Every day I walk into the farm and there’s a squad of piglets mooching about. We brought a sick sow in to keep an eye on her and she then had 8 piglets. They’re now 6 weeks old and they have started venturing out.
I hurry past in my infinite busyness but their baby animal cuteness stops me. They are so well decorated, with little white ankle socks on black bodies, and teeny white splodges on their snouts. They are curious, and inch closer each day but then I move, carefully, and they hustle off squeaking and grunting.
I know they are ultimately destined for the butchery. We are used to life and death here on our farm. If we eat meat an animal dies. Our business means that we care about how our animals live, but we also care what happens after they die.
Dave, the stockman, watches our cattle, sheep, and pigs and makes sure they live as well as they can. He’s good at it, and notices the details that can go wrong in the animals’ day to day life.
If you watch animals you realise they have certain behaviours. Our cattle, sheep, and pigs are mammalian. Cows are social, and will gather round when there’s a new calf born into the group. They all have a nuzzle at their niece’s, daughter’s, cousin’s or sister’s new offspring. They are checking out what’s happening in the social group, you could call it, keeping up with the gossip.
Chickens are reptilian, and they are extremely sensitive to their environment. It is therefore imperative we keep their environmental needs met. They have one instinct, which is to peck and when things go wrong they peck each other. If we are to keep animals for our food needs, we should be aware that our food choices have consequences. You wouldn’t pen up your pet hen, in a wire cage with 12 others, with a footprint of a piece of A4 paper each to move around in, leave the lights on for 24 hours and expect it all to go well?
I have heard it said that you can judge a society by how it treats its animals. Are we in the UK destined to a particular type of blindness that closes our eyes to the way our food animals live? We should treat a hen like a queen. She gives us an egg a day regardless of how we keep her. Maybe we could treat her well by paying a bit more for our eggs. She’s only 4lb in weight and she’s not as cute as those piglets but she deserves our compassion, and a high standard of living nonetheless.