‘High welfare’ farms are not what you might imagine. You may think of free-range hens roaming in a pasture, pigs grubbing in a woodland or goats running around an expansive hillside. This is not what modern farming looks like.
Free-range hens do not live outdoors but instead are given access to it for a period of the day, if the weather permits. Since flock sizes are enormous and hens are territorial, many birds won’t cross another’s territory to get to the exit holes and they will spend their entire lives inside a shed. And what of the outdoor space itself? For most it is a patch of dirt, and almost certainly not what is printed on the box, depicted on the website or the image you have in your mind.
Male chicks born into the free-range egg industry will be gassed, crushed or minced alive at a day old because they are deemed useless. And when the hens’ productivity declines, being ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ won’t save them from the catching gangs and the slaughterhouse. These animals’ lives are far from happy.
The vast majority of chickens reared for their meat – 94 per cent in the UK – are reared inside factory farms. Those who are reared under ‘high welfare’ schemes may fare little better. For many, the painful joint problems that are endemic in the modern high-yielding breeds, mean their lives are miserable no matter what. And when they are Just a few weeks old, they are all caught by their legs or necks, rammed into crates and trucked to the slaughterhouse.
For other animals, like pigs, ‘free range’ means no more than a patch of dirt and a metal arc. Pigs love to root, run and play. They like to socialise, build nests and explore but none of this is afforded them on most commercial ‘high-welfare’ farms. And investigations have shown that life for these ‘happy’ animals is nothing but misery and pain.
There is no humane way to produce commercial quantities of milk. Cows, goats and sheep must be made pregnant and the offspring are often no more than unwanted by-products. Goat farmers may send their unwanted kids to the hunt kennels, while calves may go for veal production or be shot at birth. Cows who have their young taken from them bellow for days. Their sense of loss is powerful and immeasurable.
In some countries, like New Zealand, weather conditions mean cows live outdoors all year round. In most parts of the world, though, even the ‘high welfare’ schemes allow animals out for just six months. The other half of the year, rather than making them stand out in the mud as the rain lashes down, they are forced to stand around in their own faeces inside a barn.
All animals – whether free range, organic, barn-reared, outdoor-bred or caged – end their lives in the same place. Investigations show that animals are terrified when they enter the slaughterhouse, and that those who were reared under ‘high welfare’ schemes were battered and abused to their deaths by slaughterhouse workers every bit as much factory-farmed animals.