I've been eating organic food for over ten years, biodynamic where possible. I recently adopted some hens. To my surprise they came from the very same place where my eggs usually come from. I pay significantly more for these eggs because they are organic, free range (and local). I had visions in my head of what the hens would look like and the conditions they lived in. When I brought my hens home, I was surprised by how shabby they were.
All of them had feathers missing, this is to be expected I guess when you place that many chickens together in one place. Four out of six of the hens had very sore bottoms, three of them looked underweight and one of the died in the first six days after not eating the whole time she was with us. (We had a funeral today for Willow, the deceased hen, you do that kind of things with an 8 and 5 year old around)
This shook me up quite a bit. I had assumed that because the hens came from an organic, free range farm, they would be in great shape but this is far from the case. It reminded me of another disappointing experience two years ago at an organic dairy farm. I took my children to see how things worked and to meet the cows and calves. I came home confused and upset. The cows were not treated badly but when I considered the quality of the calves' lives, I felt seriously disappointed.
The farmer's wife told me that the reason they had chosen to go organic was because of what they had witnessed in their fathers (who were farmers). They had seen these farmers die younger than they needed to and they had linked it to the heavy chemicals they were exposed to in farming work. I can appreciate why they chose to become organic.
For me, part of the organic appeal is that everyone involved is treated healthily, with respect. The cows, especially the calves, were not treated naturally or with respect. The babies were placed in a small enclosure, in a grid system that was placed on concrete. They each had a plastic pod large for shelter plus food containers. This was set up for convenience but I found it shocking. We fed the calves with milk, each receiving a set ration. Every calf quickly drank the milk and then continued to seek more. I felt very uncomfortable watching them, it was obvious they wanted more.
We were invited into the barn to feed a calf that had just been born. The farmer's wife explained that they give the calf the colostrum, the first milk that comes in. As with humans, colostrum is very nutritious. The cows were brought in to be milked, the colostrum was taken first before the main milking session began. The farmer's wife took the colostrum from the milking area and took it to the barn so we could feed the newborns. After feeding the calf it repeatedly butted me and pushed me, trying to get more milk. It looked hungry and desperate. Maybe I'm over exaggerating how hungry the calf was, this is how it felt and looked to me.
When the chicken died this morning, it triggered many thoughts in me about what we are doing in regards to our food choices. Even though I choose to live as naturally, simply and healthily as possible, choosing organic or biodynamic produce where possible, I still have a very long way to go until I am showing the earth and her creatures the love and respect they deserve. I'm trying to strike a balance in keeping healthy and respecting all forms of life. It's quite a hard balance to strike but I'm striving.
The wisest and healthiest approaches to farming I have discovered so far are permaculture and biodynamic farming. Ideally all farming would happen on a small scale, within small communities of people working together to create provide their own food. Thing is, the world we live in today is far from ideal. All we can do is our best. For right now, I don't have all the solutions but I'm interested in and open to exploring what these may be and doing my best to implement them the best I can.