Who should a farmer look to when it comes to animal welfare?

As a dairy farmer, I’m more focused on giving our cows optimal wellbeing rather than thinking about their slaughter but Tammi Jonas’ thought-provoking post brought home that everyone has a different view of ethical farming. Here are just a few:

    • vegans prefer not to “exploit” animals at all
    • others say it’s okay to farm so long as the animals are never killed
    • others that the animals are killed in the paddock
    • others that animals can be sent to abattoir, so long as they are stunned
    • and many Australians simply do not care to know and just want good quality food at an affordable price

None of these positions is without potentially horrible consequences worthy of a secretly-filmed expose. I’ve never understood the vegan one, which must leave the animals to the tender care of mother nature: drought, floods, fires, parasites and all. I’m yet to see an animal on a wildlife documentary have what I’d call a humane death.

If, on the other hand, the ideal is to keep all the animals until they die of old age in the care of vets administering palliative doses of morphine, I can’t see how the planet has the capacity to support all these retiring animals.

Killing animals in the paddock could theoretically be done if there was sufficient demand to spawn a whole new industry. The consequences would be huge but would certainly involve extra costs currently not acceptable to mainstream Australia, necessitate a lot of small mobile and therefore more difficult to monitor operators, and leave a very large environmental footprint – the refrigeration and marketing costs would be substantial.

The last two positions are where we’re currently at.

So, where do I stand? Well, I think we should “humanise” Mother Nature wherever possible. In nature, animals eat other animals and they pick off the weak first. This means the animals remaining make the greatest contribution to the planet and it also relieves some suffering. The way that’s done is pretty horrid though. I would not want to be eaten alive by a lion or die the slow, dreadful death brought about by lameness, starvation or parasites. I would rather be stunned and euthanased in a millisecond.

For these reasons, I am happy as a farmer that, so long as our animals are strong enough to make the journey without undue stress and so long as they are treated with care and respect along the way, I am making the right choice sending them to market. And this is why I was appalled by the abuse meted out in an abattoir and relieved that it has now been closed. It’s not just about farm ethics – as Tammi says, “Ethics requires all of us.”.