Troubled by the way animals are treated on CAFO’s and other industrial animal farms? Looking for local meat or local dairy in the Lawrence Kansas, Kansas City or Topeka area? Then you may really appreciate reading about some of the small local farms I visited on the Kaw Valley Farm Tour. Judy Carman also went on this tour and wrote about it here.
This past weekend, I decided to visit some farms on the Kaw Valley Farm Tour. It's an annual event organized by K-State Research and Extension and supported by the Kaw Valley Agri-tourism Council and about a dozen other local businesses, and organizations. The idea is to connect consumers with local producers of food so that they can find out where their food is coming from, learn first hand how their food is being produced, and also, how animals being used for food are being cared for. So I decided to go on the tour and ask some questions.
I was extremely impressed by the warmth and sincerity of the farmers that I met. I found their children to be engaging, healthy-looking and excited ambassadors for their family's lifestyle, and I even found myself longing a bit to have been able to give my own children the sense of local belonging and community that these families have been able to provide to their children as a result of there being so many other families nearby who share their values and a lifestyle built around the raising and using of animals. However, behind the happy human smiles, and their emphasis upon eating a diet based upon meat and dairy (which have egregious environmental footprints and would require more land than our planet even has, if all 7 billion humans now living on this earth tried to eat the diet that these farm families are teaching their children to eat) there were other unhappy realities, that unfortunately, as far as I could tell, most of the other visitors were oblivious to.
I first heard of the Vesecky farm, when an employee of a store selling Vesecky turkeys at Thanksgiving last year praised this farm by telling me that they had visited the place and "Vesecky farm IS social justice for turkeys." So I was very curious to know what my own impressions would be. Mr.Vesecky embodied the stereotype of the salt-of-the-earth farmer of yesteryear. His quiet, unassuming but friendly manner was welcoming and he seemed genuinely happy to show off his operation. The turkeys looked healthy and were extremely curious about all of us strangers who had descended upon their farm -- but were not nearly as trusting of any of us as they were of Mr. Vesecky -- the man who fed them (and unbeknownst to them was planning their mass slaughter for next month, a disturbing and surreal fact amidst the seemingly wholesome and happy backdrop of visitors enjoying the event.) I asked Mr. Vesecky if he ever got attached to the birds or missed them when they were trucked off to slaughter, and he replied quite matter-of -factly, "Nope that's when I get paid!" Mr. Vesecky told me that he did not breed any of the birds himself but instead purchased them from a commercial hatchery. He said they arrived as newly hatched chicks via the US postal service (meaning no food, water, nor warmth for the few days they were in transit.) "Do they all arrive alive I asked?" and he said, "Mostly." Few people who claim to eat only "humane meat" are aware of the violent repeated forced artificial insemination (rape) of female turkeys, that is essential to all turkey hatcheries (call them as I did-- and they will tell you the birds are simply too large to mate on their own without hurting each other) Mr. Vesecky pays companies to inflict this trauma on grown turkeys so that he can purchase turkey chicks to sell them for a premium price to people who want to believe they are buying a "humane" product. (and of course this also means that male turkeys have their sperm forcibly removed from them via equally barbaric procedures too. But of course by having these parts of the farming done at other locations and out of sight of visitors "coming to see where their food comes from" it allows this fraud to continue and to be thought of as humane by unsuspecting folks who want to believe that their purchases are promoting humane practices. It was disheartening for me to realize that educated caring people working in retail outlets would refer to this whole scenario as, "Social justice for turkeys."
By far the most disturbing farm I visited was the Iwig Dairy. They provided visitors a formal guided tour of their operation. We were shown the bottle washer, the milk separator, pasteurizer, homogenizer, freezer and ice cream maker. But when we came to the milking barn, we were told it was not really set up for people to go inside. So I asked if I might just look in the window at it and they said the milking part was far in another area and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. In light of the fact that they admitted doing gruesome bodily mutilations to unanesthetized cows, and how they seemed oblivious to the profound psychological distress they routinely subjected mother cows and their babies to, not allowing us to actually enter the milking barn (THE part of a dairy operation that the public most associates with where their milk comes from) it left my imagination to conjure up barbaric and cruel possibilities as the reason we were not allowed in to see it (because what they did unabashedly share – suggested they were quite desensitized to things that most people would consider egregiously violent, unjust and traumatic for animals -- as long as they had not grown up on such a farm and been taught that these things were in fact completely ok to do to animals -- and of course absolutely necessary if one was to be profitable.)
The Iwig farmers told us that all bovines have horns and that these must be removed for safety reasons. Since it is well established that cow horns are well innervated and removing them is a deeply painful process, I asked if they anesthetized their cows before subjecting them to this. They did not, but did point out that, when possible, they preferred to do so right at birth because it was less traumatic. “How so?” I querried, and they compared it to human circumcision – much less painful if done at birth – but then admitted, that they also frequently do it at a much later time as well – and pointed to some cows that got it done around 9 months, but again emphasized it was not that big of a deal. (Leaving me to think that the only ones that doing it at birth is “less painful for” are the humans carrying out this barbaric procedure.)
When I asked why the babies must be removed from the mothers at only one day old – I was told it was driven by economics – the mothers simply wouldn’t produce as much milk without being hooked up to a milk machine early on, although they never explained why this couldn’t be done AFTER allowing the babies to suckle several times each day – but I suspect that would require more time/inconvenience than they were willing to invest – after all – legally (and psychologically to the farmers) cows are only property/business assets, not living beings with feelings, who suffer excruciatingly in the process of humans exploiting them, for completely unnecessary reasons. They had justifications for what they did, and savvily used my questions as a segue to point out that cows are each very individual – and some are completely uninterested in being mothers at all and actually abandon their babies – thus they reasoned, there is nothing wrong with stealing day old nursing babies from their mothers. (Hmmm....could the trauma of having been removed from their own mothers at young ages and never having experienced "mother's love" themselves have anything to do with this?) I silently gave thanks for the fact, that I was born into a time/place/member-of-a-species where more powerful entities didn’t use the fact that some mothers of my species abandon their babies as justification for not allowing me to nurse and mother my own. (Article continues after the Peaceful Prairie Flyer, "Milk Comes from a Grieving Mother.")
[If you liked this article, please be sure to read my post: Oppression or Justice...Which do YOU Choose?]