By Hope Bohanec, Projects Manager for UPC
Recently, a group of dedicated California animal activists got together, rented some vans and set out to tour animal agriculture facilities from Sacramento
to Los Angeles. The Animal Compassion Tour (ACT), cosponsored by United Poultry Concerns, consisted of activists, authors, celebrity chefs, and nutrition
consultants all dedicated to ending farmed animal suffering. We stopped at a couple dozen farms ranging from the worst of the worst to the supposedly best
of the best, asking if we could tour the facilities, and documenting what we found. We plan to create a documentary film exposing what we heard and saw at
each operation. The ACT tour visited dairies, egg ranches, broiler chicken sheds, turkey farms, cattle holding pens, and an auction yard. What we saw on
our three day tour haunts me. Here is a sample.
The Chickens We Saw and Did Not See
At one location, we saw old sheds that looked like they might have had big open windows at one time, but were now covered in huge pieces
of thick plastic. On one side of a shed was a large pool of neon greenish water in the mud. We didn’t know what was inside this shed, but then, just
outside it, we saw about 20 tiny chicks running franticly around, close to the wall. They were what the poultry industry calls “broiler” chicks
who are slaughtered for meat at six weeks old. They must have escaped from the sheds and were now exposed, without protection, to the elements and to
predators. From years of research, we knew that inside the many sheds we saw were thousands of baby chicks, uncomforted by a mother hen, a warm nest, or
any sunlight, and that the air they breathed was putrid.
The chicks outside fled from us, but there was nowhere for them to go but to circle the building. No water, no shelter, no hope.
Mostly what we saw on the ACT tour were long windowless buildings viewed from the road, as many of these chicken farms are fenced off and boarded up with
unfriendly signs warning against trespassing. Many farmers refused to talk to us, much less let us tour their facilities, and a few were quite hostile. Why
would they react this way? Wouldn’t they want to show off how “well” they treat their animals? Yet from the road, and on our tours, we
saw why—the animals were not being cared for in a way that any person who truly cares about animals or even most consumers would approve of. Even
farms with websites claiming they are “the best egg farm in the country with the happiest chickens!” shut the door on us.
One “free-range” egg facility we visited did let the hens go outside in areas of about 15 feet by 10 feet. This farmer was very proud of his
“progressive” farm and talked about how the best chefs in San Francisco come to his farm for eggs for their local dishes. As we approached the
area with the chickens, an awful odor came from the sheds, and the outside area was nothing more than a mud hole. The entire area for the chickens to
“free range” in was covered in wet feces and mud, while on the other side of the fence, where the chickens couldn’t go, but could see,
was nice, clean, fresh grass they would have loved. This happened over and over on our tour—beautiful grass and alfalfa within feet of where the poor
animals were living in mud, urine, feces and filth.
California’s “Happy Cows”
A couple of farmers let us tour their dairies. At one operation, the cows were in holding pens on either side of the milking parlor, covered in muck, with
manure and mud on their legs and bellies. No green grass was in sight. The cows were curious about us, but skittish, flinching at our every move. Not like
the cows I've met at sanctuaries who are so friendly they will often come right up to you to be petted. By contrast, these cows shied away as we
approached, raising the question of what made them so anxious and fearful around people.
One quiet area with a big metal fence separating the cows from each other suddenly sprang to life with an abrupt shrieking sound. The gate started slowly
corralling a group of cows who crowded together as they backed away, pushing one another and stumbling as far from the gate as possible. But it was useless
because the metal gate forced them into the milking parlor.
The milking parlor was mechanical and filthy, and it is designed so that you can’t see the cows’ faces, just their udders all in a row, as if
they were not real, feeling creatures–just body parts compartmented for a product. I found my mind stuck with this shameful image. I wondered if most
people would care if they saw the obscene way they get their milk.
Over and over on our tour we saw animals in mucky, muddy, manure-filled holding pens, while on the other side of the fence, or the road, just out of reach,
was luscious green grass, taunting the animals who would never be able to enjoy one mouthful.
Another pitiful sight was the baby calves torn from their mothers and isolated in small pens and calf hutches. We saw newborn babies on wobbly legs with
their bellies still wet where the umbilical cord was attached, frightened and alone in a pen at the auction yard, never to see their mothers again or to drink
the milk that should have been theirs.
Near Los Angeles we visited a cattle ranch that says on their website, “Each and every day—rain or shine—cowboys ride the pens to ensure
the health and welfare of every animal in their care.” However, we saw no “cowboys” there, since this ranch backs into the large
Interstate 5 freeway, and the 140 acre holding area is broken into hundreds of smaller pens with no room to “ride” through the pens to check on
the cows’ wellbeing. The poor cows just stood there, helpless in the muck, urine, mud and feces – knee deep in places and typical of these
cattle and dairy operations. We saw one dead cow lying on his side with his legs sticking out straight from rigor mortis. It certainly didn’t look
like they ensured this poor animal’s health and welfare.
The ACT tour was a sad journey for all of us. We were able to bear witness to many animals in agricultural facilities across our home state of California,
and to bring back their stories of sadness and frustration, and expose the industry lies about how “happy” these animals are. We were witness
to their suffering and the conditions they are actually raised in and are now able to tell friends, family and colleagues what we saw, which totally
contradicts the marketing and television ads.
We now know the truth for ourselves and will gather together our footage, thoughts and ideas and share it in a documentary film about the Animal Compassion
Tour. We will keep you updated on our progress and look forward to sharing the ACT tour with the world.