From Animal Place Sanctuary, June 2011
They’re not glitzy or glamorous. They don’t generally inspire an “aww” response when mentioned. But pigeons and doves are intelligent birds facing many of the same tragedies awaiting the 10 billion land animals slaughtered each year.
Did you know nearly two million baby pigeons, or squab, are killed each year in the United States? And that more than 800,000 of them are slaughtered with no legal protection in California alone?
The plight of pigeons in modern food production is largely unknown to the general public. Like other animals raised for food, pigeons and their young (squab) are raised in unsanitary, intensive confinement. California’s upper San Joaquin Valley is a leader in squab production. In fact, the Squab Producers of California in Modesto operates the world’s largest squab slaughterhouse.
The typical squab farm can house thousands of pairs of breeder pigeons in
confinement. The average pigeon breeding pair raises 12 squab per year. A
commercial squab operation maintains a 1:1 sex ratio among its breeder flocks.
Male-female breeding pairs are monogamous, bonding with each other for life and
sharing parental duties. Squab meat is popular in metropolitan areas such as San
Francisco and New York City. It is a heightened
delicacy analogous to veal and foie gras. Squab consumers commonly dine on this specialty meat at “white-tablecloth” dining establishments or purchase it at gourmet markets.
The offspring is the focus of production. These young domestic pigeons are raised for their meat. They have the fastest growth rate of any production bird, including the morbidly obese broiler or “meat” chicken. In a mere 28 days, they grow 60 times their hatch weight! Allowed to reach adulthood, they have difficulties flying because of the extra bulk.
At the processing plant, squab and “spent” breeders (those who have outlived their usefulness to producers) are denied basic humane slaughter protections. In California, pigeons are not covered by California’s Methods of Slaughter Law, which requires covered species be stunned insensible to pain prior to being killed. Rabbits, squab and “spent” egg-laying hens are exempted and can be killed in any manner.
Help Is On The Way
A movement is underway to reveal the practices of modern squab production. California rescue organizations like MickaCoo Pigeon and Dove Rescue and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary provide rescue and relief for former meat pigeons. Pigeons are resilient animals. They thrive in both sanctuary and household settings. As rescued pigeons live out their natural lives in peace, it’s wonderful to watch new pigeon pairs bond. Their quiet loyalty is undeniably beautiful.
As individuals dedicated to alleviating the suffering of animals abused in modern agriculture, it’s our duty to shed light on the untold story of meat pigeons. By telling their common story, we have the compassionate opportunity to save the lives of even more animals in the future.
Christine is Sanctuary Manager at Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary. Nestled around fertile farmland in California’s San Joaquin Valley, this two-acre rescue and rehabilitation facility is home to more than 200 animals representing 10 animal species. Harvest Home’s animal protection efforts are focused primarily on rabbits and birds. Visit them online at HarvestHomeSanctuary.org.