‘Factory farming’ comes to town

Obert Chifamba: Agric-Insight
When I first bumped into the phrase “factory farming” I couldn’t help but imagine farmers doing all sorts of farming activities within the precincts of a factory, yet this wasn’t the case exactly. And, as I later realised, I hadn’t missed the target by miles in my efforts to metaphorically interpret it.

Yes, under the practice farmers produce for the factory but not in the confines of a factory, as it sounds. They will be producing for the market. And for a profit! In most cases they consume very little or even nothing at all of their produce.

By definition, “factory farming” implies a system of farming in which a lot of animals are kept in a small closed area to produce a large amount of meat, eggs, or milk as cheaply as possible. And your guess is as good as mine, this is exactly what is happening in most hoods in urban areas where backyards have been turned into hutches for broiler chickens, layers, quails and rabbits to name just a few while for some, swimming pools have been converted to fish ponds.

If you were to ask the people involved why they are doing it, I bet they would flatly tell you to mind your own business and leave them to mind theirs. They want to generate an income from all the space available around the homestead. Maybe this is a direct response to the challenges emanating from the current economic situation, as this did not use to happen on a scale as rampant as it is today.

The plots just behind the hood in which I stay, as I have also noticed, now boast very big herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats that are half the time zero-grazed due to space limitations but are intended to be in the best of shape for the market and for a good price. They are fed with genetically modified feeds that ensure rapid growth with minimal costs of production.

Feeding on naturally available food is just but an occasional episode in the general drama of trying to win the battle of striking the right chord of maintaining cordial terms with the economies of scale.

Like I hinted earlier, hundreds of broiler chickens or even layers are being raised in very small spaces or even in inside rooms at some homesteads. Some animals are kept in sheds akin to warehouses where their lives are highly controlled while the process of feeding, watering, treatment and waste removal are sometimes grossly mechanised.

Cows, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks and chickens are confined by their hundreds and thousands in cages, crates or crowded pens from where they are fed to grow big and fast to pump up milk if they are dairy cows or to be slaughtered for their meat. The most marketable parts of their bodies- breasts on broiler chickens, rear ends on pigs are now so oversized that some of the animals have trouble standing, let alone walking.

In most cases these animals never grow to maturity, as they would be deemed ready for the market within a very short period of time and continued keeping them will be regarded as corroding the profits.

That’s the new breed of farmers for you! They have taken their activities right where the market is. They no longer in most cases incur costs of taking the produce to the market, as their clients usually know where to find them and just place orders before coming to collect or just come without even placing orders.

Yes, that’s a smart way of doing business and the guys are actually making good profits in most cases. They also have yawning markets, which they always struggle to satiate.

But it is the manner in which some of them conduct their businesses that leaves a lot to be desired. Those that deal in cattle, goats, sheep and even pigs are in the habit of going out into the communal areas where they buy the animals for very little money before transporting them to towns where there are lucrative markets especially after fattening the beasts.

It is the way in which they are sometimes jam-packed in very small trucks that has seen the police, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Division of Veterinary Services intervening to save the animals from torture. They are victims without a voice. Every year, thousands of animals are victims of cruelty. Animal cruelty encompasses a broad range of behaviours harmful to animals.

Of course most of these producers love their animals and take good care of them. But there’s always a decent way to raise animals for the market or even for food. Since the mid-20th century, the growth of factory farming has led to the transformation of agriculture, forcing small farmers to “get big or get out,” as they couldn’t compete with big agricultural firms because they couldn’t achieve the same economies of scale.

Now that culture has taken the urban areas by storm, as urbanites seek to remain afloat in an economic environment in which it is easier to sink than swim. Factory farming has emerged as one escape route out of an economic quagmire that has seen formal industry and factories scaling down or even closing because of lack of markets versus very high costs of production.

Factory farming is cost effective and is usually undertaken where a market has already been perceived to be available.

I hope in this craze to generate a dollar out of every space available, no one eventually tries wildlife farming in their backyards because National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority will definitely knock on your door seeking an explanation.


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