Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Battery Farms - To BEAK or NOT to Beak - Back to Basics

Since my first Back to Basics posting, a few readers have asked a very good question:

"What is debeaking?"

In a large flock of birds, leadership and authority is established through a 'pecking order hierarchy'. Unfortunately, when birds are raised in a confined area, it is often impossible for a low order bird to escape from a higher order bird. Injury and death will often occur. Debeaking is one of the common practices of large 'battery' or 'factory farms', where a portion of the chicken's beak is removed to reduce the use of the beak as a weapon when encountering another bird. This is done when birds are from one to 21 days old. Advocates of this practice will proclaim it is one of the necessary operations in poultry management, to prevent the already stressed birds from pecking and injuring other birds in the livestock pens.
Birds are transported in baskets from a starter cage to a stationary debeaking apparatus of a type disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,375,814. On arrival at the debeaking apparatus, an operator reaches into the basket and selects a bird for insertion into a head retainer mechanism after which the beak is disabled. On completion of the disabling process, the bird is released into the hand of the operator who thereafter places the bird into a basket for return to a growing cage. On return to the growing cage it is not uncommon for a bird to take from one to two days to fully recover and begin to eat in a manner to gain weight. It is believed that the recovery time in addition to the trauma associated with the debeaking apparatus is compounded by the handling and transportation of the birds to the debeaker apparatus. In an effort to reduce trauma associated with disabling of a beak and associated recovery time, structure as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,951,610 has been developed to accurately control the removal or disabling of the beak of a bird such that only a portion of the beak of a bird is removed and structure as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,651,731 has been developed such that only the top half of a beak is removed. Currently available debeaker apparatus adequately provide for the disabling of a beak of a bird but unfortunately do not address the trauma associated with transportation and handling of the bird during such debeaking process.

Battery, or Factory Farms refers to the large scale, intensive raising of livestock, poultry, or fish. The practics is widespread in developed nations; most of the meat, dairy, and eggs available in supermarkets are raised in this manner.

Battery farms focus on producing a marketable product at the lowest possible unit price. Common practices include:

  • confinement - To save space, animals are permanently confined to small indoor areas, often unable to turn around or move without contacting other animals. This often causes "vices" such as cannibalism, and may be countered through debeaking and tail docking.
  • drug programs - Antiboitocs, hormones, vitamins, and other supplements are administered regularly, in part to counteract the effects of crowding.
  • alternative feed - Various materials that contain essential nutrients are substituted for traditional feed (eg: cows are fed poultry litter in place of hay and grain; calves are given cow blood protein concentrate in place of their mother's milk.
  • extreme nutrient management - The large quantities of generated manure and urine are automatically collected in local sewage systems and redistributed to local agricultural lands as fertilizer.

Critics claim that factory farming is inhumane, poses health risks, and causes enviornmental damage. Arguments include:

  • Animals raised on antibiotics are breeding superstrains of various diseases.
  • Concentrated animal waste is polluting the groundwater.
  • Crowding, drugging, and mutilating animals (often, debeaking and tail-docking, performed without anesthetic ) are criminally cruel practices.

Proponents claim that factory farming is a useful agricultural advance:

  • Intensive agriculture is necessary to meet demand for affordable food.
  • Properly run factory farms meet government standards for safe and humane food production.
So, there you have it. What your mother never told you about the big business of farming.

I will say that I'm sure not ALL farms are run this way. But to farm successfully, to turn a profit in today's economy, there has to be a way to ensure the relative 'health' of the livestock being raised. Rest assured, MY little chooks will be keeping their beaks!
Chickens + Beaks+Pasture+ Exercise+Good Care= Healthy Eggs 4 Eating!


Terry said...

What an awesome way to explain .
Thank you so very much.
My parents were given five rescued roosters and some chicks
that came from a large farm and had escaped the debeaking and were no longer wanted.
They had formed the habit of flying straight up in the air and falling over and playing dead.
My parents have learned a lot from their little orphan friends.
They suspect their behavior had something to do with the debeaking process .
Blesings of joy to you and yours.
Happy Trails

Marjorie (Molly) Smith said...

Very interesting. My Cousin has 5 chicken houses, but they get the biddies already debeaked.
They have to buy the feed from Sanderson Farms and of course it is stuffed with antibiotics and other meds.

Angela said...

Oh WoW!!! I couldn't read it all! Those poor chickens!


Barb said...

Very interesting articles you have been sharing.

thanks Monica.

Barbara Jean

Chatty Crone said...

Oh my gosh that is the saddest thing I think I have ever read. Makes you think twice about eating eggs.