In an era of mass consumption, there is rising concern over the way that animals are treated on factory farms. Animal agriculture is becoming a contentious issue and people are looking for healthier and more humane options.
Brian Houle is an Ottawa dweller who hunts in order to reduce his family’s reliance on factory farmed meat. When asked why he hunts he said, “I hunt for tradition, I hunt to get out in the outdoors and enjoy it, and I do hunt to put meat in my freezer.” His father was also a hunter and used hunting as a way to help handle the food budget of his lower income family.
Houle's Hoyt brand cross bow. He favours using a bow because he says that it forces him to be a better hunter.
People tend to have a lot of misconceptions about hunting and hunters. Houle shared some of these, “A big one is that we’re bloodthirsty killers… People also don’t believe we love animals, they think we hate animals and that’s why we go out and shoot them, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
"As I learned more about our agriculture system I realized that my identity as an animal lover didn’t really align with what my actions were doing." -Julie MacInnes of the UOttawa Vegetarian and Vegan Club
Houle explained that hunting is actually very humane. Animals are shot with compound bows, cross bows, and rifles. All hunting courses teach what is called “shot placement” which teaches hunters where to hit animals for the quickest, most painless death possible. Houle says, “I can honestly tell you that nothing bothers a hunter more than when they don’t ethically put down an animal. The last thing a hunter wants to see is an animal suffer and not die right away.”
Given a rising population and a movement away from the rural towards the urban, the government has been forced to put an increasing number of regulations on the meat coming out of major farms. Houle says, “With hunting it’s from the woods, it hasn’t been farmed, it hasn’t been pumped full of hormones or chemicals…there’s less fat in it because these animals, they are moving to survive.” This is a stark contrast to the way that animals are raised on most factory farms. He says, “[On farms there are] fat cows just laying around waiting to be slaughtered…That’s not to say I’ve got anything against farmers, I truly do believe they are the salt of the earth. It’s the regulations forced upon them that make me sit and think, ‘No I don’t really want to eat that.’” Hunting is one alternative to eating conventionally raised meat.
Another alternative is buying meat from a small, local farm that focuses on the health and well-being of their animals more-so than the bottom-line. Rudy Haveman is the owner of one of these types of farms. He owns Kitley Beef Farm where he raises a herd of grass fed cattle every year.
“I can honestly tell you that nothing bothers a hunter more than when they don’t ethically put down an animal. The last thing a hunter wants to see is an animal suffer and not die right away.”-Brian Houle, Ottawa hunter and contributing writer at Fish, Hunt, & Ride magazine
He says, “I buy stockers at about 800 lb. and one year old in May. They are kept in the barn for about two days to acclimatize them to my farm. Then they are on pasture until the end of October when they are taken to the butcher…I move the cattle around the farm by using portable electric fences…They are moved up to 3 times per day so that they always have access to fresh pasture.” This outdoor, grass fed lifestyle is very different from the lives led by the cows raised on many factory farms.
Haveman raises his cattle naturally. They are given no hormones or anti-biotics and they are fed only grass, no grains. Although Haveman’s cattle are not free range, they are moved often so that they always have a fresh pasture of grass. When asked how humane his farm is, Haveman said, “My cattle are very happy. They follow me around like puppies. They don't stand around in a muddy, poopy feed lot. They are always outside walking around on clean grass. You tell me if it's humane.”
The head of a moose that Houle shot last year hangs in his garage. Houle says that hunters hang heads and antlers as a way to pay tribute to the animal and as a sign of respect.
Raising animals in this way benefits more than just the animals. He says, “It's good for the health and well-being of the cattle, the plants, the soil, the microbes under the soil, the humans that consume the meat and ultimately the environment…This line of work is very good for my personal physical and mental health and well-being.”
Another increasingly popular alternative to eating factory farmed meat is not eating meat at all. Rates of vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise and those who follow that diet have some compelling arguments as to why. A vegetarian is someone who abstains from eating animal meat. A vegan is someone who does that as well as abstaining from eating any animal products, including dairy eggs, and sometimes insect products such as honey.
Julie MacInnes is an event coordinator for the UOttawa Vegetarian and Vegan Club. MacInnes says she initially became a vegetarian because, “As I learned more about our agriculture system I realized that my identity as an animal lover didn’t really align with what my actions were doing.” She was a vegetarian for three years and then took the leap to go vegan.
MacInnes chose to eliminate animal products for ethical reasons as well as health reasons. As a three time cancer survivor, she has become very conscious of what she puts into her body and how it will affect her health. Although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes cancer, MacInnes feels in her gut that a childhood diet of processed meat is what caused her to get cancer in the first place.
"My cattle are very happy. They follow me around like puppies. They don't stand around in a muddy, poopy feed lot. They are always outside walking around on clean grass. You tell me if it's humane." -Rudy Haveman, owner of Kitley Beef Farm
Since becoming a vegan she says, “I feel that I have a better impact on the earth, and not as detrimental an impact in terms of betterment for animal rights, for sustainability, for my own health, for human rights and for promoting sustainable food security around the world…I feel like my beliefs align with my actions now.”
MacInnes says that a lot people are curious about her vegan diet, and that this curiosity is a good thing because it opens up a dialogue about reducing animal product consumption and moving towards more sustainable living.
Whether you choose to take to the woods, your local farm, or your own vegetable garden, it is clear that there are a plethora of options that are better than mindlessly grabbing a package of plastic wrapped chicken from your grocery store freezer.