Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Dirty Little Secret of Commercial Chicken Farms

I received an email flyer in my inbox the other day about a sale from a big name poultry hatchery about a sale.  I was looking at the different birds and saw a star next to the breeds.  They offered debeaking, dubbing, and dewinging on their birds.

Debeaking, Dubbing, and Dewinging Explained

I stared at the options.  I knew what debeaking does.  The big commercial egg producers have the beak snipped to reduce pecking due to stress.  (Yes, it's painful and inhibits the bird's ability to feed itself.)  I wasn't sure about the term "dubbing," so I looked it up.  It's removing the comb and wattles to reduce frostbite.  Okay, I had heard of doing it for adult roosters who had frostbite on their combs, but not for chicks.  Given how cold it gets here (sometimes down to -30F), I've seen only a couple of frost nip patches on my roosters, which suggests that if you live in cold places, you need to have your chickens protected from the wind, and able to move around enough.  You should choose chickens with smaller combs as well.

That left dewinging.  Oh. My. God.  Seriously?

What Dewinging is

I did some research on dewinging.  In the strictest sense, it is removing the chick's wings at the shoulder.  Japanese poultry producers discovered when you do that to meat birds, the birds gain more weight, thus have a greater overall profit.  Other people online described it to snipping part of the wings to ensure the birds don't fly or even pinioning, that is removing one of the pinion joints surgically in a bird's wing to ensure it doesn't grow flight feathers.

Either way, you have to wonder what kind of sick bastards would do that to an animal.

Even I have my Limits

Look, I am no animal rights activist.  I raced sled dogs for years.  I raise and slaughter animals for food.  I am okay with trapping, although I don't do it, myself.  I hunt and have killed birds and deer for food.  Although Christmas the gander has survived Christmas because of nasty weather, I am not beyond killing him.  But even that ill-tempered bird wouldn't be made to suffer either of those fates.

Preventing Chickens from Flying
Chicken Tractor, photo by Josh Larios.  Used under generic CC license.

I look at dewinging and debeaking as wrong as it causes unnecessary suffering to the animal.  Unnecessary because even though it affects the bottom line to a degree, I think it causes more pain and suffering than the benefits.  And yes, from what I read of studies, there is a higher mortality rate among dewinged birds than those that are left with their wings intact.

I'm including pinioning in this general dewinging, because the animals don't need this done.  If I don't want my birds to fly, I trim the birds' feathers when they start getting flighty.  Yeah, I have to do that a few times a year, but that's minor.

Granted, I have maybe 15 chickens, seven geese, and six turkeys, so it doesn't take that long to trim wings.  I could see if you have thousands or tens of thousands of birds, it might become problematic due to the labor intensive nature.  But there are other ways to ensure the birds don't fly off.

What sick bastard would remove the wings on these?
Commercial meat birds can't fly anyway, so dewinging them is unnecessarily cruel, unless you're really looking to up your bottom line. My own experience with the few meat birds I've bought show that they're terribly misshapen and have a high mortality rate to begin with. Both my husband and I came to the same conclusion: if we want birds for meat, we'll stick with dual-purpose breeds.  I suspect it hasn't caught on in the United States as much because of the demand for Buffalo Wings.  As much as I don't care for wings, I recognize that this fad may be what is preventing the maiming of millions of birds.

You might think that dewinging and pinioning would be used on free range and pastured chickens as a cost effective measure. Really? Free range and pastured chickens should have some sort of enclosure, such as tractors, to prevent them from flying off plus protect them from airborne predators. Ah, but there's that bottom line again.  And that is really what the big companies look at.

Concern for Free Range and Pasture Raised Birds in the Future

I don't get why cruelty is acceptable in birds when it is obviously not okay in mammals. I get that we look at the descendants of dinosaurs as food -- I really do.  I've killed my share of chickens, quail, grouse, turkeys, and ducks over the years and eaten them.  But I've never insisted on painfully harming them in this manner.

I don't know how prevalent dewinging is in commercial pasture and free range birds, but I can see it happening as the big corporation farms enter the pastured and free ranged chickens and their eggs. I know there are many good small and mid-sized commercial farms that produce eggs from chickens in humane settings, but right now they're still the minority. All it would take is someone in the big corporations looking at the practice and deciding it is cost effective.

If you don't raise your own chickens for eggs, and I realize not everyone can, look for eggs that come from ethical farms.  They're out there, but you just have to look. Maybe it's a small farm near you.  Maybe you've stumbled on the Locally Laid farmers who raise their chickens ethically.  Maybe there's another ethical farm who distributes in your area.

I know dewinging and pinioning wouldn't be popular among the caged birds, because they can't move from the cages. But if cage free is outlawed, we'll have a whole new set of terrible inhumane treatments that we'll have to consider.  I guarantee it.

And this, my friends, is why it's important to know where your food comes from.

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