Size Matters: From an Energy and Environmental Standpoint, the Larger the Livestock Farm the Better (part 4, conclusion)

August 21, 2008 at 7:00 am

This is a guest post from Tom Cully, a student at Indiana Wesleyan. This post is the final part of the paper that Mr. Cully wrote.

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Supporting Debate

Part 3 – Opposing Debate

Supporting Rebuttal

Those supporting large farms have spoken out against activists in both the public and the private sectors. On the issue of the environment, supporters urge opponents to understand the effort put into waste management practices. It is obvious that damage can arise from the large farm practices, but with proper management and adequate attention, the environment is in no serious danger of pollution. In fact, the environment as well as the economy can actually benefit from the size. For example, research proves that composting dead animals can actually prove to make a great fertilizer that can be sold. Farms with adequate technology are even able to convert their waste products into marketable fertilizers, gases, and freshwater.

On the issue of efficiency, large farm supporters are able to look to the USDA for proof. According to the census taken in 2002 by the USDA, larger farms generate more income per animal than do farms of smaller size for all kinds of livestock. Also verifiable by the USDA is the increased revenue generated by larger farms. Additional money can not be spent for special care on small farms, simply because there is no additional money. Money saving techniques can arise on large farms, such as bulk sales and contracted discounts. For these reasons and others large farms are more economically efficient than those of a smaller scale.

Ethically, animals on large farms receive the best care possible. Contrary to radical belief, large farm employees are actually paid to make sure the animals are healthy and cared for. Medical care from highly specialized, distinguished veterinarians is affordable when multiple appointments can be made on the same day at the same location. Controversial practices, such as beak trimming, tail docking, tooth cutting, etc…, are performed for the benefit of the animal. These procedures reduce aggression, inhibit cannibalism, and hinder self inflicted injuries. The healthier and happier the animals are, the more they will produce, which is the primary goal of large producers.

Opposing Rebuttal

Large farms undoubtedly care about the environment; however, their actions prove their priority when making money is all that matters. Though it may be possible to treat their surroundings with decency by use of modern technology and methodology, large farms all across the nation are continuing to fail at upholding the foundation of their work: the environment. Almost without exception, air and water quality, not to mention the overall quality of life, near factory farms is suffering. It is time the experts start putting their money where their mouth is and clean up their act.

Economics, another key argument for supporters, is downplayed by animal rights activists because of the unhealthy repercussions from the large farm profit. The difference in money spent between large and small farms could be used to fight poverty or provide food to homeless. Large farms also drag down the local economy by frustrating neighbors and driving out small farmers. Most small farms are unable to compete with the low prices of big farms, which forces local farmers out of business and into debt. This impact on local economy can be detrimental to a small town, and all for the greed of profit.

Perhaps even greedier is that producers are willing to sacrifice an animal’s needs for cheap feed and below standard containment. Unbelievably, some CAFOs actually provide little to no free space for animals to move and act naturally. These conditions are not only destructive to animal welfare, but they can be stressful and dangerous for the animal, limiting product quality. Alternatively, natural and organic products grown from satisfied livestock on small farms yield more nutrition and value. These circumstances can only be found on farms using natural, clean, humanely treated animals.

Conclusion

This debate is not the classic example of right and wrong. More accurately, this debate centers itself around the best decision pertaining to the conditions we are currently in and those of tomorrow. Both those supporting and opposing this issue have what seems to be relevant argumentation. However, those in support of increasing farm size to accommodate for increasing demands on agriculturalists provide a more well founded stance, though not perfect.

In other words, waste management and other environmental issues should be directly addressed by large farms. Affording sub-par practices to this issue will not suffice. The environmental ramifications of large farms should boost income, reputation, and overall success. Assertively implementing and researching modern practices to recycle, reuse, and possibly resell waste should be of equal importance as primary product sales.

Economically, large farms are a growing necessity. With demand growing, farmable land diminishing, and suburbia spreading, farms must take every initiative to compensate, even if that means giving up a small farm dominated agriculture. On the contrary, small farms are still important, because they help maintain part of American heritage and help provide a wider variety of food options. Also, another important reason to maintain some level of small farms are to provide a higher quality, more organic food that can be bought for higher prices. Agriculture on a national scale clearly benefits from the larger farms, and rural communities can too. If environmental efforts were taken more seriously, health concerns would diminish and communities would support the large farm movement, along with its benefits. As far as food quality is concerned, if the upper class does not have Grade A beef for every meal, so that peasants are able to work and feed themselves, then larger farms can further be justified.

Ethically, large farm techniques are not entirely inappropriate. Preventive surgeries such as beak trimming, tail docking, and others should be carefully considered. Although, some are necessary and most are painful, studies may suggest that not all methods prove to be beneficial.18 Not only could some time and money be saved here, but also some of the public’s concern. Confinement should be treated in the same manner. All animals have a certain inherent amount of space required for optimum growth. Simple experimentation could easily determine an approximate numerical value for this space. Operators and managers must take into consideration the relationship between animal welfare and animal production. Unfortunately, most citizens of the public sector are unfamiliar to the needs of livestock. Many concerned animal rights advocates simply become upset when they see livestock being treated differently than their own pets.

In conclusion, larger farms are crucial for the proper development of modern day agriculture. However, as with other industries, bigger is not always better. Small farms must begin to take the back seat, while continuing to fulfill an important role. Both small and large farms are obliged to maintain a dynamic relationship of accountability to keep modern agriculture on top. From here time will only tell what happens, but for now size matters, and from an energy and environmental standpoint, the larger the livestock farm the better.

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This blog is no longer being maintained. Information on this blog may still be relevant, but for the latest agronomic information and farm management information please visit http://corn.osu.edu and http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu, respectively.

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