The factory farming model that has overtaken the conventional food industry since World War II is very disconcerting. Today's big box store economy is driven by the lowest price — large multi-national corporations dictate what producers are paid for their commodity products (livestock, grain, cotton, etc.) based on international stock prices. To be able to compete internationally many producers feel they have to lower their costs of production per animal unit by switching to confinement factory farming methods — it is cheaper to grow 60,000 chickens in a barn than 20,000 — your costs of production (heating, cleaning, labour, etc) are spread out over more animals. A typical factory "free-range" chicken barn is seen at right. Large feedlots (as seen above right) and pig barns are no different. But what is factory farming doing to our agricultural communities? An excellent website that clearly describes the effect that factory farming is having on our food system and the small family farm is The Meatrix.
This very educational and entertaining cartoon clip is based on the famous sci-fi movie The Matrix. It follows a young pig's journey from living in a factory pig barn to becoming a freedom fighter against multi-national factory farms. It is definitely worth watching and telling all of your friends about. Ultimately it is up to the consumer to vote with their dollars to change our food system.
On TK Ranch the most important part of our meat program is animal welfare. Treating an animal with the utmost respect from birth to slaughter is our goal. Considering that an animal sacrifices its life for our nourishment this is the least that we can do. But what does this mean? It means that our animals are raised under the pasture model. Our cattle are born, raised, weaned and fattened on pasture — NEVER in a confinement feedlot. The pigs in our program are raised the same way — the sows farrow outside on pasture with ample shelter and the piglets stay with them for several weeks. Once weaned the hogs are fed out on pasture until ready for slaughter. The lambs in our program are also born, weaned and fattened on pasture until slaughter. The chickens in our program are free-range inside a large barn and are give 3 to 5 times more space than certified organic birds raised under the same conditions.
Every time you go out for dinner or shop in your local grocery store, think about the long term sustainability of your buying choices. The only way that change will happen in the food industry is for consumers to vote with their dollars.
Food safety is a growing concern for many consumers. All we have to do is turn on the television or radio to hear about problems with the food system. Many of these problems have been created by the centralization of almost everything we consume into the hands of only a few large multi-national corporations.
One very clear example of this is the meat industry in Alberta. Few consumers realize that there are only two companies that ranchers can sell their animals to — Tyson and Cargill. Both the Tyson plant in Brooks and the Cargill plant in High River kill over 4,000 animals each per day — that's one animal every 20 seconds. Line speed — how quickly an animal can be killed and processed — is the primary goal of these plants. It's not difficult to understand how food safety problems arise from this system — it is not only in-humane for the animals but also for the people that are expected to work in these conditions. Eric Schlosser's bestselling book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal discusses in detail the problems that are created in the food system by these large multi-nationals. The factory farming system they have created to support growing consumer dependence on fast and over-processed foods is almost solely responsible for the loss of small family farms globally. Almost all of the meat that is consumed in Alberta has been processed by these two plants.