Are your chops happy?

by Ira White

I like to buy my meat locally and it’s nice when one can also visit the farms where it is raised. I am both a customer and friends with folks at the two farms I am about to mention.

My first trip to Feld Farms was incredible. They raise so many different animals and the one thing that impressed me the most was how happy all of them were. It was a similar experience visiting Pigs Can Fly Ranch which raises only pigs. All the animals were literally smiling! Both farms are available for customers to visit. For me, it’s important to be able to visit the place where meat I am purchasing is raised and seeing happy animals there clinches the deal. Both farms, and other farms who use similar husbandry practices, produce a higher quality product than what is available in the supermarket. Why do you think this would be?

As humans, we are obligated to treat animals humanely — all animals, but especially ones we use for food. Good treatment of animals has its own rewards. Animals given good feed, plenty of water, room to roam and kept from stress will be more tender and tastier when harvested for food. Knowing the conditions the animals are raised in and having an opportunity to ask questions about feed, supplementation, medication practices, etc. is important as well. You will not be able to get answers to these questions at the store.

So, what’s at the store? If the market you buy your meat from does not source locally, which most of them do not, you are buying mass-produced meat from factory farms. The animals are crowded together and raised under more stress than they would be at smaller local farms where they have more room and more personalized treatment. Stress has been implicated in many diseases in humans. It is also a cause of lower quality meat and to a lesser degree, diseases in animals. Stressors can include heat, cold, food, crowding, and social instability. Stress is dealt with by the release of hormones. Continued stress and continued release of these hormones will reduce meat quality, nutrient content and could result in disease in the animal. To combat this, vaccines are used and antibiotics are fed to the animals to reduce the possibility of disease and help the animals grow faster. Feed additives such as ractopamine (see my previous article on ractopamine) may also be used to speed growth or to replace nutrients reduced by stress. These animals are not what you would call happy.

As an inspector, I inspected both factory farmed animals and those raised on smaller farms with more natural techniques. Those raised in a more organic way with the proper feed always had less pathology than those from factory farms. Cows, for instance, thrive on grass with a roomy pasture. A meat inspector will rarely see pathology in cattle raised this way. On the other hand, cattle crammed together in feed lots and fed corn, something their stomachs were not designed to digest, will exhibit pathologies. A common one is abscesses in the stomach and liver. I’ve seen lots of these come into a plant and at times, 25-30% of the animals had abscesses in their livers or stomachs as well as other places.

Another advantage to individual farm raised over factory farm meats is that the ratio of omega 3 fatty acids to omega 6 fatty acids is higher. This is good for the consumer. These days our omega 6s far outnumber the omega 3s which is upside down from what it should be. A high ratio of omega 3s to 6s will give the diner a boost to their immune systems along with other benefits. Those who wish to learn more about this can read, The Good Egg, By Jory John.

Factory farms are quite different from small farms in several ways. First, we have the space given to the animals. Second, factory farms use more vaccinations to keep crowded animals disease free. Third, factory farms use more antibiotics administered for the same reasons as vaccines. Fourth, we have a distinct difference in genetic diversity between animals on factory farms and those on smaller farms. This last point is not given enough weight. Animals have evolved in the wild to produce a diversity of genetics for their species. Even after being domesticated, a genetic mix has been important, though the mix is lessened by directed breeding. This has allowed each species to survive and thrive despite changing conditions and attacks by disease. Animals raised on factory farms are less diverse in their genetics, so a great deal of attention must be given to keeping disease out. If an animal in the herd or flock comes down sick, it could infect all the animals it lives with where the greater genetic mix you find on smaller farms may have some animals with resistance to the microbe who can survive the disease and pass this resistance on to their offspring.

As you can see, there are many advantages to choosing a local farmer for your meat over the factory farmed meat found at the grocery store. The bottom line is that happy animals that are treated well and fed correctly will give you the best tasting, most nutritious meat.

Bio of Ira White

I was literally born into the food industry. I started caring for and harvesting rabbits with Mom at the age of 6. Later, Dad bought a meat shop and the family worked together to make it a success. I also worked in the fields as soon as I could get a work permit harvesting berries, grapes, peaches, onions and performing other agricultural activities. Later, I worked as a cook and in the meat prep department of Campbell’s Soup company. I worked in a vegetable processing plant and turkey slaughter plant. I finished my career as a USDA IIC (Inspector in Charge) for more than half of my 26 years with the USDA.

My website:

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