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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