Why Farm Animals Are So Unhealthy
Farm animals are more likely to fall ill than animals in the wild for
First, stocking densities tend to be so high that
parasites, for example, spread easily and quickly and become endemic.
Second, animals kept on farms are unlikely to have proper opportunities
to exercise. Many, who live indoors, are even denied the health giving
properties of sunshine and fresh air. Farm animals may be exempt from the worst
excesses of drought and starvation but their lifestyle is far from healthy.
Inevitably, the circumstances in which animals are kept mean that psychological
problems abound too.
Third, animals are unlikely to be able to enjoy the
sort of range of foodstuffs that would be available to them in the wild. The
diet farmers give to captive animals bears no relationship to the diet they
normally live on. So for example, farmers often give animal waste to vegetarian
animals. In the USA chicken excrement is fed directly to cattle (`to give them
protein'), and the French Government has admitted illegally feeding human sewage
to French cattle. Farmers in Britain routinely feed their cattle the ground-up
brains and spinal cords of other cattle. (It was this that caused the disastrous
outbreak of mad cow disease). Farmers ignored the fact that herbivorous
ruminants don't eat meat and never engage in cannibalism.
inescapable fact is that farm animals are bred for profit and, in general, the
health of the animals is only of concern if it restricts the farmer's ability to
add the animal to the food chain and, therefore, interferes with profitability.
Farmers may, indeed, be tempted to hide and cover up illness if this threatens
to restrict their ability to add the animal to the food chain. An animal which
needs special drugs may be excluded from the food chain on safety grounds - even
though healthy animals are routinely given a wide variety of `acceptable'
prescription drugs. For example, far more antibiotics are given to healthy
animals than to sick human beings. Antibiotics produce muscle growth in animals
and more muscle means more meat which means more profit.)
In wild or
semi-wild conditions chickens live in forests in small groups, they scratch
around on the forest floor eating worms, insects and bits of fresh plant. They
use the dust and the sun to keep their feathers bright and they bathe when it
rains. At night they roost in trees (their claws are adapted for hanging onto
branches even while asleep) so that they are safe from predators.
is a healthy lifestyle for a chicken.
However, this isn't how chickens
are kept on most modern farms. Chicken farmers have selectively bred chickens to
grow faster and faster. They have doubled the maturing speed at which a chicken
matures in just two decades. Muscle is laid down before the bird's heart and
circulation can cope and the result is that the birds are constantly ill. Their
bones aren't capable of supporting their excess weight and so they get broken
bones. They die of thirst and starvation because they cannot reach the automated
food and water delivery systems which supply their cages. Eighty per cent of
broiler chickens suffer broken bones and 17,000 birds die every day in the
United Kingdom because of heart failure. Farmers regard these deaths as an
acceptable cost of doing business. The food the chickens are fed is selected
according to the cheapest possible formulation and contains just the basic
ingredients. (One popular ingredient is ground-up dead chicken. They have to do
something with all those dead birds.) The chickens are routinely given
antibiotics to try to keep them healthy (despite the fact that farmers know that
this habit is a major cause of the development of antibiotic resistant
organisms) and they are kept in half dark so that they stay quiet. They suffer
from exceptionally high temperatures (especially when the weather is warm), they
stand in their own excrement (which is acidic and so it blisters their feet) and
the air they breathe in is full of fumes, bacteria and dust. It is hardly
surprising that half of broiler flocks in the United Kingdom are colonised with
campylobacter which can cause neurological problems, arthritis, headache,
backache, fever, nausea, pains, diarrhoea in people who eat them.
chickens, like other farm animals, are given no freedom and no chance at all to
Copyright Donna Antoinette Coleman and Vernon Coleman
Taken from Animal Miscellany by Donna Antoinette Coleman and
Vernon Coleman (available through the bookshop on this website).