Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights

In my reading this morning, I came across this quote from a sheep farmer in Pennsylvania:

"I'm a very strong supporter of animal welfare (which is difficult to define) and do not support animal rights. I don't believe that there is any single "ideal" or "right" way to raise livestock. Each producer must make that decision based on the region, the land he has, what he's passionate about and the market. Ag producers cannot afford to disparage others who don't do things "their way"—there are too many mouths to feed, and there's room for every kind of production as long as that production is based on sound science."

It was just a snippet in an article about their operation. If you'd like to read the quote in context, you can read the whole article here

If I had my way with that quote, I'd add to the end "as long a that production is based on sound science and treats the animal humanely."

But what is the definition of "humane"? One definition is "having or showing compassion or benevolence." Yet some today would take it further--humane means to treat something as you would treat a human.  

Recently we had someone admit to us that she was upset by what she saw at a previous year's shearing day. She wouldn't be back. 

This is discouraging to us. We feel as though we do a decent job of taking care of our farm animals. Yet something as basic as caring for the needs of a sheep upsets some folks. If we lock our cattle outside and it snows, is that cruel? If we lock our sheep inside and don't give them access to the outside during the winter, is that cruel? If we limit the amount of feed that an animal receives (so as to maintain health), is that cruel? If we allow another animal to eat as much as it wants, so as to be able to harvest it sooner for those who choose to eat meat, is that cruel?

And for that matter, is the taking of animal life for food cruel? 

If humans and animals are the same, then are animals and bean plants the same? Because we harvest the bean seeds for our food and the plant dies. We plant the bean seeds purposefully, knowing that we will harvest the seeds. Further, why is it okay for a cheetah to harvest an antelope for a meal, and it is not okay for people to harvest a lamb or steer for food? 

I am eager to allow people to eat in whatever manner their conscience dictacts. I am also eager to allow people to farm in whatever manner their conscience dictacts. Of course I cannot support animal cruelty. But we should be careful to learn from those who care for the animals why they do what they do. Sometimes what appears to be cruel, like shearing a sheep, is actually what is best for that animal, and profits the farmer as well. These two things need not be mutually exclusive.

Please feel free to ask questions if you would like to know. I'll do my best to answer.


  1. A good and thoughtful post, Lona, I'm not sure how I almost missed it, but I'm glad I didn't!

    Have a wonderful Easter, by the way!

  2. I was just talking about this to my 9 year old grand daughter yesterday. All 6 of my goats had gotten out of their yard and were all in the milkroom, eating out of the bags of grain and bread sacks I get for the pigs. I got them all out as fast as I could. She was upset because she thought they were hungry and should be allowed to eat. I told her if I left those goats in that room and they ate all they could find, they would get really sick and could possibly die. It's not good to let goats, or horses, or cows, eat all they want. Because they will eat til they do get sick. Then it could lead to possible death. People don't understand this. There is a limit to how much an animal should be allowed to eat. And we are responsible for them. So we need to limit what they eat for their own sakes.

    To some non-farming people, what we do may seem cruel or mean or inhumane because they are not educated in this part of life. If no one ate meat, we would be over run by so many animals, we wouldn't be able to drive or walk or do anything. It's just too rediculous. God gave man dominion over the animals of the air and the fields and the waters. It's OUR responsibility to care for them and make sure they are fed and healthy. And they in turn make us happy and healthy and feed us and clothe us and give us what we need.

    But everyone is different and has different needs. I am so glad we are not alike.


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