Would the real factory farm owner, please stand up

Would the real factory farm owners please stand up 2By Kim Waalderbos

I must confess: I’m a word and math nerd. I’ve been intrigued by how letters and numbers puzzle together for as long as I can remember. Yet, one puzzle has me stumped.

Factory farming.

You see, in my three decades (and counting) in agriculture, I’ve never heard anyone in farming actually use this term to describe themselves, or a fellow farmer. In fact, I’ve only heard the term used in media and by anti-farming activists.

So, I consulted my word books and found these dictionary definitions:

Canadian-Oxford Dictionary:
noun an intensive system of rearing livestock, organized on industrial lines and usually in an artificial environment.

Cambridge Online:
a system of farming in which a lot of animals are kept in a small closed area, in order to produce a large amount of meat, eggs, or milk as cheaply as possible

a large industrialized farm; especially : a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost

a system of large-scale industrialized and intensive agriculture that is focused on profit with animals kept indoors and restricted in mobility


Industrial lines? Small closed area? Large industrialized farm? Focused on profit?

All I can picture is an auto assembly factory that I toured where parts flowed along like clockwork in long equal lines and nothing was out of sync from start to finish. I can’t imagine my own farm animals in that kind of environment. Frankly, I don’t even know how it’s possible for that to exist.

See, I know that animals and crops are living and, as such, need to be cared for so they are free of hunger, thirst pain, injury, disease, distress, discomfort and able to express behaviours. So, how then, can such individualized care be automated into one long, perfectly matched assembly line?

And, what about the plants and animals that get sick and injured. They have off days, too. How do you automate that? And ‘who’ or perhaps, ‘what’ makes that call? I haven’t yet met a farmer that can diagnose and treat a crop or animal without human effort.

And, if such a ‘factory’ does exist, how do you fit so much into these so-called small, closed spaces? Any farmer I know will tell you a healthy, comfortable animal is a productive animal.

Here’s what I do know, and have learned through my first-hand experience growing up and participating in farming. Farms come in all shapes and sizes. Farmers too, actually. I know that the type and size of farm isn’t important, rather, it’s the care and commitment of these very farmers who live and work with the animals and the land every single day that matters.

Profit – I don’t know anyone that’s able to keep a roof over their heads and groceries on the table without earning some sort of income. So I don’t understand why it isn’t a fair argument for farmers to be paid a reasonable return. Do you?

Technology – You bet, farmers are people, too. So they’re keen to have the latest smart phone and gadget at their fingertips. Even better if it can help make their work day easier. Don’t you feel the same?

Corporations – I know, in Canada, the vast majority of farms are still owned and run by families. I’ve heard the term ‘corporate farm’ bandied about, but I know this is simply a business structure, and that more than 97 per cent of Canadian farms are still family owned.
Just last week, our own accountant had a conversation encouraging us to consider incorporating our cattle farm for tax planning purposes – nothing else will change but the Ltd. on the end of our farm name, otherwise, it’s still our family farm.

So, I make my plea:

Would the real factory farm owner, please stand up. I’d love to meet you and hear your story. You’re a bit of an urban legend in farmer circles.

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