We have a young family from Washington D.C. staying in our farm house this week. They found us through Air BnB and chose to come stay here so their two children could have a chance to see the stars at night and begin to learn about how food is grown. We’re enjoying having them here.
Yesterday the two little girls especially enjoyed petting chickens, and allowing them to eat cracked corn out of their hands.
Seeing how much fun they had playing with the chickens caused me to think about how different the scene would be on a typical chicken “farm” these days.
The vast majority of the chickens in America these days are housed in CAFOs–giant metal buildings containing tens of thousands of birds. The conditions are unnatural, to say the least. And under such conditions the threat of disease is ever-present.
In the CAFO system the “farmer” must provide the poultry house and is responsible for disposing of all the manure generated there, but the “integrators” (industrial chicken companies, like Tyson and Perdue) provide and own the chickens and provide and determine their feed. As strange as it seems to me to call something done entirely indoors “farming,” it’s stranger still when the “farmer” neither owns the animals or has any say in what they’re fed. But, strange or not, that’s the reality in industrial poultry these days.
Given that these unnatural concentrated operations are epidemics waiting to happen, the integrators require “biosecurity” measures. The integrators’ contract with the “growers” (as they’re euphemistically called in the contracts) forbids them from having any backyard flocks of their own. The chickens’ feed is laced with antibiotics. And no one is allowed to enter the poultry house without showering and putting on a type of hazmat suit. Biosecurity.
More than 48 million chickens and turkeys were killed or euthanized earlier this year when avian flu swept through CAFOs in the Midwest, seemingly mocking the industrial “biosecurity” measures. Over forty percent of all the layers in Iowa (which is the largest egg-producing state in the country) were killed. Most of those operations have still not be cleared to reopen and industrial egg prices have doubled.
Interestingly, and despite the absence of any “biosecurity,” few backyard flocks were affected by the epidemic–a fact scientists are calling “enigmatic.”
Beyond common sense, we have no “biosecurity” measures on our farm. Folks don’t have to shower and put on a hazmat suit in order to go in our coop.
Here little girls can pet chickens and feed them cracked corn.
It is ironic that farms without elaborate industrial biosecurity measures are biosecure. And factory farms that have biosecurity protocols are public health catastrophes in the making.