Talk to the Animals
Zoologist and animal behaviour expert, Sally Hibbard, is interested in the relationship between people and their pets. She’s a fan of frogs, scared of spiders and can be seen spotting stick insects.

Talk to the Animals: Are you guilty of animal cruelty?

A piggery where animals are kept in sow crates. 
Photo / NZ Open Rescue
A piggery where animals are kept in sow crates. Photo / NZ Open Rescue

Most of us would never dream of being cruel to an animal. The thought of inflicting pain and suffering on an innocent and vulnerable animal is not something one aspires to, and certainly not an example to set for your children.

However, if you can answer yes to one of the following questions, you are in fact perpetuating the type of cruelty that would result in a prosecution should we be discussing cats and dogs.

Do you buy non free range eggs?
Do you buy pig pork or bacon that is not labeled 'crate free'?

By answering yes to either of these questions, you are actively supporting intensive or factory farming. Factory farming is all about achieving the highest possible output from animals for the lowest cost. High stocking rates and small spaces plus the routine use of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease are all techniques used to maximize the yield from factory farmed animals. These animals are housed in sheds with artificial lighting and heating, the aim being to maximize growth and output in the shortest time possible.

Factory Farming of Pigs in NZ

Due to public pressure, sow crates will be phased out by 2016, however are still in use at this time. Sow crates are used to confine a pregnant sow for most of her pregnancy and are not much bigger than the pig itself making it impossible for her to turn around or walk. The sow is then moved to a farrowing crate to give birth and remains in this for around four weeks. This is slightly larger than a sow crate, allowing her to lie down and give birth to her piglets, but she is still unable to move around. For the remainder of the time factory farmed pigs are kept in small bare 'concrete fattening pens' inside a shed.

Factory Farming of Chickens in NZ

New Zealanders eat a lot of eggs. Over three million in fact, and the majority of these are produced from factory farmed chickens, living out their short lives in battery cages allowing about as much space per animal as a sheet of A4 paper. To minimize feather pecking and cannibalism in these overcrowded conditions, hens have their beaks trimmed or are kept under dimmed lighting.

Chickens raised for meat (broiler chickens) do not fare any better, and although they are housed in large sheds, the density of the animals means they have no more individual space than laying hens. Selective breeding has produced a fast growing chicken that reaches up to 3kg in just six weeks. The result of this unnaturally rapid growth is pressure on joints causing lameness in some birds with the inability to compete with others for food and water.

What's wrong with factory farming?

By factory farming pigs and chickens, the cost of the meat and eggs produced is significantly cheaper than the cruelty free alternative. Some families would argue that they simply can't afford not to support this method of farming.

The Animal Welfare Act affords animals in NZ legal protection and includes a set of guidelines to ensure companion and farm animals are not allowed to suffer and provides some recourse for those that allow this to happen. Factory farmed animals are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act, making it legal to subject pigs and chickens to inarguably cruel conditions and depriving them of their basic needs.

Factory farmed animals are unable to display natural behaviors including simply moving about freely, and experience pain, suffering and mental distress throughout their lives.

Free range chickens are the best way to go.
Photo / Sarah Bicknell
Free range chickens are the best way to go. Photo / Sarah Bicknell

What are the alternatives?

There is a move towards colony cages for layer hens farmed in NZ, though no date has been set for a changeover. Colony cages are larger; however the number of chickens housed in each means individual space is much the same as the old battery cages. Metal perching is included, but other 'enrichments' such as scratching pads made from rubber are unlikely to be used and the addition of a nesting area is too small to allow animals in these crowded conditions to gain significant benefit. Unfortunately colony cages are not a big improvement on the current system.

Asking for and purchasing free range eggs and chicken products is the only real alternative for factory farmed products. This is also the case with pig products, though it is unlikely that pigs will ever be farmed in a truly 'free range' manner. As a consumer, read labels and look for 'cage free' or similar statements on pork and bacon. Freedom Farms has a range of products that are farmed as humanely as possible at this time.
As well as supermarkets, restaurants and café's are big consumers of factory farmed meat and eggs. By making it clear that you will avoid menu items containing factory farmed ingredients, these businesses will need to consider cruelty free alternatives, as many now do.

We all have the power to say no to inhumane farming practices simply by not purchasing the resulting products. Though certainly cheaper than the alternatives, factory farmed pork, chicken and eggs are heavily subsidized by animal cruelty. The question is whether we as consumers are willing to pay this price.

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