Saturday, March 6, 2010

Down on the farm

Brendan and Grace at Grace's great grandfather's farm.
A friend of ours was born and raised just outside Fredericton, just around the corner from the house we've been living in this week. Her grandfather and a few aunts and uncles have farms nearby so they came round and we all went to visit two of the farms.
The first was a big intensive chicken and dairy farm. There were a couple of hundred cows lined up for milking as well as a few calves and heavily pregnant cows. Outside we saw some beef cattle, tractors and various farm buildings. Tadhg just slept through it all but Brendan was fascinated.
Next up were the egg sorting and chicken sheds. Cheyanne's aunt gave us a wee tour. It was interesting to see the scale of mechanisation. I hadn't really thought about it before- how the eggs move from where they are laid all the way to the boxes you buy them in with hardly any human help. There's a guy in that curtained off dark room (below) who looks at each egg as a light shines through it to weed out the bad and not-so-good ones for the bin or discount boxes. And a few people do a couple of other things but it is mostly done by machine. That is what allows them to have 24 THOUSAND chickens in just two sheds, all laying one egg a day.
We went into a shed. I wasn't sure I wanted to see it but am glad I did. Put it this way... I instantly vowed never to buy another egg unless it is free range. I generally don't anyway, but occasionally if free range aren't available I'll just get whatever is there, but never again.
The hens were 4 or 5 to a cage, 4 layers high and in a shed with no natural light for their entire life, which amounted to just 12 months. After a year their eggs are weaker so they are no longer useful and the farm has to pay to have the hens taken away and disposed of. "So they're not eaten?" I asked. "No, the Chinese used to buy them for their feet but not any more."

She has taken a few for her small farm garden in the past and she says they can barely walk after twelve months crammed into those cages. She said she believed they were happy, and I'm glad of that, but you'll never convince me that intensive chicken farming is an okay thing for humans to be doing.

After that slightly harrowing experience, we went to visit Cheyanne's aunt's much smaller hobby farm. Chalk and cheese. This was much better. She has four goats, a horse, 8 cows, a rabbit and some hens. Here's Brendan peeking inside a tractor.Brendan announced at lunch today that "chickens give us eggs and cows give us milk". That's the most important thing- that we are aware of where our food comes from. That will lead on to being mindful of the choices we make about how we obtain our food.

No comments: