Animal Welfare Institute interviewed Dr. Patricia Whisnant for this article on humane farming:
In the mid-20th century, the United States underwent an agricultural revolution that went largely unnoticed by the general public when the ability of science to industrialize farming overtook the knowledge and expertise of working farmers.
Led by a few industry “visionaries,” farm animals were moved out of the pastures and into the warehouse, creating the unnatural and callous system that is now known as factory farming. For cattle, a species deeply entwined with human survival, this meant the rise of the feedlot and grain-finishing system.
Feedlots are the antithesis of cattle’s natural environment. In addition to being confined to a barren pen, feedlot cattle—uniquely evolved to eat grass—are fed a diet of carbohydrates and growth stimulants designed to promote an unnaturally quick and harmful weight gain, artificially cutting the amount of time needed for a calf to reach slaughter weight.
Feedlot cattle must be administered antibiotics or ionophores (chemical compounds used as antibiotics or growth promoters) to fight a number of diseases that fester in a feedlot environment including bovine respiratory disease, feedlot bloat, and subacute acidosis. From the moment calves arrive at the feedlot, they are thrust into a system that strips them of their natural behaviors and instincts in the never-ending quest to stock the neighborhood supermarket with the cheapest beef possible.
However, not all farmers are willing to cede control of the care and raising of their cattle to an industrial system that leaves them open to disease and distress. Animal Welfare Approved farmers are quiet revolutionaries in the growing movement to ensure that farm animals live out their lives on pasture. For these farmers, the return to traditional grassfed practices represents far more than a savvy marketing move, it brings them back to a more holistic and thoughtful relationship with the animals they raise.
AWI interviewed four Animal Welfare Approved cattle farmers and asked them to talk about the rewards of farming with the animals in mind, the challenges of turning away from a conventional system and what the future holds for pasture-based farming.
Will Harris credits pasture-based farming with strengthening his relationship with his animals. Dr. Patricia Whisnant’s veterinary training gives her a sound scientific basis for her appreciation of the health benefits for the animals. Don Davis is committed to raising cattle who are best suited for his land, benefiting both the cattle and wildlife. Bill Stuart resisted the pull to transition his farm to an industrial system and is now seeing a resurgence of interest in the farming traditions his family has followed for generations.
To read the interview visit Animal Welfare Institute