The Fellowship of Life
'Methodist Recorder' Debate
A Farmer's Viewpoint
I have read with great interest over the years your editorials on "animal welfare" and conservation and have often felt I should try to put the farmer's point of view. Then in the April 7 issue there was a letter from the Rev John E Clarke which I consider to be one of the best on the subject I have ever read.
I agree with him that there are many Christian farmers who are agonising over the dilemma of modern day intensive farming and who would like to discuss and reason together with our town cousins.
Naturally the attitudes of someone brought up in the country differ widely from someone brought up in the town. As a small boy I can remember sitting with an old bearded uncle who had his gun across his knee waiting for a stoat to come for one of the chickens it had killed the previous night. As I grew older I had to pit my wits against rats, weasels and stoats which could destroy up to one hundred young chickens in a night.
A man from the town came to our village. He would not let any vermin be shot or trapped on his land, but one day a fox took the head off one of his geese and then he changed his mind.
When I started farming my cows were tied up in the shippons from November till May. Now they are all loose housed, surely a big improvement.
My pigs were loose housed and allowed to run out. Then to compete with foreign competition and make a living I changed to sow stalls, farrowing crates and slatted floor fattening housing ... 'cruel necessity'. I have now ceased to keep pigs.
My poultry were kept in small cabins and allowed out every day. I used to breed from six or seven different breeds. Now, alas, practically all the breeding is done by a few large national and international concerns to provide hybrids for batteries.
I often wonder what the animal welfare lobby feel about the hungry people of the Third World. A few years ago I visited Zambia and saw one of their agricultural colleges and several white farmers, I was pleased to see many modern methods being taught which, I hope, will mean the blacks will be able to have a more mixed and healthier diet.
Is it right to try to get twenty piglets per sow per year using a farrowing crate, or let it farrow naturally and rear eight or ten per year?
Is it right to keep hens in batteries and get an average of about 250 eggs per year or have them running around and getting about 40 or 50 per year at the same time as a large part of the population live on maizes?
One day I watched a black lady make a pan of mealy meal and give her husband a dish. Then she and the child had the rest., I asked if they had that three times a day and the man said no, only twice. Fifty per cent of the children die before the age of five.
I am sure that anyone who has seen the big stores in Zambia and bare shelves and the queues of people waiting when word gets around that cheese, butter and eggs, have arrived, would not complain about a reasonable amount of factory farming.
Last year I visited South Africa and saw one of the largest poultry companies where 1,000,000 chickens are processed every week and sold at a reasonable price because they have been intensively reared.
Without going into the political question, if only the white and black people could work together there would be no food shortage in Africa. I had a long talk with a Christian district agricultural advisory officer who is doing his best to train black farmers, but it is such a long term job.
Surely, as the Rev John Clarke says, 'We need to challenge our Christian theologians to look again at the doctrine of creation and apply it to these issues.'
I do hope you publish this letter or part of it so that your readers will not think we farmers are all villains.
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