MEAT is a beautifully shot documentary focusing on the stories behind the meat on our supermarket shelves. Directed by David White, it’s a fascinating look at three farmers and one hunter in Aotearoa New Zealand and their relationship with the animals many of us eat.
But, here at Commonsense Organics, where we stock organic and free range meat, we know the film doesn’t offer a full picture of livestock farming in Aotearoa. We asked Senior Auditor at BioGro and Westwood chicken farmer Joy McLeod about how animals are treated on organic farms. Her insights are fascinating!
1. What do you do as a Senior BioGro Auditor?
I travel all around the country to do our audits. I live in Christchurch, so I mostly cover farms from Canterbury South. For livestock audits this includes organic sheep and organic beef, and a small amount of organic dairy.
Many of us at BioGro are farmers ourselves. I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm, and a vineyard! We now grow Westwood chickens, which are free-range BioGro certified organic chickens, grown for their meat.
Free-range Chickens at Westwood Farms
2. What's the main difference between organic and non-organic meat farming in terms of treatment of animals?
There’s a big difference in their stocking rates and production levels. Because organic farms don’t have the back up of chemical treatments, the farmers need to have a lower stocking rate, and so they’re usually producing less.
This means that organic farmers have to proactively look for solutions to potential problems rather than fixing them at the bottom of the cliff. Lower production levels mean less pressure on stock, so animals are less inclined to have problems.
Organic animals have access to good mixed pasture, and plenty of feed. If you’re always needing to push production [in non-organic farming] the animals don’t always have that.
A still from the MEAT documentary: pig-farmer Ian with a piglet
3. In David White’s film MEAT, some viewers found looking at Ian’s sow crate raised pigs challenging. How does organic pig-farming differ from the sow crate method of meat production?
BioGro certified farmers aren’t allowed to use anything like that… That’s just not organic. Chickens and pigs have to be completely free range. We don’t have that many pig production units in New Zealand, but the ones we do, have little piglets running around their mothers outside in the paddocks.
A still from the MEAT documentary: chicken-farmer Tony with his chickens
4. In the film MEAT, farmer Tony barn-raised chickens for meat, sometimes killing 1000 a week. How would an organic farm compare?
A BioGro organic chicken farm has to be free range. And it has to be good free range, at that. The chickens have to have daily access to fresh pasture.
At Westwood, our operation is quite different from a barn-raised operation. We have much smaller batches, move the shed around the paddocks all the time and have no fencing. You need to encourage the chickens to free range when they’re old enough to maintain their body heat.
Our chickens love to be free to choose what they want to eat from the mixed pasture and can lay around in the sun if they wish - their most favourite pastime.
Cows from The Organic Farm, certified organic by BioGro
5. With free range animals, how do organic farmers ensure that they don’t roll around in their own effluent or fight with each other?
With proper free range this isn’t a problem. If they’ve got plenty of space, and fresh pasture, why would they roll around in their own effluent? It is not a natural thing to do if they have a choice – even for pigs. If there is plenty of space, they can choose to roll where ever they want!
We don’t get any fighting. If they’ve got plenty of space and feed, they’ve got what they need.
A still from the MEAT documentary: sheep-farmer Jill
6. MEAT focuses mostly on the treatment of animals and the relationship between the farmers (and hunter) and their livestock. What other factors are important in organic farming?
Organic farming is more environmentally sound and means less chemicals on the farm and in your meat. Barn-raised chickens will have routine antibiotics in their feed. Organically raised chickens will have no antibiotics at all. It’s healthier food, healthier environment and the better animal welfare.
It’s a healthier choice. That’s really what it is.
Thanks to Joy and BioGro for this great insight into the treatment of livestock on organic farms.
Enjoyed reading this article? We’d love to hear your feedback or comments. You can find out more about BioGro here, find organic, free-range and wild-harvested meat on our online store here, and watch the trailer for MEAT here.