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Ethical Concerns Regarding Raising Livestock Animals for Food

Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in Pennsylvania and now has her own farmstead in Minnesota.

Raising livestock

Raising livestock

A Moral and Ethical Dilemma

Raising animals for the purpose of human consumption appears to be something of a moral and ethical dilemma, and here's why:

  • Animals including cattle, sheep, chickens, hogs, geese, ducks, goats, and all others are living, thinking, feeling beings
  • Most people like most animals - some animals we even invite into our homes and keep as pets, a special designation not so very different from a family member
  • People, in general, eat meat - meat comes from animals
  • In order to obtain the meat that we eat, we must kill some of those living, thinking, feeling beings that we like

I think that about sums it up. So what is one to do with faced with such an issue; especially, what's a farmer to do?

A Contradiction?

I have a confession to make: I’m an animal-loving farmer.

I butcher my own chickens for food; I’ve also been known to go out of my way to isolate a sick chicken in an attempt to restore her good health, against my better judgment, and with full knowledge that I’m probably wasting my time.

I allow my dog to “get rid of” small, furry, garden-destroying animals such as rabbits and groundhogs; when my pet rabbit died, I cried off and on for a couple of days.

I sell lambs and sheep to other farmers and the livestock auction; I was devastated, in a composed fashion, the first time I had to remove a dead lamb from an ewe that had a difficult middle-of-the-night delivery – I proceeded to “beat myself up” about the mistake until my next successful delivery of a live lamb.

I eat eggs, even if I suspect that the hen who laid them was bred by one of my roosters the day before; watching and playing with baby chickens is one of my keenest joys.

I have my hogs butchered and I eat the meat, I sell piglets to other farmers and to auction, and I sell pork to others; I attempted to nurse a little newborn boar-pig from a baby bottle when his mother rejected him – he lived in my bathroom for a day and died about a day later.

Am I insane? Do I sound crazy or confused to you?

Despite what may appear to be a set of contradictory practices – eating meat, caring for animals – I can assure you that I am perfectly sane and of sound mind. So how does someone eat meat if they care so much about animals?

Furthermore, how can someone raise food animals if they like them so much? It’s one thing to buy packaged, reformed, mechanically separated meat products in the grocery store, and an entirely different matter to start off the day feeding breakfast to a chicken and end the day making that chicken dinner… your dinner, that is.

So what gives?

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Answers and Solutions

We like animals, but we like eating them, too, and you can't eat an animal unless it's killed. So maybe we're wrong to eat meat at all -- ever. Maybe we should give up the whole practice, reject it as a cultural norm, and just say "no" to the human diet as it's been throughout our history.

This would be Vegetarianism: Perhaps the most popular answer to the issue is to simply abstain from eating any meat or animal products.

Assuming that vegetarianism was adopted by every single person on the planet, here are some possible solutions for the obvious next problem... What to do with all the livestock animals?

  • Set all of the livestock animals free. Turn them into the woods, into the state and national parks, into the wild places, and let nature take its course with them.
  • Make livestock animals into pets and zoo animals, and preserve them for posterity's sake, and for the sake of the animals.
  • Stop breeding livestock animals altogether. Let them basically go extinct, because we don't need them anymore and humans have made them unnatural through selective breeding, anyway.

Honestly, none of those answers make much sense to me. I certainly don't mean to offend anyone who makes the choice to become a vegetarian, but I will say this: If you want to be a vegetarian simply because you think that all food animals are badly abused, neglected, and tortured before being brutally murdered, please read on.

The Livestock Farmer's Code of Ethics

This code is like an unwritten agreement between livestock farmers (those who raise animals for food) and the animals themselves.

While a food animal is in my possession, it is under my care. I will provide the animal with a healthy, safe, comfortable, peaceful life. In exchange, the animal will be butchered for the production of meat for human consumption, and the slaughtering will be done in a humane and respectful fashion.

Any form of meat production that differs from or breaks this code is not ethical or humane, and I would even go as far as to say that it is also not farming. Meat producers who do not respect this ethical code should not be supported, and the best way to withhold support is to withhold the purchase of their products.

Let me give you some examples of what it might mean when the livestock farmer's code of ethics is broken.

Example: Chickens living their entire lives in dark or dimly-lit buildings, without access to fresh air and sunshine. Chickens are birds, and birds were not meant to live in the dark indoors. This life is not comfortable or healthy for the chickens, and the practice is therefore unethical.

Example: Calves (young cattle) chained to small huts, milk-fed, with limited or no ability to move about, for the purpose of producing veal. Cattle, like all grass-eaters, need to be able to develop their muscles and graze. They also need to develop their digestive system, and they cannot do that if they are fed only milk. This life is uncomfortable and unhealthy, as well as unnatural, and the practice is therefore unethical.

Example: Geese are restrained and force-fed corn for the purpose of producing "foie gras," a dish made from the fat liver of a goose. Geese are naturally perfectly capable of regulating for themselves how much food they need; in other words, they will not willingly overeat. This life is not comfortable, healthy, safe, or peaceful, and the practice is therefore unethical. For this reason, thankfully, many people choose to avoid the "delicacy."

Unethical: A feedlot - a pretty nice one, too, believe it or not. Doesn't look much like a farm though, does it!

Unethical: A feedlot - a pretty nice one, too, believe it or not. Doesn't look much like a farm though, does it!

Unethical: An overcrowded chicken house, meant to raise a large number of chickens at one time for a BigAg chicken producer, one that I bet you're familiar with.

Unethical: An overcrowded chicken house, meant to raise a large number of chickens at one time for a BigAg chicken producer, one that I bet you're familiar with.

Purchasing humanely-raised meat from a small farmer is the best way to stand up against the big companies that produce meat using unethical and inhumane methods.

A Sound Solution

The truth is that not everyone who raises animals for food neglects or abuses those animals. And as we've seen, any farmer who doesn't follow the code of ethics shouldn't be supported. The only way to know whether the meat you are purchasing came from a situation in which the code of ethics was adherred to is to know the farmer.

I repeat, you've got to know the farmer that raised your meat in order to know what kind of life the animal had. There's no way around this.

It's just as important to support farmers who are doing it right as it is to refuse to support any meat production that is unethical. Vegetarianism is only half of a solution, because unfortunately it won't hurt those BigAg companies to lose the support of a small percentage of the population.

The best way to speak out against unethical meat production practices isn't to adopt vegetarianism; instead, the best way to injure BigAg is to support the small farmer who follows the code of ethics.

Simply refusing to purchase meat is kind of like not voting in the election at all; instead, cast your vote for the good guy, because that's the best way to hurt the bad guy.

Questions & Answers

Question: My neighbor is raising three young goats for their meat. Is this legal? Can I report this to the Humane Society?

Answer: It is legal to raise goats for their meat.


Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on October 11, 2015:

Congratulations for HOTD. I have been a farmers wife for 55 years, lived on a farm all my life, most of it was milking cows but the last 14 years have been on a beef farmer.

I could say a lot about this subject, but everyone has to earn a living and that's the way we do it, by farming, we love our animals and yes, sometimes it hurts to see your animals going to the sale yards, but that's our life and the years go by and they are replaced by more off-spring every year.

Yes, I eat meat and enjoy a nicely cooked steak from our own animals.

Happy days on the farm.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 11, 2015:

Congrats on HOTD!!

Your article pinpoints exactly why I became a vegetarian back in the early 1980's! I realized that I did not have it in me to kill any animal myself, and the philosophical / ethical dilemma that raised for me was that I decided it was a cop-out to have the process "sanitized" for me, as it were, by purchasing packaged meat from the store.

I have always loved animals, and have been a vegetarian at heart since age 8, when I made the connection between the adorable little lambs out in the fields we'd see on trips, and the 'leg of lamb' mother served for dinner. I refused to eat lamb again after that.

It progressed to other things as I got older, and by the time I had kids of my own, I was doing active research into a healthier and (for me) more ethical lifestyle in which I did not have to feel like a hypocrite.

I learned that humans are not actually designed to process meat. (I have a hub, myself, about that aspect).

But, as a child, I did not even know there was such a thing as a vegetarian; it was not a word I'd ever heard. So I uncomfortably continued to eat what was served, not liking any of it.

Well-done article.

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on October 11, 2015:

Congratulations on HOTD! You really made me stop and think. "Not eating meat is like not voting". I never really thought of it that way. I think you have gotten a lot of people to stop and think with this one. Great job.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 11, 2015:

Rachel, congrats on HOTD! This was another fascinating and interesting hub on livestock concerns for animal food.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on October 11, 2015:

Very important issue that is being faced by most who have concern for such feelings. I, particularly, am a vegetarian and support vegetarian food. But your reasoning seems logical to much extent. Thanks for your nice feelings.

Bob Bamberg on October 11, 2015:

Great hub, Rachel. I owned a feed and grain store in an urban/suburban area of MA so I was witness to two mindsets...the pet mindset, which holds that animals should basically live under the same conditions and have the same rights as people because they provide us with companionship...and the livestock mindset, which holds that some animals are utilitarian in that they provide us with labor or food. And the livestock mindset recognizes that we owe animals humane treatment, but that an animal's needs are much more primitive than ours.

If pet owners read the government's husbandry standards for farm animals, they would cringe. I think the main difference is that the pet mentality is grounded in emotion, where the livestock mentality is grounded in science.

If I'm not mistaken, we used to converse a lot on Bubblews, where I was Petguy. I haven't been on that site for over a year. I don't even know if it's still running.

Mel Stewart from Western Australia on October 11, 2015:

Excellent and informative article by someone with more than a rock in their heart, air between their ears, and eyes that cannot see! Rachel Koski, you have made my soul go "awwwww", my spirit go "Man! I wish the house would sell so we could buy that farm with the stables, koi pond, paddocks, orchards and Marron damns" and my mind go "bing bing bing" with some ideas for my own articles I had been planning which will involve elements of farming vs farming; hunting vs hunting; violence vs violence; God [or the mind of the universe] vs gods; good vs evil; law vs justice vs crime vs reality; enlightenment vs awakeness; religion vs spirituality; aliens vs aliens, science vs science; the conspiracy theory conspiracy; the need for a major correctional shift in global paradigms! Thank you, and let me show you my dead pan surprise that you won "hub of the day" oh it won't let me, here's a wink instead ;)

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 04, 2015:

Very good analysis of a relavent issue.

Genevieve Nicole from Providence, RI on August 29, 2014:

You've inspired me to try buying chicken exclusively from the farmers market every weekend...also I love the voting analogy! Very informative and well thought out.

RTalloni on April 02, 2014:

Salute! This has me looking forward to reading more of your work.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on February 24, 2013:

Hi Bill! Thanks for your comment, and sorry for my lond delay in getting back to you!

Sgbrown- thank you for commenting! I have to say I'm envious of you for all the venison you get to enjoy. A better alternative to beef in so many ways, for so many reasons. Glad you enjoyed the hub:)

B - I'm honored that you included my hub in your series on writing. When I was a teenager, before anyone let me in on the secret that farming is an option as a career, I thought I wanted to be a writer. It means a lot to me to be recognized as such here on Hubpages.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on January 27, 2013:

Farmer Rachel, at the end of my recent hub 7 Creative Writing Rules _ Rule 7 I have a Links capsule of writing examples by hubbers who I think are good writers, and I included this hub. It takes a farmer who's a writer or a writer who's a farmer to turn town folks like me into armchair farmers, following with interest and admiration your trials, joys, successes, and dillemmas of farming.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on October 24, 2012:

You have done a wonderful job on this hub. You covered both views excellently! I hate the way that many animals are treated in feed lots and cages. It is terribly cruel and sickens me. I rarely buy beef, we eat mainly deer venison. Living out in the country, hubby takes 2 or 3 deer a year and we never take more than we will eat. We do raise chickens, but only for the eggs. I do buy chicken at the store, I just can't eat something that I have raised. You are a stronger person than I. I can't go hunting with my husband, I can't watch him shoot the deer. We also eat a lot of fish and some wild turkey. I have to say again that you did a wonderful job on this hub! Voted up and awesome!!!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 24, 2012:

Rachel, I never saw this hub; if I had I would have certainly weighed in on this issue. As it is, being late, I see this has been covered quite nicely by these great comments.

This is a marvelous hub my friend! You handled it perfectly and covered both sides of the argument. As for me, I have few moral dilemmas regarding eating meat. Yes, I love animals, and I would be right there with you crying over the loss of an animal to predators or natural causes. Having said that, I have no problem raising them for meat.

I have done the butchering and prepared the carcasses; some way, some how, I separate the two sides of the argument and have no problem doing so.

Great article!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 22, 2012:

Nadene - Sounds like the woman you buy your meat from is a great source for purchasing healthy food :) I wish more people had access to real food like that! Nothing wrong with you or your parents keeping the birds past "production age" - that sort of terminology really only applies to commercial agriculture. If they're laying, no rush. When they start looking elderly, they'll still make good stew if that's what you decided is best. I worked with some geriatric sheep for a little while, and also some very old and extremely obese hogs. Both were pretty sad experiences, so I wouldn't recommend keeping those types of animals into their old age. Birds, however, probably do better when they're old, and even if they don't, they tend to get sick and die in such short order that you won't know much about it and they don't seem to suffer much, either.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 22, 2012:

whowas - Wow, what do I say to a comment like that? I found your hubs a few weeks ago and was really impressed. Thank you - your sentiments are vindicating, and some others here have shared similar thoughts on this hub. I guess this is why I bother to write on Hubpages at all. Thanks again, and take care :)

whowas on October 22, 2012:

Farmer Rachel,

I'd love to add something to this but I can't as I am simply in total agreement with every single word - and that's pretty rare! Very refreshing for me to read the words of someone absolutely on the same wavelength.

You write with calm logic and exquisite clarity, while the foundation of your ideas in practical experience shines through and lends real authority to what you say.

I'm so impressed that I just followed you and left fanmail. I don't often do that. :)

Nadene Seiters from Elverson, PA on October 18, 2012:

I'm a die-hard animal lover and I eat meat. So it is a weird contradiction, but I buy my meat from a small farmer about five miles from my home. She raises her animals on only organic foods, for the cows that means grazing, no feed, and her chickens roam the entire farm. Sometimes I have to slam on my breaks while pulling around the corner of her barn because there are chickens everywhere! She's a very nice woman who adores her animals, but ends up butchering them in the end. Me, I know that I would probably keep my chickens way past production stage and let them die old, but that's just how I am. I don't look down upon people who raise their own food with care and respect.

I have another short story for you, my parents decided they were going to raise chickens and then butcher them, all by themselves! They now have three hens and a rooster, and they only eat the eggs. I don't see the chickens being butchered in the near future, since my mother named all of them when they were babies.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 17, 2012:

midget - Thanks for your comment :) It's only dicey when it comes to what to eat, but pretty straightforward regarding how to treat animals

bd - Thanks for commenting :) I'm with you there! The squirrels are kind of sad to see on the roadside, and the bunnies. The racoons, foxes and opossums don't bother me very much, though ;)

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on October 17, 2012:

Rachel. This is a wonderful hub. I struggle with this dilemma all the time. I eat meat, yet I love animals and cringe when I see a dead squirrel in the road. When I think about this too much, I drive myself crazy. I really hope that all the farmers out there are as dedicated to doing the right thing as you. Great job. VU, sharing ,etc...

Michelle Liew from Singapore on October 17, 2012:

I think the issue can be a dicey one. No, you're not confused at all and I can understand why it must be tough to make ethical decisions regarding livestock. Love the suggestions! Sharing!

WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on October 13, 2012:

I believe you are right....I may end up being one to follow you and your hubs anyway. ;)

Enjoy the talks too, I may take up the offer to continue the discussion via email. :)


Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 13, 2012:

Angela - Thanks so much for your comment :) It's great to hear from those who have had similar experiences, and who were "in the biz" so to speak. I sometimes even feel bad butchering cockerels and roosters if their feathers are particularly pretty, or they seemed to have a "personality" - how silly is that? Take care!

Angela Blair from Central Texas on October 13, 2012:

Excellent, excellent and then excellent again. This is a Hub that should be read by all and every one of us make our own decision. There are those that don't care at all about humane animal treatment whether the animals are raised for food or kept as pets. I had a huge dilemma during my ranching days as like you I nursed many a baby calf back to health only to see him eventually wind up in the freezer (I couldn't eat meat for a year one time)! Superb article and writing. Best/Sis

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 13, 2012:

WRB - Sorry, your direct address gave me the impression that you felt it necessary to make sure that I understand that feeding a cow something other than grass isn't evil. Yes, animals that don't perform need to be culled. Yes, there are lots of factors that influence an animal's productivity and general health. Yes, it's up to the farmer to know these things - the consumer, however, needn't be bothered with any of it except to know that an ethical person produced their food in a respectful manner - unless, of course, said consumer has an "armchair" interest in the subject, then by all means they should educate themselves about livestock production and animal husbandry.

I'm enjoying our conversation, however I think at this point we've strayed far off the original topic of the hub, which was meant to be a general overview of ethical vs. unethical meat production practices. I'd be happy to continue speaking with you, and you can email me through the thingy in the "fan mail" section of my profile if you'd like. :) Take care!

WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on October 13, 2012:

PS: That issue about dairy cows lacking genetics to thrive on grass isn't just limited to dairy cows, it's also a common thing with beef cows too, especially when a producer wants to produce a calf that will do well in the feedlot.

WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on October 13, 2012:

I really didn't mean for it to be directed at you and your practices; I'm sure that you are responsible enough to take care of your animals in the best way you see fit. :) It's just that there are people out there that lack such knowledge that could put their animals at more harm than those people intend, and that's why it's worth bringing up such issues.

I have only a couple scant minutes remaining to reply to this, so I'll have to leave the rest of the reply when I get back from work this evening, but I have to say that genetics of the animal itself, soil quality and plant type/cultivar/species and nutrient quality of such plants do play a role in the nutritional level of an animal. I hate dolling out money to supplement a cow that's not doing well on pasture alone (still being provided with loose mineral + water); if she's not pulling her weight and producing a good calf on just grass, she's gone.

I'll talk more later. :)


Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

WRB - Hi again! Don't get me wrong about US feedlots - they have their share of the beef types, too, along with the dairy culls. Of course, where else could we possibly raise enough beef for every American to feel that their right to 3 meaty meals per day has been satisfied?

"Supplementation shouldn't really be considered an evil practice, Rachel. "

I think you seriously misunderstand my position on supplemental feeding with grain. I am absolutely not apposed to it - never said I was - I practice it myself. The point that I made in the hub (and the point that I tried to make in my comment, but perhaps didn't) is that grain should not make up the entirety, or even the majority of an animal's diet if that animal is by nature a grass-eater. Like cattle :) So I hope you won't think that I have no knowledge of body condition score, or that I inadvertently practice unethical farming myself by starving my animals through the winter because the grass has stopped growing. They're all certainly entitled to hay, grain, and believe it or not I even allow mineral blocks and salt blocks, too ;)

I think you underestimate the value of good pasture, though you're right in saying that some grasses and legumes will fail one animal, while they allow another to thrive. Overcrowding a pasture is certainly not going to help in growing any animal on it. And I wasn't suggesting that an animal be allowed to lose weight for the sake of withholding grain; only that graining when unnecessary is, well, unnecessary! Perhaps we have very different growing seasons? Anyway, I was once told that a good livestock farmer is really a grass farmer. BCS is to be monitored and the animal moved and the feed supplemented when needed.

I stand opposed only to overcrowded feedlots and factory farms, including many of the dairy variety, that make a grass-based diet impossible for the cattle unfortunate enough to be there; I don't oppose graining animals.

Your point about dairy cows that literally lack the genetics to be able to thrive on grass is an interesting one. Perhaps I should add to my hub that any selective breeding process which would render a grass-eating animal unable to survive on grass alone as unethical in the extreme. And to think, only a couple hundred years ago our animals, as well as our food crops, looked very different than they do today. What an interesting world we're creating for ourselves, and especially for our posterity, where our cattle will starve to death without corn, soy, oats, wheat, and/or barley to sustain them!

WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on October 12, 2012:

With the dairy beef calf lengthy paragraph, I think you can take that as me admitting that you may be right that not all bull calves are raised for veal. :)


WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on October 12, 2012:

Up here many of the cattle that are raised on the feedlot are your typical beef steers: Angus, Hereford, Simmental, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Limousin, etc., etc. I know that many Holsteins (don't forget Jerseys and Brown Swiss either) are also raised for beef, heck I totally understand that especially with where cull dairy cows have to go when they are no longer productive in the dairy herd. Same thing with cull beef cows, bulls, and heifers. But the thing I think I didn't mention with the dairy bull calves was that since they have no value in the dairy herd they are sold for veal, or at least that's what most people think. But basically they are sold off the dairy herd, as well as freemartins and the occasional heifer, and at a very young age (definitely not at the age when beef feeders are sold, which is at around 6 months of age [really, it's ranging from 3 mo. to 10 mo.], but more around 2 days to a few weeks of age, depending on the size of the operation and how many bull calves are born during a two or three-week period). Certainly you won't get a whole pod-full of bull calves off the dairy farm: like, from a 250 dairy cow herd, you won't get ~100 or 150 bull calves at one time like you would with a beef herd, because all dairy operations are year-round breeding operations, with the possibilities of getting maybe four or five bull calves--without using sexed semen, mind--from the few cows (say, a dozen at a time) that are calving that week or whatever. The one dairy farm that I had gone to for a job interview (which fell through) had different pods (or groups) of bull calves that were on the bottle, then being weaned, then near ready to be sold. The ones that were ready to be sold (they were Holstein, Fleckvieh, Holstein-Fleckvieh cross), looked to be only a few months old. The beef steers that we get to background are around 6 months old.

Now with the grass part of raising dairy steers. Yes you can raise them on grass only, but the concerns I have is that is the grass good enough to even be able to fatten a dairy steer (and I'm not talking dual-purpose like Red Poll or Dexter either ;) )? Your grass must be of EXCELLENT quality (and the soil at its top-notch nutritional levels too) in order to be even remotely appropriate to finish a dairy animal on. If it's not going to be excellent quality, that's when supplementation with grain is necessary. You can get grass that will even make a cull dairy cow lose weight as well as condition on; trust me, I've seen it first hand and it ain't pretty. Same with dairy calves; if you don't have the quality, you're going to end up with some very thin and even dead animals. Ironically, that same grass that will kill most dairy cows will provide great nutrition for fattening some good beef steers on.

That's why I stress the fact that you can't just throw some cows on a pasture full of grass and expect them to do well on it without any other sort of supplementation, if necessary. There are cows out there that will do worse on grass than if they are on grain (or, rather grass supplemented with grain) and that's because they don't have either the gut capacity, microflora species, and/or even hereditary "feed convertibility" to get fat on grass that's even of moderate quality. Majority of dairy cows in CAFO operations or any other conventional operation that is not a massive so-called "factory farm" lack such genetics to be able to literally do well on grass. Indeed there are dairy cows out there that are selected to be successfully raised on grass alone, but that's because they have been selected to do well on grass: cows that are not good producers on grass alone are culled. This works the same way in beef operations: if you get a cow that looses condition and produces less milk (and raises an average to poor calf) on grass alone than the other cows that are producing soggier calves and are able to maintain weight on grass alone while being able to lactate at the same time, that cow will be culled.

Thus while your idea for those cull dairy cows is a good one, in most cases it is not practical, especially when you come across culls that are terribly thin and have been raised on TMR rations of silage, hay and grain most of their lives. Unless you can keep up with costs of fertilizing your pastures or supplementing them all the time with loose mineral and grain and be able to rotational graze your pastures (leaving the fertilizing up to the cows, not the machines and your wallet), this idea will really not be feasible.

Supplementation shouldn't really be considered an evil practice, Rachel. Feeding animals on grain alone can. Supplementation is and should be considered necessary if you have animals that are losing condition on grass alone or look to start lose body condition. It's not an unhealthy practice considering that you're not going to be preventing them from grazing or living as natural a life as you can give them. It's especially important up here in Canada if there's a cow (let's switch gears and go from dairy to beef) that has a BCS of 2 (on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the most emaciated) going into winter (which is what is happening right now as I write this). Despite the fact that we're still able to graze cows on fall pasture up here, a cow that thin needs to be supplemented so that she gains weight when the snow decides to stay and temps drop below -20 C. She may need supplementation into winter as well, since I can't expect a cow that thin to get to a BCS of 3 or even 3.5 from now (middle of October) to the end of November. If I did , that means, for a cow to go from one score to the other, she would have to gain 100 lbs (at least) of body weight in one entire month. A mature cow can't expect to have an average daily gain of ~3.3 lbs or more; maybe a growing show steer fed on grain alone (and the average there is an ADG of 2 lbs, even for a Charolais), but not a mature beef cow on grass, and not even if she were put on grain alone. Grass plus grain supplementation means expecting that cow to have an ADG of around 1 to 1.5 lbs, unless some sort of compensatory gain can be achieved or taken advantage of to get her to gain that 100 lbs or so within a month. But realistically, it can't be done within that short of time period. (And I haven't even covered the potential for changes in weather to affect weight gain either...)

That's me rambling away lol. I tend to write lengthy responses, especially if there's lots that needs to be said. :)


Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Radcliff - I really look forward to reading your comment when I see that you've posted one of my hubs :) Thanks for your support. I think that what Joel Salatin said was very wise; I hadn't connected accountability with small-scale farming, but of course it's there in front of my face! And I agree with you, I think we are gradually back-tracking to better eating and better, healthier farming practices. I hope the wheel can get turning fast enough, while we still have good seed and good stock left in the world! Take care :)

Liz Davis from Hudson, FL on October 12, 2012:

Great job, Rachel.

I saw a video recently with Joel Salatin where he said the supermarket removed us from dealing with farmers, which in turn dissolved accountability. I would go on to say that it has caused a lot of confusion as far as our relationship with animals is concerned. On the bright side, it seems we are slowly steering this ship in the right direction because of "slow food" movement people like you. You give the rest of us a glimpse into the reality of raising animals for food, illustrating the contrast between a true farm and a factory farm. Keep it up, Farmer Rachel!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

WRB - Thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful comment! I think it's really important for a hub like this one to have the benefit of as much discussion as possible.

You may be right about the veal calves being fed a grain or calf starter pelletized-type feed along with the milk. The few operations that I've seen firsthand that featured veal calves had them on milk only. I'm under the impression that the all-milk diet is what distinguishes the meat - it's paler than "regular" beef and tender and delicate. But you may be right about the addition of grain to the diet. I guess my point is that the animal's living conditions and quality of life leave much to be desired, and is therefore an unethical practice. I focus on corn because it's particularly popular, featured in almost all livestock feed, and you can be pretty certain that in the US it's GMO corn. Not cool by my standards :)

To comment on your concern about what to do with the bull calves... first, not all dairy bull calves are raised for veal. Most are Holsteins and Holstein crosses, and are sold and often end up in the feedlots (which yes, I consider feedlots to be an unethical manner of raising cattle). A good deal of the beef in the US comes from Holstein steers raised in feed lots.

However, Holsteins and other dairy breeds, including the Guernsey, will grow rather large and can be finished on grass alone. Does the mere fact that a "dairy" steer not getting to the same weight as a "beef" steer disqualify it from being butchered? Before 1800 there wasn't much distinction at all between "breeds" and "types" of livestock. IN the case of cattle especially, all the cattle were basically what we would today consider "dual purpose breeds" - good for milk and meat and labor, too. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the meat of a "dairy" breed steer - the animal just doesn't weigh as much at slaughter time as a well-fed "beef" steer. I would recommend pasturing all dairy culls and selling them before the grass is gone for the year - the less you invest in feeding the animal grain, the better your profits. Sell them direct to customers who don't want 800 pounds of beef in their freezer at once; sell them in whatever way is best for you. Unfortunately, livestock auctions are somewhat of a necessary evil, but I guess that's another topic for another day!

My point is that a grassfed steer of a "dairy" breed is no less valuable PER POUND than a grassfed steer of a "beef" breed, and so a Holstein bull calf needs neither to be euthanized or made a veal calf, in my humble opinion.

I had the pleasure of eating some ground beef from a Holstein steer that a friend kept from spring 'til December - it was delicious, and he had more than enough to fill his freezer.

I think that you and I can both agree that to euthanize is by no means inhumane or unethical, especially not by the definition of the farmer's code of ethics that I have given in this hub. It's unfortunate that there might be people who are confused about that, even if it is a "baby animal" that's in question. Euthanasia comes from the Greek for "good death" - and it is. But euthanasia and slaughter are not the same thing, and shouldn't be confused.

I don't raise dairy cows so I'm not sure about the price of sexed semen. I've had relations with a handful of dairy farmers who use it, so it must as least be cost effective, especially considering the other financial challenges that dairy farmers face in this country. There would be no market for sexed semen if it was too expensive. I'd say 95% is pretty good.

It's nice to talk with someone else who knows the difference between the animal on the hoof and the animal on the plate! I've been there, not with a sick steer and a .22 but with an old, sick ewe that I was very fond of. It's a hard thing, but everything dies eventually.

I'll check out your wikiQ&A - thanks for the link.

Take care :)

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Michael - Thank you for your comment, and for all the votes :) It's nice to hear from someone with experience raising food animals.

Dirt Farmer - Hi Jill :) Yes, morally awkward is a good way to put it, especially when you consider the living conditions of food animals in large scale production.

Jill Spencer from United States on October 12, 2012:

Being a meat-eating animal lover is emotionally and morally awkward, isn't it? I became a vegetarian while living on a farm for that very reason. I think I was more honest then. Later ... out of sight, out of mind, I drifted back into eating meat. It was easier, especially socially, at the time. Now, as the food buyer and cook for the family, I'd like to go back to a vegan lifestyle, but ... too much opposition! Thanks for a thought-provoking hub, Rachel. Shared and voted up.

WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on October 12, 2012:

Farmer Rachel - Great hub, thanks for posting.

I just want to note a couple things about your hub that I noticed may have been a little incorrect. From my understanding, veal calves are not fed just milk-replacer; though they are kept in stalls or calf huts with limited space to move around in, from what I've been reading they are also fed grain along with the milk. Heifer dairy calves that are replacements for the dairy herd are not just fed milk-replacer; they are fed grain and hay, hay being fed ad libitum. Bull calves (which are obviously culls and the ones being raised for veal, since they add no value to the dairy operation) would be fattened up on grain (and not just corn either; can be barley too) as well.

And then the question arises, as far as ethics are concerned and I think what Carol was referring to, was the fact of if veal was banned from anybody ever eating it, what would happen to the bull calves that are born on dairy operations? Castrate them all and raise them as beef steers, or euthanize them as soon as they hit the ground? The former would be "unethical" because in order to raise a dairy steer to the same age (not really weight) as a beef steer that gets slaughtered, that steer would have to be fed vast amounts of grain in order to even have some level of fatness that would consider it possible to be slaughtered as a beef animal--this, of course, will never happen because dairy animals have been selected to produce milk, not meat. A dairy animal will never become as beefy or fattened as an Angus or Charolais steer is capable of getting, no matter if those steers are finished in the feedlot or on grass. Also, even if that dairy steer was finished on grass, it couldn't really be done, logically, without supplementing with grain (and I'm not referring to specifically corn as "grain" here either).

The second delimma is also considered unethical because many people are strongly against the "murder" of a baby animal via humane euthanasia. Can't slaughter a newborn calf either because there's literally no muscle mass or much, anyway, to be considered worth eating.

Sexed semen may work as far as AIing is concerned, but my hunch is that that is more expensive than "normal" semen used for AIing cows. Also, there's likely a 95% chance that the calf will be a heifer, not 100% chance.

Other than that, I have to agree with everything else that you have written in this hub. I too am an animal lover and like to eat meat, and I know what it's like when you're trying your damnedest to save a sick animal's life and yet I can so easily turn around and have roast beef for supper. I've hated it when there's an animal that is sick and dying and no amount of treatment will bring it back; I've seen people say that there's no such thing as humane slaughter or humane killing of an animal. I tell you, I don't think they've ever had to go through having a steer of theirs dying of late-stage viral pneumonia and the only option was to put it out of its misery with a .22 rifle. I have to challenge them that if they think euthanasia is cruel and inhumane, would they let their precious Fido die a slow and painful death of cancer? If they found a stray that was so sick and injured that no amount of health care could ever cure it, would they just leave it alive (and die a slow, painful death) for their own benefit, or do the right thing and put the poor animal down, giving it a quick and painless death?

I wrote an answer to a question that I found to be highly controversial, and I believe the answer I wrote may be of interest to you. It's here: It covers the concerns about ethical treatment of animals and their concept of Death, as well as how much different it is from ours. It also is a little on the topic that you wrote about.

And no, vegetarianism/veganism certainly isn't the answer to everything. :)

Once again, great hub, voted up.


Michael Tully on October 12, 2012:

For years, my wife and I raised our own poultry, goats, and freezer beef on a very small scale (only 3 acres) and considered ourselves bound by conscience to be very careful in our stewardship of the birds and animals in our care. The food we produced far exceeded the grocery-store products in taste and nutritional value, and I'm proud to say that we produced it in the ethical manner you describe. Thanks for another thoughtful, clearly written and well-illustrated article which spoke straight to my heart. Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, interesting.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

ignugent - Thanks for the comment and votes and your kind words :)

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Hi Carol - What "cow issue"? Sorry I feel stupid asking, haha, I must have missed something. :) Thanks for the comment!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Healthy meals - It's nice to hear from someone who can validate my claims with personal experience! I think that a good farmer probably loves animals more than the average person. How can you really love what you don't totally understand?

I'm very glad to hear that the cows where you live are ranging about in the sunshine and eating grass instead of just corn :)

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Homesteadpatch - Thank you :) Glad you enjoyed the hub, and thanks for the votes.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

DrMark, thanks for your comment and for sharing the hub :) I'd love the tackle the issue of labels on meat that are not only confusing, but often outright false. I think we have many of the same views and opinions regarding farm animals and animals in general. Take care :)

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Hi Isibi, thanks for your comment. I appreciate your intelligent question, and I've got a response for you. First, I would have to argue against cheap meat really being meat in the first place - if beef comes from a cow that didn't live the way a cow should (i.e., eating grass, not cornmeal) then is it really a cow, and can it really produce beef? Is pork really pork if it's been cut with corn and soy fillers? So I guess I have to assert my belief that when you buy cheap, inexpensive meat to feed yourself or your family with, you're really only buying the Idea of Meat. The idea of meat will certainly be cheaper than real meat, but is it worth spending any money on at all? That's for every individual to decide.

I also believe that if more people supported small ethical farming operations, the products wouldn't be so expensive in the first place. But consider that if you buy a whole or half of a hog from a small farm operation that the one I work in, you'll be paying about $3.00/pound. That includes the cost of the hog itself, and the butcher. When you cut out the grocery store, the thousands of miles of hauling the meat, and the various other workers that would have to handle it otherwise, what you end up with is a relatively inexpensive quality product. That's why I recommend buying direct from a farmer whenever possible.

And I have to agree with DrMark's statement that we shouldn't expect meat on our plate 3 times a day. Chicken and fish should be most common, followed by pork and lastly beef. If you consider the number of chickens you can raise on one acre of grass versus the number of hogs or the number of cattle, it becomes obvious which types of meat should cost more and less, and which should be easier to obtain.

I hope that addressed your question. In the end, animal abuse of any kind for any reason really shouldn't be tolerated by civilized society, no matter what we get out of it.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 12, 2012:

Gordon, that's praise indeed! I'm really truly flattered by your comment -- thank you. I look forward to hearing from you again, take care :)

ignugent17 on October 12, 2012:

Your hub is very honest and true. All humans do that you are sane I think. We all love to look at the chicks and then we eat fried chicken. Great explanation.

Thanks for sharing.

Voted up and more. :-)

carol stanley from Arizona on October 12, 2012:

I had a feeling that you would be writing after the "cow issue" ...You are obviously a caring person with strong conscience. Taking care of these critters ...they deserve the best you can give. Thanks for sharing this and I will also share and vote UP.

healthy meals from Europe on October 12, 2012:

Amazing hub, you managed to put in words exactly what I have been seeing in the past few years living in the countryside. At first I though farmers were "weird" bottle feeling a calf or crying because one of them died during delivery. Waking up several times during the night to attend a sick cow (that was going to be sold for food a few months later) seemed crazy to me. Slowly I started to understand that one CAN be an animal lover and at the same time a meat eater. Now I understand what you call the farmers code: "While a food animal is in my possession, it is under my care. I will provide the animal with a healthy, safe, comfortable, peaceful life. In exchange, the animal will be butchered for the production of meat for human consumption, and the slaughtering will be done in a humane and respectful fashion."

I must add that I am proud to see that the cows in our farm are raised freely feeding on the fields, having a peaceful and what I might even dare to say, a happy life.

homesteadpatch from Michigan on October 11, 2012:

Awesome discussion of a topic more people need to be aware of. Voted way up.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 11, 2012:

Someone here on Hubpages commented that I mutilated my chickens when I recommended removing the tip of the beak, a process similar to clipping your nails. The true mutilation occurs when chickens are debeaked and kept in cages to produce eggs, and every person out there who buys an Egg McMuffin or stops at Dennys for breakfast is perpetuating this practice. "Free range" labelled birds are no better, since the animals can be kept in the same conditions with a small door so that they can access a tiny pen outside their house. Free range means nothing more than that. The only way to stop these sort of practices are the ones you recommend, which is buying directly from a farmer who raises the meat in an ethical manner. That is not always possible , however, and the only solution for people without access to farm raised meat is to stop eating meat. I only eat beef every few months now, as it is almost impossible to buy it from the source.

As far as the comment from Isibi, yes, these factories do produce meat cheaper. The question is whether it is worth it. Protein can be produced with a vegetarian diet; eating meat should be a luxury and not something people expect on their plate every single day of their life. I know plenty of people who can live without it. A financial crisis is no excuse to abuse.

Thanks for this article. It is a well presented argument and one more people should be aware of.Voted up and shared on twitter.

Isibi on October 11, 2012:

An ideal solution to a moral dilemma. That being said what this doesn't address is the financial side to this issue. I am not going to say money should be a top priority by any means, but in a time of financial crisis for many people, farmers included, finances need to be entered into the equation. The sad reality is that these cramped quarters provide cheap meat for families that might not otherwise afford it.

It pains me as much as anyone else to put money ahead of animal health, but how would you tackle this side of the issue?

Gordon Hamilton from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on October 11, 2012:

Rachel - I have to tell you something: I don't take my lucky fishing hat off and salute many people but you have just earned that accolade! What a magnificent Hub, detailing the facts, as opposed to the "ifs, buts, and maybes" but addressing concerns nonetheless. I am sorry my comment cannot be more in depth but the only reason for that is because I am so astounded to find so much sense spoken in one small Hub. This is probably the best Hub I have ever read in five years on Hub Pages. Thank you!! (I will probably return to comment again when I decide how I can promote your Hub and help educate at the same time! :) )

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