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By Staff | Dec 7, 2016

The headline was “Vermont Farm Says that Thousands of its Turkeys Died From Disease.” The farm was Stonewood Farm, in Orwell, Vermont. I made an assumption that being from Vermont that this was a “foodie farm” and I was correct.

The Farm’s home page says that it produces, “All-Natural turkeys, no hormones, antibiotics, or animal bi-products added to their feed…Humane Care. …Just plenty of Vermont air, cold nights, good feed and tender loving care on our family farm.” Their turkeys are exposed to the outdoors and they think that a fox brought bird cholera into the barns.

It was not bird flu, but their exposure to that would be greater, too.

Merck gave this overview of Fowl Cholera: “Fowl Cholera is a contagious, bacterial disease that affects domestic and wild birds worldwide. It usually occurs as a septicemia of sudden onset with high morbidity and mortality”

Prevention requires a high level of biosecurity which you would not have on a farm near the woods with turkeys outside.

“Adjuvant bacterins are widely used and effective. As far as treatment goes: Sulfonamides and antibiotics are commonly used; early treatment and adequate dosages are important. Sulfaquinoxaline sodium in feed or water usually controls mortality.

“High levels of tetracycline antibiotics in the feed (0.04%), drinking water, or administered parenterally may be useful.” I don’t know what half that stuff is but it appears that it will treat birds for Fowl Cholera.

In other words, had they used vaccine or antibiotics, 15,000 turkeys would still be alive. Yet these “foodie farms” call themselves humane. They choose not to use antibiotics when their animals are sick because it isn’t who they are or what their website or business plan represents themselves as being.

First off, confined poultry is much more bio secure to disease than outdoor paddocks. There are many CAFOs now producing antibiotic free poultry. But if animals get sick, CAFOs treat animals with antibiotics to make them well.

The hog industry is looking at antibiotic-free pork production. The cost of production is higher for hog operations such as Niman Ranch which touts antibiotic free pork. An animal that gets sick that is treated and made well with antibiotics is ineligible for the brand.

Therefore, when animals get sick, they more often die. I have a deposition from a former producer that says that is so.

Antibiotic free meat is less humanly produced than conventional production because of significantly higher death losses that occur inherent in strict adherence to the production system. I have always been surprised that the HSUS has never investigated this type of livestock production, as it is less humane, with far more animals suffering and dying than in CAFO operations.

The Maschoffs produce antibiotic free chicken. They say that it increases their cost of chicken production 10 percent which they say that consumers are willing to pay. Maschoffs are also a large commercial hog producer.

They had a research team study producing antibiotic-free pork and the higher cost of production ranged from 14 percent to 21 percent above that of conventional pork. The higher cost was attributed to “an increase in pre-and post-weaning mortality which was almost double as the biggest economic driver.”

I have heard of higher death losses than that.

Niman Ranch reportedly did not want its hog producers to use farrowing crates that protect the young pigs. One former Niman Ranch producer told me that the commercial industry crush rate where sows lay on the small pigs is 3 to 5 percent. He said that he was losing 18 to 25 percent with the stall-free farrowing system. The type of farrowing system used would have no bearing on use of antibiotics and I believe that the Maschoffs used crates in their study.

The decision of whether to treat animals for illness puts producers in the ethical challenged position of “do we treat the sick animals with antibiotics and lose the premium they get paid (and their economic viability) or hope the animal survives without antibiotics?”

The bottom line here is that foodie livestock and poultry operations kill more animals by withholding medicinal treatment and animal rightists turn a blind eye to the result. I have never heard of PETA or the HSUS going undercover at a Niman Ranch hog farm to expose their high risk of death losses.

There is a bias here. I don’t think that consumers are well informed as to the real cost in animal welfare that it takes to get them antibiotic free meat. There are no antibiotic residues in meat from treated animals so don’t go there.

Consumers are removed from the farm so do not know the nuances of one production system over the other but unfortunately, get their information from sources such as HSUS which has a vegan agenda or from commercial interests looking to differentiate their product by dispensing false information regarding conventional meat/poultry production.

The antibiotic free meat marketing is a ploy that ignores the fact that all meat is antibiotic free confirmed by USDA residue testing.

Stonewood Farm just had a 50 percent death loss in their turkeys so that they could impress their consumers with a phony picture of what constitutes proper animal husbandry.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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