Ethical Animal Farming
What is ethical farming?
The word ethical relates to what one believes to be morally right or wrong. For some, killing animals for our own dietary needs is completely immoral and so they choose to follow a vegan diet. However, for those who have a more carnivorous nature, the boundaries are a little more blurred. For some of us, it can be difficult to eradicate meat entirely from our diets — it might be necessary for optimum health, a matter of culture, or simply that we enjoy the taste. What we can do however is ensure that when we are selecting meat, we are doing so with an ethical mindset.
I’ve been working in and around farming for my entire life, having grown up on a farm and now as the proud owner of Grassfruits - a small farm and online farm shop based in the north of the UK. It is my passion to share the importance of ethical farming in relation to animal welfare, human health and the effects on our planet.
So, what is ethical farming? Ethical farming is farming which enables the animals to express their natural behaviours, eat a diet suited to their anatomy and be given the respect of a stress-free final day. Whilst no-one likes to think of this part of the process, it is something that can be done as humanely as possible. For me, it is incredibly important that our animals travel as short a distance as possible to slaughter. We are incredibly lucky to have a small family run abattoir only two miles from our farm, which means that the animals spend very little or no time at all in distress as opposed to the slaughter-house images we are all too familiar with. This is not common and, with small abattoirs closing at an unprecedented rate, the local food economy is becoming more and more difficult for small farms and landowners.
Aside from the end of life process, when it comes to farming, there are countless other ethical issues to bear in mind; from pesticides such as glyphosate to farrowing crates and caged hens, mono-cropped fields, and the distance food needs to travel to our plates and its subsequent impact on our planet.
Let’s take agrochemicals for example. Should we be using Glyphosate on ethical farms? This is currently a hot topic as the agrochemical giant Monsanto - the owner of Roundup — a glyphosate-based weed killer — has recently been ordered to pay out $2bn in damages to an American couple. A jury found Roundup to be responsible for causing their cancer. This is the third case of its kind where Monsanto has been held liable for illness caused by glyphosate. So, the use of glyphosate on food that we eat… ethically right or wrong? Some would argue the farmer is more at risk of harm than the consumer. It’s damaging to our watercourses, our wildlife and our soils, however, would we have enough food without it? Questionable. Is it ethical not to use it? It depends on what side of the fence you stand on. At Grassfruits we definitely stand on the ‘lets ban the stuff’ side of the fence as we prefer to use more holistic methods of pest reduction.
Ethically farmed meat
Coming back to the original moral dilemma, do I think it’s ethical to kill a chicken and eat it? Yes. However, to rear them by the millions just so we can have an endless supply to satisfy our insatiable appetite for fried chicken on our way home on a Saturday night… probably not. When it comes to livestock we enter a slightly different territory, one that involves death — the intentional killing of an animal so that we can eat. But, as pointed out earlier, we can do this in an ethical way. While walking down the freezer aisle in Aldi this week, I noticed the frozen chicken section. Intrigued to know where these chickens had come from I had a rummage around; chicken breast fillets produced and packed in Poland, chicken breast strips produced and packed in Thailand... Do we really need to eat chicken that regularly that we’re bringing it in from halfway around the World to satisfy our cravings?
Personally, I feel ethically farmed meat has a place in our fridges. But, as people become more detached from where their animal protein comes from, what is regarded by the public to be ethically right in farming is becoming more blurred, or should I say hidden. Our consumerism is driving the mass production of meat. Chickens are being imported from Thailand because we demand that. I regularly witness members of the public browse our stand at a farmers market to hear them whisper to their friend or partner “£18 for a chicken! You could get four from Asda for that price!”. Does that person need four chickens from Asda though? Should we instead be paying more for meat and eating a little less? Then there would be no need for us to ship chicken from Thailand so that we can enjoy poor quality mass-produced chicken six or seven times a week, and instead, we can enjoy quality, tasty, locally produced meat that we know has come from an ethical UK farm.
There are farms out there — Grassfruits included — that try to tread as lightly on our planet as possible, but unfortunately, this currently comes at a price. However, can we afford not to pay this price? We’re hearing more and more about how our mass consumerism is affecting the planet, so lets all vow to do our bit to be more ethically-minded when choosing meat in the future — search for ‘ethically farmed meat near me’ to find a local farm to where you live, or head to our store page to view our locally sourced, ethically-raised pork and chicken. We also stock grass-fed beef from a local farm, who shares a similar vision to us, as part of our mixed meat boxes.
Pasture raised vs organic chicken
What you need to know about pasture raised vs organic. What’s the difference, why it’s important for you and your health, and how it helps our environment.
What does pasture raised mean?
Pasture raised means always on grass 24/7. Our pasture raised chickens live outside on grass 24 hours a day from the moment they leave the brooder. Pasture raised means clean, fresh air, sunshine, fresh grass, bugs, flies, and worms EVERY SINGLE DAY.
So, what is pasture raised chicken? Let’s start this right at the beginning of the process. Our chicks arrive on the farm at 1 day old. They are safely tucked into a brooder (a brooder is a heated environment that mimics the warmth of a mother hen) where they live for around 18 to 24 days, or until they have developed the ability to regulate their own body temperature. Once nicely feathered out, we then move the chickens out onto the pasture. They live in small groups of between 50 to 75 birds and are moved every single day to a fresh, untouched area of grass using our portable chicken shelters. Keeping the birds in small groups helps to reduce the risk of pathogen activity (disease). The grass acts as bedding for the birds so we don’t have to import bedding for them, lessening our carbon footprint - we aren't using fossil fuel to till, drill, harvest and deliver the crop we might use as bedding. Not to mention the bags and bags of fossil fuel derived fertiliser, herbicide, pesticide or fungicide that may be used to assist the crop along the way.
Is pasture raised the same as organic?
A question I’m often asked at farmers markets is, “is pasture raised the same as organic chicken?”
The organic label has done fantastic things for our food and farming system in the UK, and worldwide. However, it has become exactly that... a label. The UK organic market is now worth £2.2 billion, a large proportion of which goes through the supermarkets. Although supermarkets are incredibly convenient, they aren’t contributing a great deal to combating the ever-increasing topic of global warming. And when it comes to animal production, organic primarily describes diet, and everything else is either not mentioned at all or is a secondary consideration. The organic label encourages people to meet a standard to get a label, but there is no encouragement to go any further. No obligation to build topsoil, increase organic matter or help to reverse global warming through carbon sequestering farming methods. This is not, however, to say that all organic production is the same.
For our pasture raised chickens, we use certified organic feed and adhere to organic principles, as well as our own standards and principles. While we are not certified organic (a paid-for entitlement that larger companies can afford to pay for), we believe profoundly in the high quality of our farming and we’re proud to say we’re 100% pasture raised, and believe this to be a stronger statement than the ‘organic’ label.
Why is pasture raised better?
One of the main benefits of pasture raised chicken is the health of the animals. Our chickens are moved to a fresh environment every day, away from the previous day's manure - this helps us to eliminate ever having to use antibiotics. Secondly, the chickens are able to forage for some real animal protein. Insects, worms, flies, even the odd mouse. Contrary to popular belief, chickens are actually omnivores, not vegetarians - drop a dead mouse into a chicken coop and see what happens. Thirdly, they can eat as much grass as they like, not to mention breathe fresh air and feel the sun on their backs. All contributing to the living conditions of our chickens.
The result of this is higher quality meat. More and more research is showing that animals raised on a pasture-based system yield meat that is lower in total fats and calories. Produce meat that is higher in good fats such as Omega 3’s, more concentrated with antioxidants such as vitamin E, C, and beta-carotene, and with higher levels of disease-fighting substances like CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) thought to help prevent cancer. Not to mention the improved taste.
Is pasture raised better for the environment?
To answer this we need to take a step back and look at our farming system more holistically. There’s a lot more to this than just rearing a chicken for our Sunday dinner! Ultimately this comes down to the manure, which is an incredibly valuable asset to the farm, and the environment. While moving our chickens every day we are depositing their manure exactly where it is required on the farm - on the soil. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, perfect for growing grass and building topsoil. We don’t use large diesel powered machinery to empty sheds and move manure from point A to point B, we use the power of one man to move the chickens each day. The more manure that’s added to the soil, the more grass we can grow, and the more topsoil we can build, ultimately pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere by way of photosynthesis.
Many free-range organic chicken operations may use static polytunnels to house their chickens in overnight and open them up on a daily basis to allow the chickens to have access to the outdoors. The chickens tend not to venture much farther than 75 feet from their shelter for fear of predation from above (birds of prey, a natural fear). This, therefore, means that the chicken’s manure is concentrated in one area of the field, depleting this 75-foot area of any nutritious vegetation, and over nitrifying it with their manure.
Where to buy pasture raised chicken?
Whenever you can, my advice will always be to go and visit your local farmer. There’s no better certification than self-certification. Go visit the farm, ask questions, see the animals, and make the decision for yourself. This is our preferred way to operate — we have an open door policy on the farm — so anyone, including you, can come and visit us at any time. Why not give me a call now, and let’s pencil in a time - 01904 373024.
That said, I know this isn’t always an option for everyone. But, worry not! If you’re not able to visit the farm, we can bring that farm-fresh, pasture raised quality direct to your door. We deliver our pasture raised chicken Next Day to anywhere in the UK in a temperature controlled recyclable box, with reusable ice-packs that keep your order perfectly chilled for farm-to-door.
There are countless different production methods for the food we all eat. I encourage you all to meet the farmers who produce the food you eat and certify them for yourself.
Thanks for reading,
KNOW YOUR FARMER, KNOW YOUR FOOD.
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