An example of a small-time chicken operation appears in “The Chicken Project” published in Orion Magazine" in June 2015. Gina Warren, a former vegetarian turned enthusiastic DIY chicken slaughterer, describes her introduction to “Cody’s free-range, organic” henhouse in Northern California:
WHEN CODY OPENED THE DOOR to the henhouse, the first thing that hit me was the smell. The ammonia stench clogged my throat and nose, and while my eyes didn’t literally water, I wished they would’ve because of how badly they burned. I cannot imagine what a factory farm might smell like, with chickens piled one on top of the other, surrounded by feces, and suffering blindness and ammonia burns from the poorly ventilated air. Which is nothing like Cody’s farm, but good God it reeked.
In fact, Cody’s farm – “two hundred birds, sixty dozen eggs a week. Every now and then he’ll slaughter a batch for meat” – is like a factory farm in all but scale. It’s a factory farm in terms of the attitude of the people running it and as an example of traditional farming practices that make chickens suffer and make them sick.
“Slaughterhouse” was first published in 1997. Twenty years ago, Gail Eisnitz bore witness to events that are the same today as they were then: Your worst nightmares are “normal agricultural practices.” (See my review of Slaughterhouse.)
Articles I’ve read in agribusiness publications about cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs and other farmed animals being locked in a building in which a fire broke out, quote the “humane” family farmer: “At least no one got hurt.” I recall an article about a small dairy farm’s cows – those who did not die in the barn fire but were suffering badly from smoke inhalation – being held without help on the farm until the auction truck came to take them away.
Farmers are not sentimental about “their” animals, and this is a source of pride with them. Yet they have no problem creating smarmy, cloyingly sentimental and dishonest ads on TV and elsewhere about their “wholesome” enterprise and their “humane” animal care – anything to anesthetize the public. Each time I see one of these “dairy pure” types of ads with a farmer holding an inert newborn calf (just taken away from his or her mother), I want to puke and weep with sadness and disgust.
I want all forms of animal agribusiness to be abolished forever asap. I support whatever will make that happen. I will never stop working for an animal-free food supply and for animals themselves until I die trying.
My view is that making a business out of chickens does not bode well, however “small,” benign or local the business may appear compared to so-called factory farming. It can be an extension of factory farming rather than an alternative.
This rising awareness is moving us toward a more compassionate culture, and it is an encouraging sign that we are acknowledging that animals suffer in food production. However, the unfortunate reality is that animals whose flesh or body fluids are labeled “humane” endure many of the same cruel practices as animals in standard production, and a brutal slaughter is still the end result. Between conventional and alternative operations, the similarities far outweigh the differences. There are inherent cruelties in any animal agribusiness that cannot be avoided and are universal and essential to making a profit. Farms cannot circumvent these heartless practices, and the consumer is left uninformed, unaware, and assuaged by the reassuring label.