I recently had a conversation with a visitor to the farm which made me think about how confusing different methods of farming can be for the average person. My visitor was clearly confused and after taking a hard look at the situation I could see why.
Since our conversation started out about our transition here on the farm from industrial confinement production of meat chickens to a pasture raised egg farm I’ll start with that.
Confinement operations in animal production are easily understood. The word “confinement” means exactly what it says. It is limited or restricted space of which one is unable to leave.
To put it into perspective, people are confined to places such as a jail. Most of us have heard some time in our life “go to your room”. That could be summed up as being restricted to the confines of ones bedroom as a method of punishment for bad behavior as a child.
In animal production confinement isn’t for the purpose of being punished for bad behavior. The main purpose is to have absolute control over the production of the animal whether it’s products such as milk or eggs or putting on pounds of meat, quickly. Confined production is basically designed for “efficiency”. Efficiency translates into profits.
In the case of meat chickens efficiency can be measured in restricting movement which would expend energy and in turn use more feed to put pounds of meat on the chicken. Saved feed reduces the cost of production which in turn raises profits.
Confining hens for egg laying is usually done by not only confining the chicken to a building but also confining the chicken to a cage. Sometimes the cages are stacked on top of one another. Life for the hens in cages is one which prohibits natural behaviors of chickens such as spreading of wings, dust bathing, and freedom of walking, running, or flying. Over 90 percent of all eggs produced in the US come from caged hens.
I’ve made my thoughts clear about caged hens in the past HSUS Takes a Dive Off of the Deep End! . The newest trend in industrial egg production is to put a fancy name on a cage. This is where the confusion comes in to play and it’s exactly what industrial agriculture corporate giants want.
Calling the new and better (not my choice of words) “enriched colony caging” for hens is supposed to conjure up a pretty picture in one’s mind. According to Merriam-Webster, “enrich” means to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient. If we were to take a look at this definition, proponents of caging hens could say that this is what has happened.
In reality, a cage is a cage no matter what fancy term is applied. Anyone who advocates for good husbandry practices or high welfare for farm animals should cringe. However that isn’t the case as we all know that HSUS has called it a landmark agreement between animal welfare advocates and the United Egg Producers (UEP). Thankfully, there are animal welfare advocates who haven’t caved in to industrial ag and HSUS should speak for its self.
Landmark agreements always come at a cost. No big deal, right! HSUS and UEP get to say that they did something great in compromising and this monumental move didn’t cost them anything. No indeed, it cost the hens!
Is it any wonder why the average person would be confused? It’s all about a play on words and what pictures those words present to the consumer. Before producing our own eggs I always looked for the word’s “cage free” when grocery shopping. That’s not to say that the hens are raised unconfined it just means that they aren’t also put into cages.
Recently, my friends at Flavor Magazine published an article about eggs. I suggest reading it to get a better idea of the mindset behind egg production and how the hens that produce the eggs should be raised depending on who is doing the talking.
Since we’ve gone to “pasture raised” another dilemma arises in the farming method confusion. My visitor was under the impression that “pasture raised” and “free range” are the same. Not so! This subject gets real fuzzy and will have to wait until my next post about the land of confusion.