Foreword. (Edited by Jess Forte)
After working on a chicken farm, I was left with haunting images I shall never forget….on the first day I was shown around the sheds and recall the shock I felt when presented with the reality of life for these birds; thirteen thousand to each shed.
This was a free range farm, and legally this means the chickens should spend part of their day outside, however, the stark reality is somewhat different. The birds aren’t foraging amongst grassy fields all day, like the depiction we see in supermarkets, they spend most of their time cooped up in the overcrowded confinement of the sheds, the door opened occasionally for the staff to steal away a stray egg, or remove a lifeless bird.
Entering the sheds was an experience itself; the pungent smell of death and decay would sting my eyes and I would feel my lungs tighten up as I tried not to breathe in the dust and smell of excrement covering the entire place. I could sense the birds’ fear and unease at my presence, and felt the unnatural and stressful environment to which they were enclosed day after day.
My views on free range farming have altered considerably since my experience at the chicken farm. I no longer view it as an alternative to intensive farming; it harbours the same philosophy; to make as much profit as possible, regardless of the animals’ welfare. The lighting, feeding methods, transportation and slaughter of the birds is eerily reminiscent to that of battery farms, to the point it is hard to distinguish between them.
The most disturbing day of my life was the day the chickens were taken to slaughter. The memory of the squeals, the terror in their eyes, and sight of them being slung into the plastic storage trays, as though they were any other worthless commodity being packed away in a factory, will haunt me forever.
Working at the farm was more a financial necessity than anything else and I never imagined I would persevere to the end, but as the weeks went on and I became numb to the horrors of the reality of chicken farming, I found I began to learn, and understand more about farming in the twenty-first century.
Society has a very sheltered view of farming and is ignorant to its realities. Whilst farmers continue to meet the demands of consumers, who eat ever increasing amounts of meat and eggs, the farmers are getting paid less than ever, resulting in neglect and deteriorating living conditions for the animals.
Humans have evolved to eat both plants and meat alike, so I don’t suggest that we all become vegetarians, however an awareness of where our food is coming from, and how these animals are kept, is essential for building a more hopeful future for farmers, as well as the treatment of their animals, and ensuring a fair and productive farming future.