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Where are all the good men? August 29, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
Tags: , , ,

Why can’t you ever find a good man? In the farm animal world, the answer is that they’re mostly dead. In the chicken industry, male chicks have little use except as breeders.[1] They don’t lay eggs, and their meat is tough and stringy, and therefore unpalatable to the US consumer. You need very few breeders – recommended levels are from 4 to 10 males per 100 females, depending on the age of the flock.[2] Therefore, at least 90 percent of male chicks are killed or left to die after birth. Similarly, the dairy industry has little use for male calves. Dairy calves are not bred for the same traits as meat calves, so male dairy calves are not suitable for beef production (and they obviously don’t produce milk). 75% of US male dairy calves are sold to the veal industry, where they are slaughtered by 20 weeks of age.[3] The remainder are either killed at birth, become breeders, or are raised for low-quality beef, especially if they are cross-bred dairy/beef calves.

So let’s say that you care enough about animal welfare to buy meat and dairy from farms that raise their animals humanely – that pasture their chickens and cows, allow them to engage in natural foraging and social behaviors, etc. Even these farms have no use for males, and so have no alternative but to participate in the industry practices described above. (I have met one farm family – the Yanishes at Silver Leaf Farms – who eat their own male chickens, but even in the world of sustainable, humane farming they are the exception.) What should you do? Is it OK to support these farms, or should you stop eating all poultry and dairy products?

[1] There is a small market for capon, which is meat from castrated male chickens. This market is classified by the National Chicken Council as “specialty” and they do not publish statistics on its size

[2] J. A. Ranson, “Troubleshooting Flock Fertility Problems,” Hubbard Technical Bulletin, Jan 2005

[3] USDA Economic Research Service, “Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook,” May 19, 2009



1. Guillaume - September 2, 2009

An interesting question. Obviously you don’t want to eat meat from animals that lived a meagre existence and then get killed. But what if the animal never had a chance to really live a meagre existence, because they get killed right after birth (like the male chicks/calves)? Unless you condemn the act of killing as inhumane in itself, couldn’t you argue that the male chicks/calves never got mistreated (except for the male calves sold as veal) and it would therefore be okay to eat poultry and dairy products?

2. Angelique - September 4, 2009

Good point, but there is still the issue of how they are killed and whether that is humane. From what I can tell, for male chicks, allowing them to starve to death or to be smothered in a pile of doomed chicks is not uncommon. And even if the death is relatively humane (gassing is recommended) something still feels wrong about this.

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