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Questions to Ask “Humane” Farmers    

ellen calling farmIn Vegucated, film subject Ellen Mausner calls a well-known organic company and asks a bunch of questions I gave her that most people don’t think to ask. The answers were pretty surprising. And we got them aaaallll on speakerphone.

We strongly encourage everyone to become informed and empowered by calling their favorite supplier of “sustainable” and “humane” animal products. Just march to your fridge, look up the label of your milk/eggs/meat, etc. and find the customer service number for the company, most likely online. If you go to a farmer’s market, bring this list of questions the next time you go.

Tip: Being polite and framing your question as a consumer/fan of their product might help you get the real scoop.


What are your requirements for space/access to pasture? What are the requirements around frequency and duration for access to pasture?

Do you have any regulations around stocking densities? (How many animals per bit of space.) How about flock or herd size?

Are there any rules surrounding handling and transport?

chicken transport(Organic standards, for example, do not stipulate anything special for handling or transport.)

Do the animals go to special slaughterhouses? Or are there any specific/special humane slaughter regulations? If so, what?

(Organic slaughter standards, for example, have no bearing on humane treatment of animals. They’re more concerned with clean equipment.)


How are your steers castrated? Is any anesthetic used?

(They’re often castrated by a kind of crimping iron or by a rubber band that cuts off circulation until the organ falls off. Without anesthesia.)

Are ear-notching, hot branding, and de-horning or disbudding allowed? If so, is anesthesia required?

(Disbudding is a way to destroy horn cells to prevent horn growth at a very young age. This is accomplished by cauterizing them with a hot iron, physically scooping out the horn cells, or by a chemical paste that burns off the cells. Anesthesia is often not required if the cattle are young.)

Specific to “Beef” Cattle:

Are your cattle grass fed and grass finished or are they grain finished?

(Some grass fed cattle are put into a feedlot for the last 3-5 months of their lives so that they’re fattened with grain before they go to slaughter.)

Specific to “Dairy” Cattle:

Are tail-docking and de-horning or de-budding permitted? If so, is anesthesia required?

Are the male offspring allowed to be sold, then killed for veal or beef? If so, are the calves kept on tethers or in hutches? Are there any requirements regarding their ability to move or have access to pasture? Are they kept isolated or are they allowed to socialize with other cattle?

(Filmmaker Marisa called a large organic dairy company, who told her “Ma’am, we cannot tell our farmers what to do with their calves.”)

If a cow develops an infection or inflammation like mastitis (painful inflammation of mammary glands), does she get treated by antibiotics? Or is she killed?

(Medication is not allowed for organic cows, for example, so they’re killed in the standard way: a bolt to the head.)


Do you have any bedding requirements?

Are slatted floors permitted?

(Pigs’ legs can get stuck between the slats, and baby pigs have been known to fall into the manure pits below.)

What’s the minimum farrowing space per sow?

(Translation: how much can the mommy pigs move around?)


Are toe-clipping and beak-trimming allowed? If so, is anesthesia required?

I know that chickens aren’t covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Do you have any requirements about the birds being rendered unconscious before their throats are slit?

Specific to Egg Layers:

Are there any special requirements for nesting boxes or litter for dust baths?

Do you buy your layers from hatcheries?

If they say “yes,” ask them:

Are there any special regulations with regard to humane treatment of the baby chicks?

I know that baby male egg-type chickens are useless to the industry. Are they killed after hatching? If so, how?

(Most baby male chicks from organic and “humane” farms come from regular hatcheries and are either suffocated in plastic bags or ground up alive for pet food or fertilizer.)

Do any of the babies get to see their mothers?

(If they’re from hatcheries, most certainly not.)

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t go into air quality control, lighting, weaning ages, etc. But these answers should certainly give you a better sense of things. From there, you can decide what you’re comfortable with buying and from whom. Ideally, one would want to visit the farm and slaughterhouse to make sure that what they’re saying is true…and not on the day they put out the welcome balloons.

If everyone who ate animal products actually only bought from farms whose practices they’ve seen and approved of, it would change farming virtually overnight. And people would be eating a heck of a lot more plants.

Of course we think it’s just easier–and animal-friendlier–to go vegan. 😉

If you do call or ask these questions, please leave a comment and let us know what you found out. Knowledge is power!

Power to the people! (And the pigs!)