UPC Co-Sponsors the Animal Compassion Tour
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. We plan to create a documentary film exposing what we heard and saw at each operation. 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 frantically 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 birds? Yet from the road, and on our tours, we saw
why—these birds are not being cared for in a way that any person who truly cares about animals 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 ranch we visited did let the hens go outside. This farmer was very proud of his “progressive” farm and talked
about how the best chefs in San Francisco come to him for eggs for their local dishes. As we approached the area with the chickens, an awful odor came from
the sheds, and the entire “free range” 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 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 filth.
California’s “Happy Cows”
A couple of farmers let us tour their dairies. At one place, 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 and not a blade of grass in sight. The cows were curious about us, but flinched 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 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. My mind is stuck with this shameful image. I wonder if most people
who use dairy products would care if they saw the obscene way they get their milk.
Or how they would feel at the pitiful sight of 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 its website, “Each and every day—rain or shine—cowboys ride the pens to ensure
the health and welfare of every animal in their care.” Not surprisingly, we saw no “cowboys,” 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 them to check on the
cows’ wellbeing. The poor cows just stood there, helpless in the muck – 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. Clearly they didn’t ensure 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, exposing the industry lies about how “happy” these animals are. Observing firsthand
their suffering, and the conditions they actually live in, we must tell friends, family and colleagues the truth, which totally contradicts the marketing
and television ads about “Happy Cows” and “Contented Chickens.”
HOPE BOHANEC is Projects Manager for United Poultry Concerns and the author of The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat?