Humane Farming – Alternate Layout

piglet-truck-slaughterPig being transported to slaughter.
Photo: Toronto Pig Save

As the general public grows increasingly aware of what goes on behind factory farm doors, many consumers are making the choice to purchase meat, eggs and dairy products from labels that advertise improved animal welfare.

Others have turned to buying directly from smaller, local farms, with the perception that animals on small farms are not subjected to cruel and inhumane practices.

But the truth is that many of the worst abuses inflicted on animals in factory farms are also standard procedure on many small and/or so-called humane farms.

These include: painful mutilations without anesthetic; crude and invasive artificial insemination techniques; cruel separation of mothers and babies; the killing of millions of “surplus” male calves and chicks; and the same horrifying transport and slaughter conditions suffered by factory farmed animals.


Routine mutilations commonly inflicted without anesthesia or pain relief on many small and humane-label farms that raise animals for meat include: 

Castration (pigs, cows, sheep, goats); video: castration of calf on small Amish farm

Ear notching (pigs, cows, goats); video: Animal Welfare Approved ear notching of piglets

Dehorning or disbudding (dairy and meat cows and goats); video: disbudding goat kids

Noseringing (pigs); video: “humane” technique; common small farm technique

Debeaking (chickens and turkeys); video: standard debeaking technique

The video below shows castration of piglets at Kingbird Farms, which sells its meat under the Animal Welfare Approved label. AWA boasts “the most rigorous humane certification standards for farm animal welfare in the U.S.”

This undercover video, recently filmed at a so-called humane hatchery that supplies a large humane label producer with “meat” chicks, reveals the same cruel practices as hatcheries that supply industrial broiler farms:

Learn more about the routine abuses permitted under various humane labels at our Labels & Loopholes page.


Like human mothers, cows make milk for one reason: to feed their babies.

Profitable milk production depends upon a constant cycle of impregnating cows to keep them at peak lactation, then taking away the calves for whom the milk is intended, in order for humans to sell and consume it. Around 10 months after giving birth, the quantity of milk that dairy cows produce decreases substantially.1 In order to maximize yields, dairy producers reimpregnate cows once a year after a short period of “drying off.” According to the USDA, “Reproduction practices on dairy operations are crucial to maintaining consistent milk production and creating replacement heifers…[C]ows should produce a healthy calf every 12 to 13 months.2

Mammals’ milk is species specific, meaning the only breast milk we need to consume comes from our own mothers. Human breast milk contains exactly the right ratio of fatty acids, lactose, protein and amino acids for human infant development, whereas cows’ milk contains concentrations of hormones and proteins designed to turn an 80-pound calf into an 800-pound cow by 1 year of age.

Dairy cow and calfDairy cow and calf. Photo: Mercy for Animals

Also like human mothers, cows carry their babies for nine months. The bond between mother and calf is immediate. Researchers who have studied cow-calf relationships in semi-wild herds and in domestic beef cattle observe the same pattern: the strongest and most lasting social bonds among cows are between mothers and their offspring, and persist long after the calves have matured.

In both domestic and semi-wild herds, cows consistently prefer their daughters and sons as grazing companions for many years. “The birth of a second, third, or even fourth calf failed to disrupt the close association between the cow and her older offspring.”3

Researchers also find that merely five minutes of contact between a cow and her newborn calf is sufficient for the formation of a strong maternal bond. Calves separated from their mothers 24 hours after birth recognize and uniquely respond to recordings of their mothers’ calls.4

Yet 24 hours is more time than most dairy cows ever get to spend with their young.

Separation of cow and calf on small, free-range farm

According to the USDA, 97% of dairy calves are forcibly removed from their mothers within 24 hours of birth. Many calves on certified humane farms are taken from their mothers within the first hour, as separation becomes more stressful the longer mother and calf are permitted to bond.

Regardless, separation is devastating for both mother and calf.

Male dairy calves, since they cannot produce milk, are sold to be slaughtered for veal or cheap beef. The veal industry only exists as a result of the dairy industry. (Learn more about Veal Calves).

Isolated dairy calfCalves on many small dairies like this one are taken from their mothers within minutes of birth and raised in lonely stalls where they cannot even interact with other calves. Photo: JoAnne McArthur
“The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf. The mother was allowed to nurse her calf but for a single night. On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn only ten yards away, in plain view of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.”
—Dr. Michael Klaper spent sixteen of his childhood summers on his uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin.
See also:

The Spiked Nose Ring: A Symbol For All Dairy Cruelty
A Small Dairy Farmer Addresses Concerns About Separating Calves From Mothers
Sexual Violation of Dairy Cows in 14 Steps
Strange Noises Turn Out To Be Cows Missing Their Calves

Male chicks thrown in the trash at an egg hatcheryMillions of male chicks are destroyed by by being ground up alive or suffocated every day in U.S hatcheries. Photo: Animal Equality

Regardless of farm type, egg production involves the killing of male chicks.

At hatcheries which supply both industrial and many small-scale egg farmers with laying hens, male chicks are sorted and destroyed because they cannot lay eggs and are not the breed used for meat.

Every year in the U.S., nearly 260 million male chicks are disposed of by suffocation in large garbage bags, ground up alive in giant macerators, or sucked through a series of vacuum tubes to an electrified “kill plate.” Currently all humane certification labels in the U.S. permit their egg farmers to source chicks from hatcheries which destroy the males.

Female chicks raised in confinement are debeaked, a painful procedure which involves either slicing or searing off one-half to two-thirds of their beaks.

Debeaked chickDebeaked chick. Photo courtesy of East Bay Animal Advocates

Chickens’ beaks are complex sensory organs loaded with nerves and touch receptors, much like human fingertips. The pain and impairment caused by debeaking is so extensive that birds often die from starvation.

What is hidden from most consumers is that debeaking is commonly performed on “free range” and “cage-free” hens as well.

Because humane labeling terms are not meaningfully defined or enforced, egg producers can crowd thousands of hens into windowless sheds for their entire lives and still sell their eggs under free range and cage free labels.

In response to stressful overcrowding, the birds compulsively peck at each other, so farmers debeak them in order to minimize carcass damage. Even Trader Joe’s “cage-free” egg suppliers have been found to debeak their hens.

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