Wake Up

The worst outbreak of avian flu in American history continues to march across the country.  There are now confirmed outbreaks in 15 states.  A few days ago Nebraska became the latest state to declare a state of emergency as a result.

Over 35 million chickens on factory farms throughout the Midwest have been slaughtered in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.

Iowa, where over 25 million chickens have been killed, has been affected the most. From the New York Times:

Iowa, where one in every five eggs consumed in the country is laid, has been the hardest hit: More than 40 percent of its egg-laying hens are dead or dying. Many are in this region, where barns house up to half a million birds in cages stacked to the rafters. The high density of these egg farms helps to explain why the flu, which can kill 90 percent or more of a flock within 48 hours, is decimating more birds in Iowa than in other states.

Once the infection is discovered, the CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) owner is required to kill every bird in the facility as a precaution.  The method of execution is carbon dioxide gassing or some sort of deadly foam. Imagine millions of hens desperately trying in vain to escape the tiny cages where they’ve been kept all their lives, as they’re being sprayed with a poisonous foam.

What we have done to these creatures for the sake of cheap eggs is shameful.

As authorities struggle to figure out how to dispose of tens of millions of dead diseased birds, the scenes are ghastly.

Mounds and mounds of carcasses have piled up in vast barns here in the northwestern corner of Iowa, where farmers and officials have been appealing for help to deal with disposal of such a vast number of flocks. Workers wearing masks and protective gear have scrambled to clear the barns, but it is a painstaking process. In these close-knit towns that include many descendants of the area’s original Dutch settlers, some farmers have resorted to burying dead birds in hurriedly dug trenches on their own land, while officials weighed using landfills and mobile incinerators.

Elsewhere the article refers to men in hazmat suits tossing dead chickens out of a barn into a Hertz rental truck.

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Maybe, hopefully, the disease will be contained.

But maybe it will continue to spread across the land, affecting both backyard flocks and CAFO chicken prisons. Maybe someday someone with a badge will even show up here on our farm, with the supposed authority to kill our chickens.

Nature does not like monocultures.  Concentrating so many animals of one species into such a small area is an invitation to an epidemic.

Let us hope that this is a wake up call.

We simply have to restore some sanity to how we produce food in our culture.

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33 comments on “Wake Up

  1. Sue says:

    This is truly saddening and maddening.
    I have a neighbor that doesn’t care–she loves her 99 cent a dozen eggs.
    The thought of how those poor animals are treated makes me truly sick. We vote every day with
    our dollars as to what we will tolerate. As long as the profound ignorance of people like my neighbor exists, this will ,unfortunatel, continue.
    I was ignorant at one time, so I guess I understand. But one look at a CAFO and I NEVER ate beef or chicken from the grocery again.
    Keep spreading the word. It’s our only hope……….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I too used to eat meat without thinking about how the animals had been treated. But once I reflected on that, and my complicity in industrialized animal cruelty, I quit cold turkey. My wife had already become a vegetarian for moral reasons. I resolved that I would never again eat any meat unless it came off this farm. (I now call myself a “farmitarian” 🙂 )

      I’m encouraged that more and more people are waking up to the truth about the CAFO system. I know plenty of people like your neighbor. But my guess is that the vast majority of them aren’t willfully choosing to consume the products of tortured animals–they’re just living in ignorance. I believe, as you do, that the key to change is education. That’s why informing the public is such an important part of what this movement is doing.

      Like

  2. shoreacres says:

    I’ve been following the story, wondering if this will be the event that finally wakes up people. Perhaps, perhaps not. But it is one event, despite multiple locations, and an otherwise containable disease is being exacerbated by conditions that people have ignored or tolerated.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      It’s getting a lot of attention in the states affected, but doesn’t seem to be a major news item elsewhere. The NYT piece was in the business section. The concern seems to be mostly whether it will cause the price of eggs to go up, not for the slaughter of tens of millions of animals. Of course, given the way they’re treated in the CAFOs, the chickens aren’t being deprived of much of a life.

      Like

  3. avwalters says:

    Drought in California, avian flu in Iowa. the cost of cheap food may soon be that there is no alternative except providing your own or very expensive food.

    Like

  4. Informative post. Sad, true, honest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I’d rather post only cheerful things. But it seems to me we can’t ignore what’s happening behind the curtain. People need to pause and reflect on what we’re doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. we had a outbreak in southern Ontario as well as bc, both on the wild birds flight paths coming up from the infected states, it has been effecting birds and sales for months now in our province. thankfully not effected in my zone but as we had province wide requests for certain measures to be taken it has effected my flock.

    one of the biggest being that they have requested all small backyard flocks be kept inside an or combo pen with not just chain but mesh on top so no wild birds can access the outside pen. which means no free ranging of any kind..

    Bird sales have been cancelled, bird shows cancelled, chick and fertile egg sales cancelled, and that is happening outside the extended no go zones.

    and yes, you are correct, if a local barn got infected, they would be showing up to put my farm and birds in lockdown and or to death..

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t know it was affecting Canada too (although it makes perfect sense that it would be). I hope your chickens stay healthy and safe.

      Like

      • Me too, but would also point out as you made a comment on it, that it has made our Canadian National news both when the first outbreaks happened in B.C and here in Ontario.. now maybe part of the reason for that is because one of the outbreaks stopped half of our country from having KFC in bone chicken but regardless, I have seen and read at least five articles in our mainstream and biggest news papers and radio news etc,

        Liked by 1 person

  6. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, you and I both know that catastrophe in CAFOs were inevitable. They claim that infected eggs won’t hurt humans if cooked properly but I’m not taking a chance. It is indeed a shame what we have done to God’s creation for the sake of cheap food. I have actually visited one of these chicken places with multilevel cages stacked on top of each other. It was on one of my short term mission trips to Nicaragua. It was eye opening for sure. Seeing a picture and reading about it is one thing but actually being at one is an entirely different thing. Five chickens in a three foot square cage with half their beak clipped off to keep them from pecking each other from the stress of being confined was a heart wrenching sight. Piles of chicken waste three and four feet high on the ground which had been directed down chutes from the cages. Cleanup was only once every couple months. Chickens were only at their prime for 18 months then they were replaced with another generation of producing chickens. What happened to the chickens being replaced. They were sent to a factory that processed them into …. chicken feed …. (gasp). Yes, the current chickens were eating their ancestors. Didn’t we go through this once with Mad Cow Disease? Free range chickens was laughable. The building was huge and yes, the chickens did get to touch the dirt with their feet but I seriously doubt they could do any scratching. Thousands of chickens were in one area so compact that very little ground under them couldn’t be seen. So, yeah, free range just meant the cage was bigger but the personal space wasn’t any bigger. It was definitely an eye opening experience for me. Hopefully, educators like you and Cherie can take this opportunity to educate people on the conditions in CAFOs.

    Have a great organic home grown free range chicken egg day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      If more people could see what you’ve seen (or quit being apathetic about it) then I think we’d start to see more rapid change. When we enter into a healthy symbiotic relationship with domesticated animals, it is a beautiful thing. We provide food and safety for our chickens, giving them the best most natural life we can, and they give us eggs in return. When they go broody we let them hatch a clutch of eggs and we accept the young roosters as nature’s gift (and by culling them we maintain peace in the chickenhouse). That is animal husbandry as I understand it. Both species benefit and the relationship is healthy and sustainable. But this industrial nightmare is an entirely different story. It is cruel and one-sided, driven by a lust for profits and with no regard for the welfare of the animal (except as it might affect profits). It is a broken system and, in my opinion, a perversion of our role as stewards and husbands of creation.

      I knew that laying hens in industrial operations are killed and replaced after about 18 months. I also knew that the culled birds were used to make chicken soup. According to the NYT article the culled birds in the Iowa CAFOs are ground up and turned into pet food.

      We have lost our way.

      Like

  7. Cynthia says:

    Horrifying and sickening, these factory bird farms. Inevitable that something like this, and worse would happen.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      The worst may be yet to come. Because they put low doses of antibiotics in the chicken feed (primarily to speed growth) the CAFOs are breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria, capable of being transmitted to humans. This is a public safety risk of the highest magnitude.

      There is a risk that avian flu will transmit to humans, and we will have no drug effective against it.

      Like

  8. associatedluke says:

    Hazmat suits and food should never go together or be tolerated.

    Like

  9. Joanna says:

    So very sad

    Like

  10. Just a terrible situation. It’s sad that most people are so disconnected from where their food comes from it doesn’t occur to them to change their eating habits.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      You make an excellent observation: it is the disconnection from the creation of our food that enables things like this. Just this weekend I was talking with someone about how immigrants, often very poor, have no objection to paying higher prices for fresh food, while affluent Americans buy cheap processed food. Many immigrants prefer to buy live animals (and never buy frozen meat) that they will slaughter themselves. They want to know that the animal is healthy and they want to know how it was slaughtered. Most Americans these days want nothing to do with that part of food production. So they give a blank check to industrial ag to do whatever it wants to the animals. And what it wants is to produce the most profit, with no regard for the welfare or dignity of the animal.

      Like

  11. Although I am well aware of the horrors of the CAFOs – reading this brought tears to my eyes and made my stomach flip. When they house that many animals together under those conditions – who in their right mind could not see something like this happening? They don’t even have a plan for managing the disposal of the bodies. Setting aside the fact that their practices heinous – they don’t even make good business sense. How long will they have to wait to fill it back up with more layers – will it have to be pumped full of more chemicals to make sure it is “sanitary” for the next generation? What is the cost of all that? Did they factor that into their bottom line?
    How can people (consumers) be so indifferent to such cruelty? I kinda get that it is easier for most people to turn a blind eye and buy the cheaper food – especially when you are on a tight budget – but why is that? Why IS money more important?
    Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I haven’t confirmed this, but I believe the CAFO operators are being compensated for the slaughtered animals. I think the reason for the “state of emergency” declarations is so that tax-dollars can be given to them. So they create the horrific situation, slaughter the animals in their care and then get a government check. It’s maddening. Meanwhile if our summer crops die in the field, I’m not going to get a government check. If my chickens stay healthy because we don’t put them at that kind of risk in exchange for money, the government/taxpayers aren’t going to write me a check.

      As for why people are indifferent to the horrors of this system, I think it’s ignorance. I choose to believe that most people have moral compasses that would not accept this state of affairs if they understood it. So I choose to believe that the way to end the CAFO system is to keep a spotlight on it. I hope I’m right about that.

      Like

  12. EllaDee says:

    We experienced similar here in Australia several years ago. It was tragic enough but nothing quite the scale you describe as far as I’m aware but non CAFO chickens in affected areas were also killed. So many consumers want clean & cheap food… and industrial food is neither.

    Like

  13. People have to demand change, Bill. I don’t think betting with dollars will exert enough pressure. It will enable and encourage more people to farm ethically, but vast numbers of people will still vote by buying their dollar carton of eggs. And then, on top of that, the government supports farmers whose practices have caused the problem. No encouragement for change there. An excellent blog. Powerful. –Curt

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’m encouraged by the growing awareness. Corporate America will notice when it starts hitting them in their pocketbooks. We’re trying to foment a consumer rebellion. I choose to believe it’s possible. 🙂

      Like

      • Well, there is certainly more awareness out there. The impact on McDonalds shows that. Who would have ever thought that they would be forced to close restaurants. And the thing about rebellions, a small group of committed people can make a tremendous difference. –Curt

        Liked by 1 person

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