The Horrors of Factory Farming And Doing Something About It

David Trammel's picture

An ugly picture how most of the US gets its food, and someone whose fighting back.

Farmers and animal rights activists are coming together to fight big factory farms

I've been trying to cut back on my meat consumption this past year, primarily from a health aspect. Its been difficult, though this pandemic has helped. A lot easier to address food issues when you try and limit your trips to the grocery store. Several of the farmer's markets I've gone too, now carry locally grown meat. Its more expensive but might be worth the added cost to help out my local farmers.

Yes, buying local, pasture raised meat is more expensive, but how does that compare to the damage that big factory farms produce? To me it is well worth the extra cost to support a local farmer raising meat in an ethical, healthful manner. Costs can be controlled by buying less expensive cuts or only buying a small amount. I have been a regular customer of one local family that produces pasture raised beef, pork, chicken, llama and eggs for several years. Since I am a confirmed carnivore, I feel I am doing the right thing by purchasing my meat from these good folk.

Over the years I have sold lamb, pork, beef and meat birds and observed that most folks have no idea what is involved in the process of bring that meat to the consumer. Here's my experience:

Time between birth and saleable size (takes longer for slower-growing breeds of the sort I had)
Dexter beef - 2-3 years
Lamb - 6 months
Ossabaw pork - 12 months
Meat chickens (commercial breed) - 7 weeks (avg. 5.5 lbs.)

You can see that it can take a long time in many breeds so you will have, for instance, calves and piglets at different growth points.

Now the process: the animals are taken to a local (if you are lucky there is one) abattoir where the deed is done and the animal is cut & wrapped or bagged for chickens, then ready for sale. To keep this short, I will post the challenges for the farmer to make these sales and some comments on how the consumer can help.

I like to think of these meat sales as a supply chain.

1. Secure breeding stock or buy chicks.
2. Breed stock and wait. Challenges: getting the right breed of male (cost, transportation, availability) A.I. for the cows needs someone local who can do the job plus getting a hold of the semen plus timing, timing, timing. Or keeping your own male, such as a ram or bull that usually gets mean and dangerous after a few years or simply dies.
3. Book a place at the abattoir (expensive!) often 6 months ahead. Some folks need to travel 2 to 3 hours one way and make 2 round trips (may include taking a ferry).
4. Catch the animals (yes, pigs need special tricks to get them into a trailer) and load into your own trailer (cost of trailer and insurance) or hire a hauler.
5. Take animals for their last trip. Hopefully the abattoir (which does the kill) can also offer or arrange cut & wrap and hopefully not too far away. You must also have booked for that too!
6. Gather up all the cut & wrap instructions and get them to the cut & wrap facility. Getting some customers to do this in time can be challenging.
7. Most meat (not chickens of course) is sold by the side (half a carcase) or whole and price is based on the "hung weight" or "rail weight" which is different depending on the animal. Pork includes everything but the guts, cattle and lambs, no hide, feet or guts etc. This method requires the seller to get ahold of this weight before they can give the customer the cost so there has to be a farmer who is good at guessing weights and a customer who is willing to buy the meat "sight unseen".

I hope these comments have been helpful. They highlight some of the challenges. I often wonder why anyone does this farming at all.

For those of you wanting to buy local, here are some suggestions to help out the farmer:

Ask questions! Everyone does things a little different and it pays to know ahead of time what the process is.

If the product pleases you, please try to reorder again. Return (happy!) customers are like gold to the farmer. And give referrals. Your opinion carries a lot of weight.

Order ahead of time if you can. The farmer sleeps better if he/she knows they have at least one sale nailed down. And it gets you to the top of their availability list. I recall taking people off mine because the broke some of my "rules" with comments such as: we don't want any -------this year, call me next time you have something. Fat chance. I will even accept the one "my freezer is full" if they tell me what they filled it with (one friend had a lot of salmon one year).

Just so you don't think I am too unresponsive, I have: stored 2 boxes of pork for 4 months, pawed through all the bags of chicken and picked out the ones under XX lbs., told the cut & wrap guy to make sure Mary gets the smallest pig and Joe is picking up his whole pig uncut and unfrozen and also wants the head.......and then spent time trying to round up Joe so he gets the thing while it is still fresh.

So now I am out of this circus. It was challenging and interesting and I met some wonderful, loyal, hard working people. If you can, please buy local and if you want something different done, please think twice before you ask a local cutter for that exotic Italian pork cut (yes, that happened). Get the meat fresh and do it yourself!!

An excellent summation.

What you've written also shows how divorced most people are from the reality of where food comes from. If your only experience is with a supermarket and everything you could possibly want is piled high and waiting, why would you ever think that this is unnatural?

More people need to grow their own lettuces (easy) and then cut them and spend time washing each leaf to remove the passel of baby slugs (fastidious work). Or doing the first wash of parsnips in the yard with the hose to get the worst of the mud off before bringing them into the kitchen.

Vegetable growing is nothing like raising livestock but it does give me a sense that raising and butchering chickens is far more work than I want to attempt.

Did you find that your customers -- over the years -- became better educated and understanding of the facts of life?
Did customers who already gardened weren't as ignorant?

ClareBroommaker's picture

So you sold directly to customers only? Did you sell any in small amounts, or is that the kind of specialty request that would get people taken off the list?

I have never bought directly from the farmer, though I considered making an order with the guy I bought hay from a few years ago. I would have ordered beef tongue as it was the least expensive I could get, and he makes it available in amounts my refrigerator or freezer can accommodate. He sells at a farmer's market, but I'm not sure if he sells anything that was not pre-ordered. I think he has many animals, though, so a different set up and maybe had more holding freezers so that he probably was able to sell a single meal's worth of meat to some impromptu customers.

By the way, I am a city woman, so I looked at all the pictures I could find of Dexter cattle. Wow, there is a lot of variation among them, almost to the point that I'm surprised they are considered a breed, though if the genetics are pinned down enough, I guess the breeding outcomes are predictable within the framework defining what a Dexter is. Anyway, I just thought that was interesting.

David Trammel's picture

There are a couple of small meat farmers who are showing up at the Farmer's Markets I've gone to this year. I like the idea of ditching the grocery store and getting a freezer full of good sustainably grown meat. Will probably do that later in the year once I've finished moving.

When I first started gardening, like most newbies, I planted everything. Too much of everything too. Later I realized it was ok to let the experts grow what I couldn't and just pay them for what little I needed. Like berries. I like some but only rarely, so it makes more sense to pick up some at the Farmer's Market than plant a bunch myself.

Chickens are another. While the idea of going out to the coop and grabbing some freshly laid eggs for breakfast sounds wonderful, chickens are a major commitment that I don't have the time for right now.

My take now is its ok to be part of a community and let others take some of the load.

My friend and I grow a big garden every year, but you are right, you can't do it all yourself. Or at least, I can't. My poor berry patch is an example. I can't seem go grow raspberries to save my life, nor strawberries either. The grass invaded the bed and it looks like I am going to have to dig the whole thing up to get rid of it again. Bleh!