Farming systems can be defined in many ways. VEDA (The Vegetarian Environmental Development Association) has defined three different farming systems according to the diet the farming system feeds - a meat-based diet, a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet; though overlap between the diets does exist.
1. The rearing of animals for slaughter provides for a milk and meat-based diet. This meat-based farming system is the presently accepted norm in most of the world, with India as a notable exception.
2. The rearing of animals for useful products and services without slaughtering the animals provides for a vegetarian diet. This farming system is that followed by Protection Farms.
3. Farm animals need not be used at all, leaving a vegan, plant-based diet. This system is presently being developed according to vegan standards.
Protection Farms utilizes all domesticated farm animals, though the main farm animal, as in most farming systems, is the cow. Presented below are comparisons between the three farming systems outlined, using the cow as an exemplar.
A table showing dietary comparisons and their implications to the farmed animals, using the cow as an exemplar.
A Meat-based Farming System
In a conventional dairy unit in the UK dairy cows are impregnated in their second year for a 300-day lactation in their third year. Their calves are separated from their mothers within the first 48 hours; unwanted calves are used for veal production or slaughtered as they are seen to be of no economic value. The dairy cow will yield an average of 20 litres/day for a 6,000 litre lactation. During this period they are impregnated again ready to give birth and another 300-day lactation, with only 2 months between drying off and birth. At an average age of 7 years old, after 5 or more lactations, yielding in its lifetime over 30,000 litres of milk, the dairy cow is sent to slaughter; usually for low-grade meat for pet food. In conventional beef suckler systems beef steers suffer another fate to the dairy cow. After castration and intensive feeding for 3 years they are then slaughtered for meat for human consumption.
The feed that is used in conventional systems is in a concentrated form to increase growth rate and milk yield. Before the BSE crisis concentrates even contained the dried powdered remains of animals, including the cow. These concentrates increase metabolic disorders, which, along with intensive stocking, leads to infirmity; this is counteracted via the proliferate use of antibiotics. The organic dairy system differs from the conventional system in a lower intensity of the system in regards to (organic) feeding and stocking. Still, all organic farms slaughter their livestock at the end of their optimal economic efficiency, though a few very fortunate farm animals may be kept as pets.
A Vegan Farming System
The vegan farming system is a livestock-less system, therefore no animals would be farmed. If the vegan system were taken to its extremes, i.e. the world ate a vegan diet, then there would be no domesticated animals, including pets. The relationship with the natural world and its animals would be one of minimal interference. The land would revert to its natural climax vegetation, e.g. forest, and the vegan diet would come from an agro-ecology of tree-based fruits and nuts, as well as field-based crops of grains and horticulture. Unless farm animals were made extinct and there was no other invasive wildlife, then competition from feral farm animals and wildlife could intensify, leading to the necessity to cull.
Notable vegan writers like Kathleen Jannaway have lent their support to a farming system with protected farm animals as a halfway house between the present system and the vegan ideal. Other vegans are more militant in their approach to Protection Farms. There are valid arguments from vegan writers concerning the need to keep animals at all, which are highly complex and polemic. One detail which will be mentioned is the need for the castration of animals. Whilst Protection Farms markets its products as "food without cruelty", it must be understood that nature itself is inherently cruel. Drawing on the Hindu concept of ahimsa, which is often quoted as non-violence but actually means minimal violence, as it is understood that non-violence is not feasible, then castration is seen as a minimalist form of violence. Castration of male offspring in farm animals is seen as essential to Protection Farms as too many fertile males would bring havoc to the farming system.
In the above extreme vegan scenario, the fact that the necessity to cull may arise raises its own dilemma. A 'fortress vegan' farming system would need to be in place and the wildlife on the other side left to its own devises. A contemporary analogy would be with the elephants in parts of Africa, where great effort is made to keep them out of farmed land, and culling is a yearly norm. In the vegan system although the animals are not domesticated and managed by humans, they would need to be managed by culling or fenced out of human crop land. To vegans this may represent minimised violence. To the vegetarian, farm animal protection may represent minimised violence. Either one has its own dilemma as nature is inherently cruel.
In India the predominantly vegan Jains support Hindu cow protection in many ways. VEDA believes the Western vegan should also support Protection Farms. The vegan diet should have its own live-stockless agriculture, but in the long run the meat-eating diet will continue to take the lives of millions of animals each year. With Protection Farms people following the vegan diet will have one form to aid the plight of the farm animal. Too many animal welfare groups are re-active to the meat and milk industry, Protection Farms offer a pro-active stance via which animal welfare standards will be pushed ever higher; Protection Farms will offer the best-practice for animal welfare, raising the benchmark for animal welfare standards.
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