We’ll be overrun by chickens

chickens-in-a-new-field
An argument I often hear when promoting veganism is:

Where will all the animals go? We’ll be overrun by cows/chickens/pigs.

We currently kill nearly 60 billion land animals a year, and between 1 and 3 trillion aquatic animals for food and clothing.

In the case of aquatic animals, we have killed so many that 95% of fish stocks have been depleted, and many species are on the verge of extinction. We would do well to stop fishing altogether and allow our oceans to be ‘overrun’.

As for the land animals, we specifically breed them in huge numbers. Some species have had their phenotype so drastically altered for optimum meat production that they can no longer breed normally, and have to be artificially inseminated en masse.

In reality, we are not all going to go vegan overnight. As more of us do though, demand will fall, and supply will dwindle accordingly. We will stop breeding so many animals. Eventually, the number left will be small enough to handle their emancipation with relative ease.

If we want to, we can keep a population of each type of farmed animal on reserves to prevent their extinction, though personally I would be content to allow domesticated species to die out.

If we allow farmed animals, whose breeding habits are currently strictly regulated, to breed as they choose, they will begin to resemble their historical phenotypes within a few generations. Soon they will no longer be reliant on human intervention for survival. There will be more land available for them to live on, as a vegan diet requires about 20 times less land to produce the same amount of food as an omnivorous diet. They will not pose a threat to wildlife and the environment anywhere near as much as animal agriculture does. We presently use 26% of arable land to graze farm animals, and a further 33% to grow crops to feed to farm animals. Farming animals is far more hazardous to the planet than releasing them.

In short, we will not be overrun by chickens.

Even if we all turn vegan today, I think it would be the least we could do to turn farms into reserves, allow all the farmed animals alive today to live out their natural lives in peace, and stop breeding new ones. We found the time and resources to accommodate them when we ate them, we can do the same out of compassion. Ending animal agriculture will mean there are more resources and space available for growing a more diverse range of crops, and will abrogate the need for decimating rainforest and woodland to make space for cattle.

The logistics of dealing with the problem of what to do with animals that we brought into existence in order to kill them for our pleasure and convenience is not a justification for continuing to breed, intern and slaughter them.

Why vegetarianism isn’t enough

Growing up I was always taught by my mum to be kind to animals. We never had less than 5 rescue animals in our home. My mum would put food out for hedgehogs, and tend to them when they were hit by cars. My dad even lassoed a starving german shepherd from the back of a moped. True story. I was told bullfighting and dog fighting was abhorrent, that vivisection was deplorable and that fox hunters were the scum of the Earth. My mother wouldn’t talk to our Australian cousin that shot kangaroos for sport.

But I never questioned why we sat down and ate animals for dinner every night.

As an adult I would move earthworms and snails from the path, lest they were trodden on, on my way to KFC. I never could stomach spare ribs or chicken on the bone because it reminded me that my food was once an animal; everything had to be reshaped and covered in euphemistic breadcrumbs. How could I exhibit such conflicting behaviour for so long?

It wasn’t until I was about 24 that I decided I couldn’t eat animals any more. So I became a vegetarian. But I still wore and even bought new leather, and cooked meat for others. It was half-arsed.

It wasn’t until I was 28 and I began to read more about animal rights that I started to consider veganism.

What did happen to all the boy chicks that are useless in egg production, and all the baby boy cows that don’t produce milk? What happens when the adults’ milk and egg production rates dropped off and they were no longer profitable? Do they live out their natural lives in retirement homes, a golden handshake for their years of sacrifice and hard work? No, they had the same fate as the animals that ended up in breadcrumbs.

I learned that animal products are morally indistinguishable from meat.

Millions of cows and chickens die every year as a result of the egg and dairy industry.

Baby boy chicks are gassed, or ground up and fed back to their parents. The female chickens have been bred to lay egg after egg, whether they’re free range or battery. No wild bird would use up precious energy on this travesty of a menstrual cycle.

Dairy cows are repeatedly impregnated from the moment they are fertile, their young ripped away from them so they don’t drink the milk meant to nourish them, often sent for veal production or simply bolt-gunned on the day they are born. Meanwhile their mothers mourn, locked in a cage for 16 hours with pumps attached to their nipples, machines sucking their grotesquely swollen, optimally bred udders until they bleed. And when they’ve been through this 3 or 4 times, they are strung up and slaughtered along with their meat-producing brethren. Many are pregnant when this happens, and the soft, velvety skin of their foetuses is used to make expensive leather gloves and bags. Dairy is the ultimate appropriation and commodification of motherhood.

Sure, you could argue that you could keep a cow on some land and milk her guilt-free, but as any mammal would, she would stop producing milk once her baby was weaned. We can’t allow that, we want her milk. And sure her pendulous udder is prone to infection and cancer because we’ve slowly deformed her through selective breeding, generation after generation to produce pints of the white stuff. But who wants black tea?

Maybe we could keep some chickens and take their eggs, they don’t need them? But if we stopped breeding for superfluous egg production the birds would start to choose their own mates and return to their earlier phenotype, and stop laying so many eggs. They don’t owe us anything.

The egg and dairy business is particularly brutal in the context of capitalism, where we exterminate the slackers and dispose of the males. But as adult humans, should we really be drinking milk from somebody else’s breast, someone who isn’t even the same species as us? Do we really need chicken ovulations on toast every morning? Especially when it comes at such a price.

We are keeping them captive and treating them as objects because we like their secretions, and it results in a life of suffering and a premature death. It doesn’t matter if the sticker says organic and free range; these labels are there to make people who don’t want to harm animals feel ok about harming animals.

Veganism is a commitment to refusing to treat animals as property, and it was very hard to accept as an animal lover and a vegetarian, that i was doing just that.

If you don’t want animals to die for your dinner, then you have to give up eggs and dairy.

I may not like the taste of vegan cheese, but the taste left in my mouth from my research into the dairy industry was far harder to wash away.

I implore you, do the research yourself, and if you care about what happens to animals, go vegan.

Running Wild

What exactly do animals have to do to prove that they don’t want to die?

Wild animals will do almost anything to survive. They will flee when they can, fight when they can’t, gnaw their own legs off when they’re trapped. When we do catch them they scream and snarl, and try to escape. Survival is paramount. It would be incredibly difficult to farm wild boar or wolverines. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but not without a ┬álot of precautions and doubtless many workplace injuries.

So we selectively breed their survival instinct out of them. We choose only the most docile and amenable. We make them fat and sedentary and dependent upon us. We breed away their claws and their teeth, their horns and their muscle, their wit and their speed. And then, once their phenotype has been lobotomised we say, “well they don’t mind being farmed, they need us to look after them, and we can even leave the gates open and they don’t run away.” The classic abuser apologetics scarcely need highlighting.

But they still panic, they still cry out, they still bleed and they still die twitching.

We are not doing them a favour; we beat and bred them into submission, and then tell them they like it.

They are not domesticated, they are broken.