Amy Meyer of Utah Animal Rights Coalition and I recently teamed up for a “Farm Exposure Tour.” On this tour, which took place over four days, we armed ourselves with cameras and drove by more than 100 farms, including the major industrial factory farms throughout Utah. What we saw shocked us: dumpsters full of dead turkeys, thousands of small hutches with confined calves, animals living in their own waste, liquid manure waste lagoons, manure piles that were stories high, and feed/hay storage for miles. These farms are obscured from the public behind vast private property lots and warning signs, but even from public roads we were able to witness just how awful and unsustainable these operations are, and WHY they are hidden from the public. Consumers have the right to know that these practices are going on right here in our backyard in Utah. We took more than 400 photographs, including dairy calves left for dead at a few Utah dairy farms. These photos are also used on an interactive map we created that plots exactly where Utah’s factory farms and smaller farms are located. This is quite a lengthy write up and I don’t even touch on everything, so make sure to follow Utah Animal Rights and Sage Mountain Utah on Instagram and Facebook for more pictures, videos and details of the tour.
There are 47 turkey farms in Sanpete County, and it ranks number 3 in terms of turkey inventory. In 2012, nearly 4.5 million turkeys were killed in Utah. That number is difficult to comprehend, but when you see the massive sheds it starts to make sense. The one we were able to get closest to was in Freedom, Utah. When we stepped out of the car near just one of these sheds, we could hear the hundreds of turkeys crammed together inside. There were no windows and I imagined what it must be like. To see hundreds of these sheds from a distance is one thing but to stand near one is another: nowhere to escape, you can’t sleep because of noise or feeling threatened by others around you, you are bred and fed to grow very big very fast but are just a baby and still developing so often collapse under your own weight or get trampled, get sick and risk dying. Standing there I felt sad, helpless and completely overwhelmed by the amount of turkeys there. These sheds are so mechanized that the only daily task for the farm owner is to come through to clear out the dead individuals. Amy and I found where those bodies are thrown: into dumpsters located on surrounding roads.
Lives hidden, unseen and discarded. The only time they breath fresh air is when they are transported on trucks to their death. Part of me felt the individuals in the dumpsters were lucky because they didn’t have to suffer any longer or have their life end in fear while being shackled with their throat slit. These massive farms supply Norbest Turkey, whose slogan is “raised in the pristine high mountains and valleys.”
We want to believe that farms are keeping up with proper care of these animals, but the reality is quite different. Investigations held by Direct Action Everywhere continue to shed light on the truth inside these facilities. Fox 13 News covered the story a few months ago here.
Massive egg farms are in Tooele, Utah County, Millard and Cache County. At the time of the most recent USDA census, there were just under 4 million laying hens in Utah. There are more than 100,000 hens in the buildings at time of USDA census. Delta Egg farm and Oakdell were the two we were able to get closest to, which was not very close. These massive farms were heavily guarded with security and no trespassing signs.
We were even approached by one security guard asking why we were there. I have never seen so much security surrounding food! Would there be the same security for say a bean or vegetable packaging plant? Not sure but I am certain that we were not welcome here. These industries do not want the public to see inside these places and here’s why: hens are crammed together in groups of 5-10 in tiny metal cages piled on top of each other so you can imagine the amount of waste these birds live in. They cannot spread their wings, the tips of their beaks are burned off so they won’t peck each other to death out of frustration of living in such close quarters. Male chicks are immediately thrown into a grinder or gassed because they are of no use to the industry. Through genetic manipulation, hens are forced to lay 250-300 eggs a year. In nature, hens lay only 10-15 a year so when their bodies are forced to endure the labor intensive process of 250-300, their bodies become afflicted with debilitating osteoporosis and bone fractures that are extremely painful. They are only 18 months when they reach the slaughterhouse. Backyard and small farms aren’t necessarily better for animals because they are still being exploited for something we do not need. Eggs are not good for us to be ingesting because they are the highest cholesterol dense food.
In 2012, roughly 2.5 million pigs from Utah’s farms were slaughtered. Smithfield/Circle 4 Farms located in Beaver County Utah raises 1.2 million pigs per year. 600,000 pigs are packed into long warehouse sheds at any given time. These sheds go on as far as the eye can see, but you would never know that thousands of pigs are inside each one of them.
We drove the road that follows many of the sheds, but could only see the chutes and fans at the end of each shed and the liquid manure pools in between. Waste pits like these eventually end up in the oceans causing “dead zones” where ocean life cannot survive. No one was around and when we got out of the car, we understood why. The smell of manure was so bad that it burned our eyes and soaked into our clothes. I immediately thought of Ponyboy and Wilma Jean and my eyes filled with tears. How lucky I am to get to know them and take care of them . To realize we were standing outside sheds where a sow will spend her short life confined to a gestation crate where she can only lie down or stand up on concrete flooring was heartbreaking especially now that I know how pigs enjoy digging and rooting around in dirt and laying in the sun for hours. Ponyboy and Wilma Jean are best friends and they are free to choose how they spend their day. They can communicate in ways that continue to amaze me. What makes the individuals inside all these sheds any different from Wilma or even my dog Maggie? A mother pig will not have enough room to turn around or care for her young. She will be impregnated year after year until her body breaks down and she is sent to slaughter. Newly born piglets undergo castration and have their tails cut off without any pain relief. They then are crammed into pens until they reach market weight, usually when they are 6 months old. At that point, they are loaded up onto trucks through the chutes and are hauled off to slaughter. They often go 12+ hours in the heat without water in the trucks and by the time they reach the slaughterhouse they are overheating and exhausted, but all that awaits them is an electric pliers stun to the head. Another DXE investigation inside Smithfield/Circle 4 here.
All the farms we drove by or visited were extremely tough to see, but the dairy farms (large and small) were the most difficult for me. Most of us believe that dairy is ok. That being vegetarian is enough. I believed the same thing until I started researching the dairy industry a little more. Dairy is not only bad for human health and the environment, it is extremely cruel to all the animals involved. There are over 200 dairy farms in Utah. The largest dairy farms we saw were in Elberta and Newcastle.
Cache County had the most small dairy farms and honestly these were the ones with the worst conditions.
In order for any mammal to produce milk, she must have given birth. In the dairy industry, these cows are forcibly impregnated by a person inserting their arm far into the cow’s rectum in order to position the uterus, and then forcing an instrument into her vagina. The narrow chute in which female cows are restrained to do this is often referred to as a “rape rack”. See video demonstrating how this is done. Once the cow has carried her baby for 9 months, she is ready to give birth. Her baby is taken from her less than 48 hours after she has given birth. A bond between a mother and her newly born baby is immensely strong, so you can imagine how horrifying and sad this is for mom and baby. I have met calves newly separated from their mom, and they try to cry out but have lost their voices from crying so much for their mom. At only a few only days old, some tried to “nurse” my hand and fingers because they were so desperate for their mother’s milk.
Male calves born into the diary industry are either stuffed into crates to be slaughtered in a few months as veal or sold off as beef cattle. Female calves are chained or fenced into extremely small areas called hutches. They are denied room to play and be social with others. They will remain in these hutches for up to 4 months until they are transferred to group pens which can be extremely stressful for them.
They will never see their mom again and will repeat the same process she did.
I don’t have children but I often hear mothers talk about how much they hate pumping and how sore they get. I have spoken with mothers who would literally kill anyone who tried to hurt their baby. This is what these mothers go through day in and day out until she is forcibly impregnated again to repeat the process, produce more milk and then sent to slaughter at 4 years of age. I have to ask, put yourself in the position of these mothers. Your baby is taken from you so another species can consume the milk that was meant to grow your baby. You become so sore and often infected from being hooked up to metal machines that you can hardly walk at times. Nature is pretty amazing in that every mammal (we are not separate from this) produces just enough growth fluid for an infant to grow healthy and strong. Obviously there are individual issues that can arise but we surely don’t need to be consuming another species growth fluid as a baby and especially not into adulthood.
We came across calves that looked sick and malnourished as well as a few dead calves.
Amy and I were actually able to get pretty close to a few of these dairies. The number of dairy cows at any given location was astounding when you think about the amount of resources it takes within the industry. It takes 1000 gallons of water for 1 gallon of milk. So you wonder where our water is going. Just one dairy cow consumes 100 pounds of food a day and produces 120 pounds of waste per day. The waste has to go somewhere.
The toughest part is that even though it was overwhelmingly sad to witness babies chained to hutches in the hot sun, we were able to go back to our hotel that night and eat dinner. They were all still there. Some I have visited in the last few months are all still there. Chained, confined and missing their mom.
Something I have always believed to be true is that humans are compassionate and empathetic. We want to believe we are making good choices. There is a reason a lot of these farms are hidden from public view. If they were transparent, very few would support them. I do not doubt that there are farmers that do care for their animals and most likely don’t enjoy sending the animals they have raised to slaughter. But because of our demand for this idea that we need animal protein, these animals will continue to be betrayed. No matter the farm, at the end of the day, animals will be needlessly slaughtered. ALL the nutrients we need comes from plants. Why are we filtering it through an innocent animal? Amy and I did this tour to see for ourselves just how hidden and unapproachable some of these farms are, to share our experience with you, to create a map so the public can see where these farms are located, and to inspire you to not only choose a vegan lifestyle but to stand up to these unjust practices that are 100% unnecessary. When you see animals being confined or transported, take a picture, write about it, talk about it, share it! Get involved with animal rights groups, outreach groups, volunteer at animal sanctuaries or start your own, leaflet, write letters, start petitions, protest, reach out to environmental groups and share with them that the number 1 contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, deforestation, ocean dead zones and species loss is animal agriculture. Reach out to health organizations, doctors and dietitians and ask why they aren’t addressing the number one cause of heart disease, cancer and diabetes and prescribing a plant based diet. These issues must be talked about, action must be taken and the time is NOW.