Archives for posts with tag: chickens

Recent material from the federal and Victorian governments on the treatment of food production animals includes some disturbing examples of political doublespeak and propaganda.

We should not be surprised, as governments generally support the livestock sector at the expense of animals, arguing along the lines of the federal government’s current “jobs and growth” mantra. (The “left” and “right” divide is virtually non-existent in Australian politics.)

We are persuaded by psychoanalytical techniques

The difficulty arises when governments concurrently feign concern for animals, ignoring the fact that all animal-based food production is a form of exploitation driven by consumer demand, which in turn is largely generated by sophisticated advertising and PR (public relations) practices.

Indeed, it was “the father of PR”, Edward Bernays, who successfully applied principles of psychoanalysis that had been developed by his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to convince Americans in the 1920s that bacon and eggs should become a standard choice for breakfast. He had been commissioned by the Beech-Nut Packing Company, which specialised at that time in vacuum-packed pig meat products.

Here’s how his campaign has been described in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology:

“But in creating the new Freudian-style campaign, Bernays asked himself, ‘Who influences what the public eats?’ His answer was to survey physicians and ask them whether they would recommend a light breakfast or a hearty breakfast. Physicians overwhelmingly recommended a hearty breakfast, paving the way for Bernays to convince Americans to swap their usual juice, toast and coffee for the now-ubiquitous, all-American ‘hearty’ breakfast of bacon and eggs.”

If interested, you can see a video here of Bernays discussing the pig meat campaign. Elsewhere, Bernays freely used the word “propaganda” (including as the title of a book), and regularly interchanged it with the term PR.

Bernays was also famous for developing the “torches of freedom” campaign that convinced women that it was acceptable to smoke in public. Decades later, he said he would not have accepted the American Tobacco Company’s assignment if he had known of smoking’s health dangers.

With subsequent warnings from the World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organization on the dangers of consuming pig meat, it may be reasonable to assume he would have felt the same about his assignment for Beech-Nut had he been aware of those dangers at the time. Indeed, he said in 1928 that a PR practitioner “must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society”.

Some of the physicians surveyed by Bernays for the pork industry in the 1920s suggested bacon and eggs as a “hearty” breakfast. That may have been consistent with a tobacco industry survey of doctors in the 1940s, which portrayed cigarette smoking as a beneficial practice.

Here’s an extract concerning Edward Bernays from the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”:

“Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations for the first time how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires . . . It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today.”

How much more beneficial for human and non-human animals would our world have been if such domination had not occurred.

Victorian Government’s Draft Action Plan

The Victorian government is currently considering responses to its Draft Action Plan 2016-2021 “Improving the Welfare of Animals in Victoria”, released in September 2016.

In the draft plan, the Minister’s Ambassador for Animal Welfare, Lizzie Blandthorn MP, states that we must protect animals, including those on farms, from cruelty. That’s a noble suggestion that most people would probably agree with, but it seems to be the type of comment that would fit neatly into a Bernays-style propaganda campaign.

The statement does not reflect our current reality, which may be unlikely to change in a meaningful way as a result of the government’s action plan process. If we fail to acknowledge an injustice, then we have little chance of removing it.

Many consumers may be blind to the fact that the livestock sector is largely exempt from complying with Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and similar legislation in other states and territories, which permit acts of cruelty specified in industry codes of practice.

As an example of the injustice involved, exempted practices in relation to poultry include: life-long confinement indoors; beak “trimming” (debeaking) without anaesthetic; removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic; removing segments of toes without anaesthetic; forced breeding; killing of “surplus” chicks in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or being sent into an industrial grinder while still alive.

Despite those and other permitted practices, Agriculture Victoria remarkably claims that the exemptions do not permit cruelty to occur.

That claim is outrageous!

Whose definition of cruelty is Agriculture Victoria using?

I anticipate cruel practices continuing after the Victorian Government completes its review. I have raised the issues with the Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford. However, when responding, she effectively ignored my key points, including those made in this article.

Free Range Egg Labelling

At the federal level, the government recently released its new information standard for free range egg labelling. The standard allows eggs to be labelled as free range where there is an outdoor stocking density of up to 10,000 birds per hectare. Coles and Woolworths nationally, and Aldi in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, had already adopted the limit of 10,000 for their home brand free range products.

To provide some perspective, the limit applying under various voluntary free range standards in Australia ranges from 750 to 2,500, while European Union and UK free range standards range from 1,000 to 2,500.

Not only is our new outdoor stocking limit exceptionally high, the standard does not specify a minimum period of time to be spent outdoors or the density of indoor areas. To make matters worse, many of the practices of mutilation, stunning and killing described earlier are permitted in respect of free range establishments under the CSIRO’s code of practice for domestic poultry, which is a voluntary standard that includes free range guidelines.

A free range animal’s final day may also be far more horrific than most people realise. For example, birds raised on free range farms are generally slaughtered alongside those raised in conventional facilities.

After being packed tightly into crates and transported without food or water, the slaughter process generally begins with birds being hung upside down on a conveyor with their legs shackled. They are supposed to be stunned by having their head dipped in electrically charged water before their throat is cut, but there is no guarantee of that happening. There is also no guarantee they’ll be dead before reaching the scalding tank, which aids the removal of feathers.

In February 2017, animal rights group Dreamer’s Hen Rescue released this undercover video, reported to be from an Australian slaughterhouse. It shows the full slaughter process, and includes chickens entering the scalding tank while still alive. [WARNING: Graphic footage]


The massive scale of the industry reflects the effectiveness of industry PR and advertising campaigns, and is demonstrated by the fact that around 580 million chickens were slaughtered in Australia during the most recent reporting period, 2014. That’s equivalent to more than eighteen per second, day and night.

Such huge numbers mask the fact that every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one species is smaller than another, or perceived as less animated or sociable, does not reduce the suffering. If we treated our companion animals the way we generally treat those we use as food, we could rightfully spend time in jail.

The unconscionable avoidance of honest communication

Governments must start to communicate honestly with the community about the plight of animals, cutting through the fairy tales that they and the livestock sector have created and propagated. To do anything less would represent unconscionable behaviour.

The Victorian Labor government simply needs to adhere to the words of former party leader and premier, Steve Bracks, who said a feature that would differentiate his government from that of his predecessor was “leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn’t afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements”.

He also said (with my underline): “When you’re proud of what you’re doing, you don’t want it hidden; you want people to know about it. You only keep secret the things that you’re ashamed of.”

The Bracks government subsequently performed poorly in relation to openness and accountability, but surely it is not too much to ask of the current government.


Paul Mahony


Barth, J., “Beech-Nut to leave Canajoharie after 118 years”, 11 April 2009,

Held, L., “Psychoanalysis shapes consumer culture”, Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Dec 2009, Vol 40, No. 11, Print version: page 32,

The Museum of Public Relations, Edward Bernays, 1929 Torches of Freedom,

Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, undated, https://www.hsph.harvard.ed/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”, Washington DC: AICR, 2007, and, Chapter 12

Bernays, E., “The Business of Propaganda”, The Independent, Vol. 121, No. 4083, 1 Sep 1928, via The Library of Congress, “Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929”,

Adam Curtis, “The Century of the Self – Part 1 – Happiness Machines”, broadcast on BBC TV in 2002,

Victoria’s Draft Action Plan for animal welfare,

Agriculture Victoria, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation, Summary of Legislation,

Mahony, P., “Open letter to Jaala Pulford”, 31 Mar 2016,

FAOSTAT Production – Livestock Primary – 2014

Pearce, L., “This Is What The Government’s New ‘Free Range’ Egg Guidelines Look Like”, Huffington Post, 28 Apr 2017,

Dowling, J., “Bracks’ Secret State”, The Age, 24 Sep 2006,

Baker, R., “How Bracks is failing to honour his commitment to openness”, The Age, 16 July 2003,


Palugada, “Happy farm animal cartoon collection”, Shutterstock
(The image has not been used in government or industry PR campaigns to my knowledge, but has been used here to symbolise the world of make-believe created by those campaigns.)



Less Meat Less Heat (LMLH) is an Australian climate change campaign group that was created in early 2015. Its mission is “to reduce the consumption of meat most damaging to the climate by promoting a Climatarian diet”.

It describes such a diet as one that involves “. . . choosing what you eat based on the carbon footprint of different foods”, and focuses on a reduction in the consumption of cattle and sheep meat (“beef” and “lamb”). The group’s founder, Mark Pershin, has said, “the only guideline we have for the climatarian diet is cutting back beef and lamb consumption to one standard serving a week”.

This post considers some of the climate change, animal rights and health aspects of LMLH’s campaign. Much of the LMLH material referred to comes from the FAQs concerning its “Climatarian Challenge“, which LMLH describes as a challenge to eat in a carbon-conscious way . . . for 30 days. Participation occurs via a specially-prepared smartphone app.

LMLH is a relatively recent arrival on the scene of climate change campaigning, and the basis of its message is not new. In fact, Pershin has said he was inspired to take action by (in addition to some post-graduate environmental studies) the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy”, which was also a relatively late (albeit effective) arrival with the livestock message.

The group’s approach seems to be largely marketing based (reflecting Pershin’s background), in seeking behavioural change to an extent that it considers achievable. LMLH seems to see a reduction in ruminant meat consumption as “low hanging fruit” with a “big bang for the buck” in terms of climate change mitigation, as reflected in the relative greenhouse gas emissions intensity of different products.

That might seem a reasonable approach, but there are many shortcomings, some of which I aim to highlight in this post.

The urgent need to act

It seems impossible to overstate the extent of the crisis we are facing in the form of climate change. I agree with LMLH on the urgent need to act in order to avoid a global catastrophe. Feedback mechanisms within the climate system are (by definition and in practice) accelerating, potentially leading to runaway climate change beyond the scope of any mitigation efforts we might seek to initiate.

Nevertheless, we must fight to retain a habitable planet, and I also agree with LMLH that a key plank in the required emergency action must be a general change in dietary practices. However, rather than adopting LMLH’s approach of focusing almost exclusively on certain types of meat, I argue for a general transition toward a plant-based diet. More on that below.

The danger of “bright-siding”

To support its position, LMLH cites global “high meat” and “low meat” scenarios developed by UK “think tank” Chatham House, along with its own more optimistic scenario. The scenarios utilise the “global carbon calculator” developed by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the World Resources Institute and others. It has used the two low meat scenarios to argue that a reduction in beef and lamb consumption will give us a reasonable chance of staying within a 2°C temperature target.  Here’s some of what it has said.


“If we can all cut back our consumption of beef and lamb down to once a week for a standard serving size (65g) or once a month for a large portion such as a roast or steak then we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels . . .

This sounds too easy, like changing light bulbs, but that is what the climate models used by world leaders tell us and hence what we are telling you. So be part of the solution, take part in The Climatarian Challenge and become a climatarian!” [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge]

RESPONSE: That is a major overstatement that masks the true danger

The first problem with LMLH’s statement is that the 2°C target is widely considered politically expedient and lacking scientific merit.

The former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr James Hansen, has described it as “a prescription for disaster”.

Authors of “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have said:

“A rise of 2 degrees over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points.”

Although LMLH understands the danger of runaway climate change and the need to stay well below 2°C, its message is inconsistent, and it appears to give challenge participants the impression that all will be well if people simply reduce their red meat consumption.

LMLH also fails to say that Chatham House’s low-meat scenario gives us less than a 50% chance of staying below 2°C. They are horrendous odds when the future of the planet (as we know it) is at stake.

It should perhaps also highlight the fact in its challenge material that an aspirational target of 1.5°C (which is also dangerous but perhaps inevitable) was established at the 2015 Paris climate summit.

Critically, Chatham House’s low meat scenario assumes: (a) global meat consumption will fall below current projections, with monogastric meats, such as chicken and pork, largely replacing ruminant meats like beef and lamb; and (b) nations will comply with pledges to limit energy-related emissions and seek to improve energy efficiency.

LMLH’s third scenario is consistent with the dietary aspects of Chatham House’s low meat scenario, but is more optimistic regarding energy-related emissions, assuming a general transition to renewables. It would almost certainly also involve a high risk of failure relative to what is at stake, and may reflect a high degree of wishful thinking.

LMLH’s notion that “we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels” by reducing consumption of beef and lamb may represent a form of what David Spratt calls “bright-siding“. Spratt uses the term to describe the tendency of many environmental groups to act on the belief that only positive “good news” messages work, thereby avoiding “bad news” such as climate change impacts (or in this case, the fact that continued consumption of all animal-based foods will contribute significantly to climate catastrophe). LMLH seems to be offering a potential solution to climate change that falls well short of the mark if we want to have a reasonable chance of overcoming the crisis.

A key component of LMLH’s bright-siding approach is its aim “to drive behavioural change in the mainstream population by taking a pragmatic approach”. That approach is consistent with the fact that “pragmatism” is one of its stated values, and reflects the marketing background of its founder.

In the words of David Spratt:

“Is selling ‘good news’ and avoiding ‘bad news’ the way to engage communities in understanding how climate change will affect them and what they can do about it?   In the commercial world the answer is yes, you can sell a ‘solution’ without a real problem, because half the game is about fabricating demand (status, for example) for things people don’t need (a new car) . . .

But with climate change, the problem is not a commercial or political construct, and not fully solving the problem will be catastrophic beyond most peoples’ imaginations and current understandings.”

LMLH dangerously ignores the actual and potential impacts of animal products other than beef and lamb. With meat consumption currently increasing in developing nations such as India and China, we cannot afford to focus solely on beef and lamb in our efforts to create dietary change. Some more focus by LMLH on the impact of fossil fuels and the Catch 22 of aerosols would also be helpful.

Greenhouse gas emissions intensity

LMLH’s main concern is the high greenhouse gas emissions intensity of beef and lamb.

Per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity of those foods is high relative to that of other foods, including other animal-based and plant-based foods, and LMLH is justified in being concerned. However, if we measure the emissions per kilogram of protein, those other animal-based foods do not seem such favourable choices, as shown in Figure 1. The charts show the emissions intensity based on 100-year and 20-year time horizons for determining the global warming potential (GWP) of various greenhouse gases. [Footnote 1]

Figure 1(a): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for beef, sheep meat and cow’s milk

Figure 1(b): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for other products

Even when measured per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity figures of other animal-based foods are multiples of the figures for plant-based options, with the emissions intensity of eggs, chicken, fish and pork being between 160 and 340 per cent higher than that of soy beans. Economic rationalists may be horrified at efficiency differentials of 5 or 10 per cent, but here we have climate change inefficiencies that are up to 68 times as bad as those figures (5 per cent versus 340 per cent).

A related point is that the inherent inefficiency of all animal-based food products means we require far more resources, including land, than with plant-based options. That creates grave risks for what are currently carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. With no buffer in our need to deal with the climate crisis, we must use every mitigation opportunity available, including revegetation and avoidance of further land clearing.

The second point is highlighted by the fact that we need many kilograms of plant-based protein to produce one kilogram of the animal-based variety, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios

Some major impacts of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system are not accounted for in emissions intensity figures or national greenhouse gas inventories.

The problem arises from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The loss of ocean predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures that disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from vegetated coastal habitats and sediment. The ocean predators are either caught intentionally by fishing fleets, or as by-catch when other species are targeted.

These factors also reduce the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon. If sequestration capability was reduced by 20 per cent in only 10 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats, it would equate to a loss of forested area the size of Belgium.

In respect of emissions intensity figures generally, a major inconsistency in the approach of LMLH is that in written material it refers to methane’s GWP on a 20-year basis (e.g. methane’s warming impact is 86 times that of CO2), but figures used for the app are based on the more conservative 100-year timeframe.

Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge

LMLH expresses concern for animals, as demonstrated in the quotations below.


“Let it be clear that we are firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system . . . we do encourage you to understand the compassionate footprint of your food and engage with other organisations that advocate for animal rights and bravely fight against factory farming. We think that together we can work towards a safer and more compassionate world . . .”  [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Other Issues, What about animal rights?]

“When we buy meat that is not free range it is factory farmed. Animals raised in factory farms are subject to intensely stressful conditions and sometimes unimaginable cruelty all in the name of cutting costs. These conditions are fuelled and passively accepted by us, the consumers who demand more for less.” [LMLH, “Why free range?”, The Animals]

RESPONSE: The expressions of compassion and concern are not consistent with other aspects of LMLH’s campaign.

If LMLH is “firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system“, then why is it continually encouraging people to replace beef and lamb with chicken and pig meat?

As stated by Eric Baldwin in the short 2002 documentary, “Meet your meat“, “chickens are probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet”. Pigs are not far behind.

Every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one is smaller than another, or perceived as less cuddly, does not reduce the suffering.

If you have a spare couple of minutes, why not watch this short clip, demonstrating the link between a mother hen and her chick, who (unlike most) were given the opportunity to live in a natural way.


Quite apart from the horrendous conditions experienced by most chickens and pigs in the food production system, to replace the meat from one cow with chicken meat in the top beef-consuming nations would require between 101 and 360 additional chickens to be bred, raised and slaughtered. (88 per cent of the 70 billion land animals slaughtered around the world annually are chickens. In Australia, they represent 90 per cent of the 642 million slaughtered.) The number of pigs is smaller, but still a multiple of cows.

Here are the comparisons by country, determined by the relevant production yields for each product. (Yes, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publish pig meat figures for all the countries shown here.)

Figure 3(a): Number of chickens required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Figure 3(b): Number of pigs required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Here is a statement that appears to demonstrate LMLH’s lack of concern for animals:


“Fill your plate with ethical deliciousness. Trade your centrepiece of Christmas roast beef or lamb shanks for a lower-carbon alternative. Turkey, ham, chicken, and kangaroo will be sure to satisfy the hunger of your guests with less of a heating effect on the Earth. [LMLH, “An Ethical Christmas Guide”, Dec 2016]

RESPONSE: Shouldn’t cruelty feature in a discussion on the ethics of consuming turkey, ham, chicken or kangaroo?

Here are some examples of legalised cruelty involving chickens, turkeys and pigs, enshrined in Australian livestock codes of practice and legislation (with similar arrangements in place in many other countries):

Chickens and turkeys:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • beak trimming without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as “soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid”. In the case of chicks, they are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)


  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

They are some of the legal forms of cruelty, and do not include brutality which has frequently been recorded with under-cover cameras.

It should go without saying that the slaughter process is also not something to be taken lightly, but that seems to be how most people consider it. According to the animal advocacy group, Aussie Farms:

Due to the high demand for meat and other animal products, abattoirs are required to kill very large quantities of animals per day, resulting in a typically rushed environment where ineffective stunning can easily occur. Animals that reach the kill floor without first being properly stunned are then ‘stuck’ and bled out while still conscious.

Regardless of the effectiveness or otherwise of different stunning methods, the sights, sounds and smells of an abattoir create a terrifying experience for animals awaiting their terrible fate.

If interested, you can see undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here. (Warning: Graphic footage.)

The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned for slaughter using the CO2 method, whereby they are directed into a cage, which is then lowered into a CO2 chamber. Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. This video (Warning: Graphic footage) from Animal Liberation Victoria appears to indicate otherwise, a view supported by Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

LMLH also overlooks the horrific suffering of fish and other aquatic animals. Like other animals, those in the oceans and other waterways feel pain. In the aquaculture industry, they spend their lives in crowded, often filthy enclosures, with many suffering from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. In the wild, hundreds of billions of fish and non-target “bycatch” are caught each year in nets or dragged for hours on long-lines. Most fish die slowly through suffocation, and many aquatic animals are prepared by cooks for eating while still alive or killed in horrific ways.

Please also see comments below in relation to kangaroos and free range systems.

Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach

It is pleasing that LMLH recently stated that it would cease advocating the consumption of kangaroo meat as a low-carbon option. However, three items in which it does so were appearing on its website at the time of writing, and kangaroo meat was mentioned by Mark Pershin in a radio interview as recently as 10th April 2017, without reference to its negative aspects.

To the extent that it applies, the decision may have been prompted by interactions on social media with individuals who pointed out various aspects of the kangaroo meat trade, such as its extreme and inherent cruelty (including the plight of joeys who are clubbed to death or abandoned) and the fact that it is not viable as a food source on a scale anywhere near that of the cattle and sheep meat sectors.

A grave concern is that the prime targets of shooters are the largest, strongest individuals, with potentially critical impacts on the prospects of their mob (the term used to describe their group), along with the gene pool and the resilience of the species in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

Most modern kangaroo species have evolved over a million years or more. Without human intervention on the scale imposed by Europeans commencing just over 200 years ago, they would have continued to live in harmony with the landscape to the extent that it remained habitable. Like our interaction with most non-human animals, the power balance in our favour and a lack of compassion in respect of kangaroos create an example of gross injustice, for which we should be ashamed.

In any event, we consume kangaroo meat at our peril. Parasite infestations and the role of red and processed meat in bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke are major concerns in terms of human health. The fact that kangaroo meat is relatively low in cholesterol may offer little comfort, as it is high in L-carnitine, a compound associated with increased incidence of cardio vascular disease in the form of atherosclerosis.

The folly of “free range” and “grass-fed”

LMLH is a strong advocate of “free range” and “grass-fed” production systems, but free range production methods will never be able to respond on the scale required to feed the masses.

Here are some issues to consider.

Greenhouse gases


“When selecting your beef and lamb meal for the week we recommend opting for a grass-fed option . . .”

RESPONSE: Why does LMLH recommend grass-fed when the emissions intensity is far higher than the alternative?

Meat from grass-fed animals is far more emissions intensive than that from animals fed in mixed systems. [Footnote 2]

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated that cows fed on grass produce four times as much methane as those fed on grain. [Footnote 3]

Similarly, Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York and formerly of the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, has reported, “since grazing animals eat mostly cellulose-rich roughage while their feedlot counterparts eat mostly simple sugars whose digestion requires no rumination, the grazing animals emit two to four times as much methane”.

The estimates from CSIRO and Eshel relate to the period an animal is eating grass as opposed to grain. The “mixed-fed” result allows for both feeding regimes, resulting in a comparison that is less stark. For example, the FAO has recently reported that the global average emissions intensity of “grass-fed” beef was 62 percent higher than beef from mixed systems, based on the 2010 reference period (95.1 kg vs 58.6 kg CO2-e/kg product). [Footnote 4]


Please see comments from LMLH under the earlier heading “Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge”.

There are no legally enforceable free range standards in Australia, and the systems still involve cruelty.

In respect of cattle (who generally live in free range systems for most of their lives), the livestock industry codes of practice (endorsed by legislation) permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

Here is a calf, possibly “free range”, enduring the horror of hot iron branding.

Major problems have been exposed in relation to pig meat production on the “Free Range Fraud” website of Animal Liberation Victoria, involving brands accredited as free range by the RSPCA. A related point is that the RSPCA has been reported to earn a royalty equal to 2 per cent of sales from accredited producers. In any event, the RSPCA has no power in relation to the legalised forms of cruelty.

Many free range farmers send their animals to regular abattoirs for slaughter. Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms has confirmed that her business sends the animals to Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, Victoria, where the CO2 stunning shown in Animal Liberation Victoria’s video, referred to earlier, occurs. (Warning: Graphic footage)

In its FAQ on dairy, LMLH recommends “grass-fed cheese”. The failure to acknowledge the animals whose milk is used seems to demonstrate a lack of empathy. It also highlights a failure to recognise the immense, inherent cruelty involved in dairy production, whereby cows are impregnated in order to stimulate their mammary glands, only to have their newborn calves removed within a day of birth so that the milk that was meant for them can be consumed by supermarket customers.

LMLH erroneously uses the term “animal rights”, when in reality it means “animal welfare”. The latter assumes that animals have no rights, and must be available for our use.



“Meat is nowhere near as good for you as when the animal is raised on pasture and eats what it has evolved to eat.”

RESPONSE: Whether “grass-fed” or “grain-fed”, red meat has serious health implications.

The only health issue raised by LMLH is the fatty acid composition of meat. However, whether a cow eats grass or grain, the meat represents a serious health risk, with the detrimental impacts being well documented by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the World Health Organization, and others.

A recent example was the April 2016 study by researchers from the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford) reporting on the health and climate change benefits of changing diets, including reduced consumption of animal products. The researchers estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. If a vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million per year.

More than half the avoided deaths would be due to reduced red meat consumption. (The health organisations classify pig meat as red meat.) The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In 2012, Harvard University released a study involving more than 120,000 participants over twenty-six years, with similarly damning results. Citing the study, the New York Time reported that “eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease . . . and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk . . . Previous studies have linked red meat consumption and mortality, but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link”.

Land use


“Cows provide many valuable services to the grasses that they graze on, including feeding them with nitrogen from their manure.”

RESPONSE: The impact on land of cattle grazing is overwhelmingly negative.

Much of the land on which cattle graze was once forest or other forms of wooded vegetation, with an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration on top of the impact of carbon being released at the time of clearing. Even perennial grasslands are no match for forest in terms of sequestration, with Australia’s Chief Scientist reporting that forests are typically more than ten times as effective as grasslands, per hectare, at storing carbon.

Rather than promoting the growth of healthy grass, cattle grazing generally degrades soil, with devastating impacts well beyond the pasture. For example, the erosion generated by cattle grazing is one of the largely hidden reasons behind the ongoing demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Cattle grazing is responsible for 75 per cent of sediment in the reef’s waters, along with 54 per cent of phosphorus and 40 per cent of nitrogen. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral. The fertilisers promote algal growth that represents a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Wollongong estimated in 2012 that the reef had lost around half of the coral cover that existed in 1985. [Footnote 5] The research attributed the loss to three main factors in the following order: cyclones (48 per cent), crown-of-thorns starfish (42 per cent) and coral bleaching (10 per cent). It is estimated that if crown-of-thorns starfish predation had not occurred during that period, there would have been a net increase in average coral cover.

The release of carbon due to soil erosion following livestock-related land clearing was a key factor in Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) estimating that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors included an allowance for short-lived climate forcers and a 20-year GWP.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing in remote areas of Australia, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources.

According to Professor Ian Lunt of Charles Sturt University, managed grazing systems are only suitable in a small number of Australian ecosystems, particularly lowland grasslands and grassy woodlands on productive soils in areas of moderate to high rainfall.


LMLH appears to have been effective in engaging with the public and media on climate change and the impact of diet, but there is too much at stake to avoid highlighting concerns over various aspects of its campaign.

Although those involved can be proud of their efforts in many respects, they appear to be: (a) understating the true dangers; (b) ignoring or overlooking key mitigation measures; and (c) failing to adequately recognise or acknowledge the plight of food production animals.

I hope LMLH will reconsider some aspects of its current approach, potentially enhancing its effectiveness while also raising awareness of various issues that are currently largely out of public view.


Paul Mahony


  1. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity and GWP: The 100-year figures have been published by the FAO, while the 20-year figures represent an adjustment allowing for the apportionment of various greenhouse gases for each animal-based product as also reported by the FAO, along with  and the IPCC’s 2013 GWPs for methane and nitrous oxide. The GWP-20 figures are approximations, as the apportionment of greenhouse gases per product was based on results from GLEAM 1 (2005 reference period), while the latest FAO GWP100 figures are from GLEAM 2 (2010 reference period). [GLEAM is the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model.] Some figures are higher than estimates I have conservatively reported elsewhere, where I chose not to adjust for yield. The beef figures include beef from the dairy herd, the emissions intensity of which is lower than that of the specialised beef herd, as emissions are also attributed to other products, such as milk and cheese.
  2. FAO reporting: A recent FAO spreadsheet using the 2005 reference period indicated the opposite result, but the organisation has confirmed that emissions from land use change for pasture expansion had inadvertently been attributed to mixed, rather than grassland, systems. The spreadsheet has been withdrawn, and correct results will be published for the 2010 reference period.
  3. Emissions from grass-fed cattle: Although the CSIRO subsequently reported a reduction of around 30 per cent in emissions from the northern Australian cattle herd, emissions from grass-fed cattle remain on a different paradigm to those of most food-based emissions. The same can be said for potential reductions in methane emissions through the use of seaweed and chemicals in animal feed, which are likely to have the added problem of being an impractical option for grass-fed animals.
  4. Feeding regimes for cattle: Cows are not fed grain exclusively. They have not evolved to consume it, and if it is used at all, they are generally only “finished” on it for up to 120 days prior to slaughter.
  5. Loss of coral from the Great Barrier Reef: The precise figure lost since 1985 was 50.7 per cent.

Some minor concerns

Here are some less serious concerns with LMLH’s material:

  1. In explaining the use of “carbon points” in its climate challenge app, LMLH has linked to a 2011 article from the Guardian, explaining Global Warming Potential. The problem is that the figures are out of date, and do not represent the figures used in the app.
  2. Twice on its Climate Challenge FAQ page, LMLH refers to “The United Nations Farming and Agriculture Organisation”. The title used is incorrect, with the main problem being the use of the word “Farming” rather than “Food”.


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Naqueles tempos | duardo Amorim | Flickr | Creative Commons | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

noBorders – Brayden Howie | Young Kangaroo on east coast of Australia. Close up of head and face. Photographed in the wild | Shutterstock


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Comments and references concerning aquatic animals and livestock grazing expanded on 26th April 2017, along with other minor revisions to text.

The second sentence under the heading “Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach” amended on 10th May 2017.

Comment on crown-of-thorns starfish modified on 26th June 2017.


I recently posted an article containing the text of a letter I had sent to Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford.

My key point was that the website of Agriculture Victoria claims that exemptions to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act do not permit cruelty to occur.

That claim seems to ignore the fact that the relevant exemptions, relating to practices permitted under “other legislation, codes of practice . . . and the Livestock Management Act Standards”, allow practices that cause certain animals to experience extreme pain and suffering.

How can it not be considered cruel to deliberately inflict pain and suffering on another being?

Yet that is what our state government is claiming.

Their comments remind me of Don Watson’s book Death Sentence: the decay of public language“, which has been summarised by the publishers (in part) this way:

“Today’s corporations, government departments, news media, and, perhaps most dangerously, politicians, speak to each other and to us in cliched, impenetrable, lifeless sludge.”

Much of the so-called communication emanating from governments, corporations and increasingly the broader community, to the extent it can be comprehended at all, does not reflect reality.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that Ms Pulford has responded to my letter, for which I’m grateful.

On the other hand, I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that her letter suffers from the same “decay of public language” highlighted by Watson, along with certain omissions.

Firstly, she did not respond to my suggestions:

  • Agriculture Victoria amend its website by noting that cruelty is permitted when it involves animals bred for food and other purposes.
  • Alternatively, simply remove the exemptions.

Secondly, she stated that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act “applies equally to all species and use of animal”, when the exemptions dictate otherwise.

Thirdly, she told me what I had already stated in my letter, which is that standards for the treatment of animals are specified in codes of practice for the “welfare” of animals.

Something that’s a little frightening, which highlights some of the horror the poor animals experience, is the fact that she notes (with my underlines) the codes of practice have been developed “to ensure that the appropriate levels of animal welfare are detailed in each code for the particular species or use”.

So for some animals, it seems it is “appropriate” that we inflict pain and suffering.

Imagine you are an animal for whom such an approach has been decreed by those in power. Those with the ability and desire to abuse you are fully within their rights to do so.

She mentioned that the livestock codes of practice are being reviewed at the national level, and are being replaced with Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. I had referred to an example of those arrangements in my letter, noting that they allow (in respect of cattle at certain ages or under particular circumstances) castration, dehorning, disbudding (prior to horns growing) and hot iron branding, all without anaesthetic.


Unsurprisingly, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was mentioned. Ms Pulford said they should only be contacted in relation to matters involving non-commercial or domestic animals, and that the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (what a mouthful) should be contacted in relation to livestock issues.

So the government department that is responsible for “economic development and job creation across Victoria” is also responsible for the well being of animals who are regarded as products to be slaughtered and exploited in other ways. What hope do the animals have when there is no one officially responsible for protecting their true interests?

In any event, the RSPCA earns royalties from the livestock sector in exchange for its “paw of approval” product endorsements. Is it just me, or does that also seem an “inappropriate” arrangement to you?

Perhaps the most extraordinary claim in the letter was that “animal welfare is a high priority for the Andrews Labor Government”.

Why do I consider that claim extraordinary?

Well, the Andrews Labor government is one of two in Australia that permit jumps racing for horses.

Untitled design

Also, the Andrews Labor government is one of three in Australia that permit duck shooting on public lands.



As governments, elected representatives, and the public sector in general have established a legal framework that permits and condones the mental and physical abuse of animals, they must acknowledge that such standards exist, and stop pretending that we live in a civilised society.

We are quick to condemn other nations and cultures for what we consider to be heinous acts of cruelty, when we need look no further than our own backyard to see equally reprehensible acts that are enshrined in the laws that govern our way of life.

It’s time to either wake up and change, or stop pretending.

I feel that the march toward the former is gaining momentum, and am hopeful it will soon become the norm.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


10th July, 2016: Additional comments on the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.


Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources,

Reports on RSPCA commissions:

“RSPCA stamp ‘dupes buyers'”, Alexandra Smith, Sydney Morning Herald, 9th January 2012,

“Consumers duped by RSPCA, farmers claim” Alexandra Smith, Sydney Morning Herald, 9th January 2012,


“Aubrey”, Pete Crosbie, Willowite Animal Sanctuary

Branding a calf | © anrodphoto | iStock

Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses

Coalition Against Duck Shooting



Here is my letter of 31st March 2016 to Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford. I have informed Ms Pulford that I would be posting the content of the letter online. Some of the material was included in my article “When does ‘cruel’ not mean ‘cruel’?” of 31st August 2014.

The Hon. Jaala Pulford MLC
Level 16
8 Nicholson Street
East Melbourne
Victoria, 3002

31st March 2016

Dear Ms Pulford,

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act

I note that the Agriculture Victoria website states as follows regarding exemptions under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act:

“There are a number of exemptions built into the POCTA Act for activities undertaken in accordance with other legislation, codes of practice made under this Act, and the Livestock Management Act Standards. However this does not permit cruelty to occur.”

I also note the following definition of the word “cruel” from the Oxford Dictionary:

Wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.”

When one considers the practices that are permitted under the codes of practice, standards and related legislation, I wonder how they could not be considered cruel.

Here are some examples from a small sample of codes and guidelines:

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (3rd Edition)

The code permits the following practices, most of which apply routinely to the vast majority of pigs used for food:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic.

The Australian industry’s so-called voluntary ban on sow stalls, scheduled to commence in 2017, will allow them to be used for up to eleven days per pregnancy, and will not be binding on individual producers. In any event, the ability to monitor compliance must be questionable.

The industry has not indicated any action in respect of farrowing crates.

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition)

The code permits:

  • life-long confinement indoors, including cages;
  • beak trimming of chickens without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as “soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid”. In the case of chicks, there is no soaking in liquid. They are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle

The standards permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic.

Please also see comments regarding the dairy industry below.

National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments

  • The standards allow stunning prior to slaughter by: pneumatic captive bolt guns; controlled atmosphere (CO2) stunning; and electrical stunning
  • They state that CO2 concentration should be greater or equal to 90% by volume, and no less than 80% when gaseous mixtures are used. (Variations are allowed following a monitoring and verification procedure that demonstrates effective stunning.)

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments

  • Like the standard referred to above, in respect of pigs, the code allows stunning prior to slaughter by: pneumatic captive bolt guns; controlled atmosphere (CO2) stunning; and electrical stunning.
  • It notes that the CO2 concentration recommended in Europe is 70% by volume, and that the recommendation may need to be modified for Australian conditions as experience with local conditions increases.

Evidence of a standard procedure in action: CO2 stunning of pigs

The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned using the CO2 method.

Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals.

Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University, made the following points after viewing a video recording of the process from an Australian abattoir:

  • The use of CO2 stunning represented a major welfare problem, as the gas is very aversive to pigs.
  • The extreme reactions were typical for pigs lowered into a high concentration of CO2.
  • The best gas to use in the stunning chamber is argon, or a mixture of argon and up to 20 per cent CO2. Pigs do not detect argon, so are stunned without being aware of the gas.
  • For financial reasons, efforts are generally made to reduce the time taken to unconsciousness, so CO2 is often used. It is somewhat cheaper than argon.

From Professor Broom’s comments, it would appear that there are options available that would cause less stress to pigs than high concentrations of CO2, and that many in the industry may be avoiding those methods for financial reasons.

Additional comments on the dairy industry

Cows are continually impregnated in order to produce milk. However, the milk is intended for humans, so the cow and calf are separated almost immediately after birth, with the calves either going back into the dairy industry, to veal production or almost immediate slaughter. This process is an inherent component of dairy production and seems almost unimaginably cruel to the cow and calf.

Although not legislated, relevant industries have established a national standard whereby they can avoid feeding calves aged 5 to 30 days, who are being transported without their mothers, for up to 30 hours at a time.

The RSPCA and potential mandatory reporting

The RSPCA has called for mandatory reporting of animal cruelty. The organisation’s Chief Executive, Heather Neil, has said:

“But there are some people who, by the nature of their role, are expected to know what animal cruelty is and when action should be taken. These people should have a legal obligation to report cruelty when they see it.”

Although the RSPCA may not have identified the issue itself, its proposal highlights the strange dichotomy that exists between legal and non-legal cruelty. The organisation’s proposal is presumably aimed at non-legal cruelty, without seeming to acknowledge the extent of the legal variety.


Agriculture Victoria’s claim that exemptions to the POCTA Act do not allow cruelty to occur could be construed as an attempt to hide the truth.

I am reminded of the following statement from former Labor Premier, Steve Bracks:

“When you’re proud of what you’re doing, you don’t want it hidden; you want people to know about it. You only keep secret the things that you’re ashamed of.”

He also said a feature that would differentiate his government from that of his predecessor was:

“leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn’t afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements”

In the spirit of the comments from Steve Bracks, I feel that Agriculture Victoria should amend the relevant page by noting that cruelty is permitted when it involves animals bred for food and other purposes. That would assist consumers to “make their own judgements” based on a clearer understanding of the truth.

Another option would be to remove the exemptions. Surely it is unjust to have one law for certain animals, and a different law for others.

Regardless of the outcome, better-informed consumers may choose to avoid animal products altogether on the basis that any use of animals for food and other purposes is a form of exploitation, and arguably unethical.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with you if you would like to do so.

Yours faithfully


Paul Mahony
Co-founder Melbourne Pig Save


Image: Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary

Footnote: This article also appears on the Melbourne Pig Save website.

Link: Agriculture Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals page


On the final weekend of November, 2015, marches will occur around the world, with participants demanding urgent and effective action on climate change. The organisers of the Australian marches, like so-called world leaders who will meet at the Paris climate summit, are focusing almost exclusively on the impact of fossil fuels. In doing so, they are overlooking or ignoring another critical contributor to climate change, animal agriculture.

This post is a recap of some of the key issues, along with some new information.

What is the problem?

Producing animal-based foods affects the environment in dramatic ways. Here are some examples of prominent organisations and individuals sounding the alarm over many years:

“[Animal food products] place undue demand on land, water, and other resources required for intensive food production, which makes the typical Western diet not only undesirable from the standpoint of health but also environmentally unsustainable.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (2002)

“[Livestock production] is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, 2006)

“Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth, increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
United Nations Environment Programme (2010)

“Please eat less meat; meat is a very carbon intensive commodity.” Former head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri (2010)

Livestock’s climate change impacts arise from many inter-related factors, such as its inherent inefficiency as a food source; the massive scale of the industry; land clearing far beyond what would otherwise be required to satisfy our nutritional requirements; greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; and other warming agents such as black carbon.

Livestock’s impacts are understated

The adverse climate change impact of livestock production is understated in most official figures, because relevant data is either omitted, classified under non-livestock headings, or included on the basis of conservative calculations.

Allowing for the relevant factors, the 2014 Land Use, Agriculture and Forestry discussion paper prepared by Australian climate change advocacy group, Beyond Zero Emissions in conjunction with Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne), indicated that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were reinforced in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article, which had two co-authors in common with the BZE paper.

Some key contributors

Methane (CH4) is produced in the digestive system of ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep. In Australia, measured over a 20-year time horizon, methane from livestock produces more warming than all our coal-fired power stations combined. That’s in a country with amongst the highest per capita emissions in the world due to our heavy reliance on coal.

The 20-year time horizon (including its associated “global warming potential”) is critical in terms of potential climate change tipping points, with potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences. [See footnote.]

Although methane is a critical problem (including methane from livestock-related savanna burning), so are livestock-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, resulting from the clearing of forest and other vegetation. The carbon locked in cleared vegetation is released as CO2. We are hit twice, as once the vegetation is gone, we no longer have the benefit of its ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

In Australia, nearly a third of our non-arid and semi-arid land has been cleared for livestock production. A large portion of the remainder has been severely degraded by livestock grazing, with significant loss of soil carbon.

According to the World Resources Institute, overgrazing is the largest single cause of land degradation, world-wide. Much of the degradation occurs in the semi-arid areas. Cattle are heavy animals with hard hooves, big appetites, and a digestive system that produces large quantities of manure. Turned loose on fragile, semi-arid environments, they can soon devastate a landscape that has not evolved to cope with them.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is also emitted in great quantities from animal manure and fertiliser used on animal feedcrops, along with livestock-related savanna burning. It is nearly 300 times as potent as CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

Two warming agents generally omitted from official figures, and prominent in animal agriculture, are tropospheric ozone and black carbon. They remain in the atmosphere for a short period, but have a significant impact.

The impact of chicken, pig and dairy consumption

Chickens and pigs are not ruminant animals belching significant amounts of methane (although methane and nitrous oxide are emitted from their excrement). However, we are sitting on a climate change precipice while continuing to destroy the Amazon rainforest and occupy previously cleared land in order to grow soy beans (and graze cattle).

A significant proportion of those soy beans are fed to billions of chickens and pigs in a grossly inefficient process. Cows in the dairy industry are also major recipients.

Seafood’s impacts

Like chickens and pigs, fish and other sea creatures do not belch methane, and they do not require us to destroy massive areas of rainforest for grazing (although they are fed soy meal in fish farms).

The oceans cover 71 percent of our planet’s surface. They are home to complex ecosystems that are being disturbed by industrial and non-industrial (including recreational) fishing in ways that may profoundly affect our climate system.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change has helped to highlight some of impact. The problem arises largely from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The paper focused on the phenomenon of “trophic downgrading”, the disproportionate loss of species high in the food chain, and its impact on vegetated coastal habitats consisting of seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes.

The loss of predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures who disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from the vegetation and sediment.

Those habitats are estimated to store up to 25 billion tonnes of carbon, making them the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world. They sequester carbon 40 times faster than tropical rainforests and contribute 50 per cent of the total carbon buried in ocean sediment.

Estimates of the areas affected are unavailable, but if only 1 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats were affected to a depth of 1 metre in a year, around 460 million tonnes of CO2 could be released. That is around the level of emissions from all motor vehicles in Britain, France and Spain combined, or a little under Australia’s current annual emissions.

Loss of ongoing carbon sequestration is the other problem. If sequestration capability was reduced by 20 per cent in only 10 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats, it would equate to a loss of forested area the size of Belgium.

These impacts only relate to vegetated coastal habitats, and do not allow for loss of predators on kelp forests, coral reefs or open oceans, or the direct impact on habitat of destructive fishing techniques such as trawling.

Will we grasp a golden opportunity?

A 2009 study by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency estimated that a global transition to a completely animal free diet would reduce climate change mitigation costs by around 80 per cent. A meat-free diet would reduce them by 70 per cent.

Will we grasp the opportunity that those figures represent, or continue to effectively ignore the issue?

The failure of prominent environmental groups

Prominent organisations, such as Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Greens political party in Australia, and, have failed to campaign meaningfully, if at all, on the livestock issue.

ACF advocates consumption of “grass fed as opposed to grain fed meat”, seemingly unaware that the emissions intensity of grass-fed is far higher than that of the grain-fed alternative (with both being on a different paradigm to plant-based foods). Bill McKibben of has made similar claims, with neither citing evidence for their position to my knowledge. Despite what they may wish to believe, the natural way is not always best in every respect.

AYCC describes itself as “a real force to be reckoned with”, but has failed miserably on this topic.

Hopefully, those groups and others will add the livestock issue to their campaigning efforts, helping to inform their supporters and significantly enhancing their effectiveness.

Social Justice

Environmental groups in Australia are using the catch-cry “Climate justice, climate peace” in the weeks before the Paris climate summit. It may have merit, but to the extent campaigners consume animal-based foods, they ignore the injustice of livestock production.

For example, researchers from the University of Minnesota have estimated that we would have the capacity to feed another 4 billion people with a general transition to a plant-based diet. That would enable us to resolve the current crisis that exists in the form of nearly 800 million people who are chronically under-nourished.

Of course, with livestock’s massive climate change impacts, ignoring the issue flies directly in the face of the message of climate justice and peace intended to be conveyed by the campaigners.

Personal choice?

Many people argue that food consumption is a matter of personal choice, and that their choices should not be challenged by others. However, we can no longer regard food choices as strictly personal when their impacts have far-reaching, adverse consequences.

Governments could assist with information campaigns, and by creating pricing mechanisms that ensure the environmental cost of consumption is allowed for in the price paid by the end-user, thereby reducing demand for high emissions intensity products, along with the resultant supply.


The road to Paris may have been difficult so far, but the way forward, with potential tipping points and runaway climate change, could be very ugly indeed. It is time to wake up, face the ultimate inconvenient truth, and take all necessary steps in an effort to avoid catastrophe.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


For more on the “global warming potential” of different greenhouse gases, see GWP explained.

Even in the absence of clear tipping points, climate feedback mechanisms create accelerating, non-linear changes, which are potentially irreversible.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization, “Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements: Report of a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation Bangkok, Thailand”, 2001, pp. 14, and

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Livestock impacts on the environment”, Spotlight 2006, November 2006

UNEP (2010) Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, A Report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. Hertwich, E., van der Voet, E., Suh, S., Tukker, A., Huijbregts M., Kazmierczyk, P., Lenzen, M., McNeely, J., Moriguchi, Y.

Agence France-Presse, “Lifestyle changes can curb climate change: IPCC chief”, 15 January, 2010,

Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, October, 2014,

Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., Longmire, A., Rickards, L., “Neglected Transformational Responses: Implications of Excluding Short Lived Emissions and Near Term Projections in Greenhouse Gas Accounting”, International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.11-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 17, 2015,

Mahony, P., “The Electric Cow”, Terrastendo, 27th May, 2014,

Russell, G., “Bulbs, bags, and Kelly’s bush: defining ‘green’ in Australia”, 19 Mar 2010 (p. 10) (, which utilised: Dept. of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, State of the Environment Report 2006, Indicator: LD-01 The proportion and area of native vegetation and changes over time, March 2009; and ABS, 4613.0 “Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends”, Jan 2010; and ABS 1301.0 Australian Year Book 2008, since updated for 2009-10, 16.13 Area of crops

Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Themes – Environment, Land and Soil, Agriculture”, citing World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1998-99: A Guide to the Global Environment, Washington, DC, 1998, p. 157, cited in “The Ethics of What We Eat” (2006), Singer, P & Mason, J, Text Publishing Company, p. 216

Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, 5th October, 2015,

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Ocean” (undated),

Atwood, T.B., Connolly, R.M., Ritchie, E.G., Lovelock, C.E., Heithaus, M.R., Hays, G.C., Fourqurean, J.W., Macreadie, P.I., “Predators help protect carbon stocks in blue carbon ecosystems”, published online 28 September 2015,

Macreadie, P., Ritchie, E., Hays, G., Connolly, R., Atwood, T.B., “Ocean predators can help reset our planet’s thermostat”, The Conversation, 29th September, 2015,

Stehfest, E, Bouwman, L, van Vuuren, DP, den Elzen, MGJ, Eickhout, B and Kabat, P, “Climate benefits of changing diet” Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 (2009), 83-102, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6 (Also

Australian Conservation Foundation, “Meat Free Week: eat less, care more, feel good”, 17th March, 2014,

Mahony, P., “The real elephant in AYCC’s climate change room”, Terrastendo, 5th September, 2013,

Mahony, P. “Do the math: There are too many cows!”, Terrastendo, 26th July, 2013,

Harper, L.A., Denmead, O.T., Freney, J.R., and Byers, F.M., Journal of Animal Science, June, 1999, “Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle”, J ANIM SCI, 1999, 77:1392-1401,;

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010,

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014”,


Paris Climate Change Conference 2015 Photo © Delstudio |

Guest post by Liz D

This guest post by Liz D is the third in a series on the nature of chickens. I aim to demonstrate that chickens are individuals, with their own lives and personalities.

Liz plunged into the world of chickens when she took in nine rescued chicks early in 2013.  Her new friends have etched a place in her heart, and she could no longer imagine living without companion chickens.  Paul Mahony

Early days

In the past I’d always interacted briefly with other people’s chickens. I’d never lived with chickens nor had ever known any personally or up close for any length of time.  I’d always thrived on other people’s stories of how individual and amazing chickens are.

In January 2013, I was given the opportunity to raise nine rescued one day old broiler (meat) chickens. They lived in my bedroom with me for the first four weeks, to be kept cool in the hot weather and warm at night under a heat lamp.

They were adorable little balls of fluff who from that very young age, had a vested interest in being alive.

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Adorable balls of fluff with a vested interest in being alive


They explored their pen, pecked the eyes out of the toy bears I gave them to cuddle up against, huddled together under a rope mophead, as though it was their mum’s wings and coveted the food dish. They loved sleeping together on heat pads and under their heat lamp.

Four of them were easily identifiable by distinct markings, so they were named first. Blackie, Spot, Trouble and Tiny

Eventually I named the rest Big Wing, Gusto, Heckyl, Jeckyl and Gigi.

They were such happy and inquisitive little beings, always interested in everything going on around them.

Gigi in the mirror-250

Gigi: “I just can’t get this mascara right!”

One day I caught Gigi looking at herself in one of the dog’s upturned toys, which had a mirror on the base. She sat there for some time, no doubt thinking how pretty she was.

On warm days I’d load them all into a cat carrier and take them to the outside run that was set up for them. They explored their surroundings extensively, looking at sticks and bugs, and sometimes just all sitting together looking out at the garden, watching life around them.

Oh no, not the vet!

At about one week, Tiny, named because he wasn’t growing like the others, had a trip to the vet to get checked out. The vet, who said she’d never treated a chicken as young as Tiny, and didn’t really know all that much about them, suggested putting him to sleep, as he seemed to have a congenital disorder in his stomach. We took no notice of her and administered some antibiotics and lots of TLC and Tiny started to flourish and grow. He is now a feisty, happy boy.

To this day though, he doesn’t like human contact and I wonder if it was because he remembers being poked and prodded at a young age, and also having medicine syringed down his throat for five days.

Gigi is a special needs girl, as she doesn’t have strong enough bones to allow her to walk and run properly. She also had a trip to the vet at about 3 weeks old and had to be given medicine for 10 days, and isn’t so keen on being picked up or touched either, whereas Spot and Jekyl love a good scratch under the chin and a cuddle.

They say that dog’s neuroses and fears stem from the first three to four weeks of their lives, I wonder if chickens are just the same?

Now, where did I put that stick?

One day, when they were about 2 ½ weeks old, they were in the outside pen, and I had to pick up one of the girls to check her weight. She had a bit of a stick in her beak that she’d been squabbling over with another chicken, and when I picked her up, she dropped it down between my feet. I quickly weighed her and put her back down on the floor, and she ran off, then stopped suddenly, as though she remembered something and dashed back and picked up the piece of stick she’d dropped and took off again. This really displays an intelligent thought process and memory.

Just like the Waltons

I’d get home from work each night about 11 o’clock and the chicks would all cheep and chirp as I’d get into bed. Some of them would climb up on a box and peer at me sitting up in bed, wondering what I was up to. They would reach a crescendo before finally all settling down for the night. Sometimes one would then start again and I would often have to ask them all to please keep it down so I could get to sleep.

I didn’t want to plunge them into darkness, so I slept with a string of lantern lights on every night. Plus it meant that I could sit up and just look at them whenever I wanted to.  I loved hearing them all make contented little sounds as we all nodded off for the night, me, our two dogs, the cat and the nine chicks.

A big step

They graduated to a permanent outside pen at four weeks old, when they were almost fully feathered. The first night they stayed out there on their own, I was so worried about them, I got up and checked on them about three times.  I spent a lot of time just watching them grow, as being bred for meat, they have been bred to grow quickly. They almost grew feathers before my eyes.

At five weeks old, four girls Gusto, Blackie, Big Wing and Hekyl went to live at their new “forever” home. The next week, one of the boys, Trouble (now called Fabio), went to his wonderful new home too. While it was lovely having all nine here to watch and interact with, having Gigi and the three boys, Tiny, Jekyl and Spot left, meant I could really concentrate on getting to know them well.

A hot summer!

On hot days I spread out wet towels on the concrete to keep them cool and they would go mad “dust-bathing” on the towel until they were in just the right spot.


Keeping cool on a wet towel

Tiny loves water running over his feet or standing in the water tray to cool off. They all love watching water run down the path, and love to pick things out as they float by.

Come and get it!

Watermelon is their favourite food, and I just have to yell out “’Watermelonnnnnn” from the shed door, and they’ll come running. Our youngest dog Ivy, has suddenly decided she likes watermelon too, as she is jealous of the chickens I think. The only fruit she’ll ever eat normally is apples. Jekyl has been known to jump up and pluck the chunk of watermelon from my hand if he thinks I’m too slow at putting it down for them. They hang around the shed door, as they know that their food comes out of there. If they think they should be fed outside of their meal time, they will venture into the shed and sit there until I come out, then they’ll make a racket and follow me until I give in and give them a snack. Jekyl likes to talk a lot in a little chuckling voice.

Meal time is funny to watch. When I let them out of their hutch in the morning, they chase me to the shed and storm in surrounding me while I get their breakfast ready. Tiny then stands in the food tray and scratches it up, Spot lays down and hangs his head over the side to eat. Gigi is a lady and has very good table manners.

Jekyl will eat seed for a while, then a bit of watermelon, then he’ll walk away and sit down with his back to everyone. Then he will suddenly get up like he’s remembered he was doing something important and go back and repeat the whole thing over about four times until he’s finished eating.

My partner, Chris, is their evening carer and builder of great chook sheds. He has built them a little palace that they sleep in at night.  They are free to roam around the garden until bedtime. When Chris gets home from work, his initial routine was to walk the dogs, then feed the dogs, cat and chooks in that order. Well the chooks weren’t having any of that and after about one week of this, they’d storm the back step demanding he feed them first. He of course gave in and they now are top of the list.

Video: Dinner time for the chooks

Mutual respect

They are not afraid of our dogs and cat, and often I go out and the cat is lying in the middle with the four chooks laying around him. Tiny likes to walk under Ivy’s belly. They all seem to have worked out a mutual respect for each other.

The other day I went out into the garden and I could only see Gigi, Jekyl and Tiny. Our yard is extremely secure and there is no way that they could get out. But I couldn’t see Spot anywhere and my heart started to race. I ran down the back calling Spot, Spot, where are you? And he came running up to me as if to say, I’m here silly!! He was sleeping under the cool of a fern. Phew! I’m glad he knows his name!

When it gets near bedtime, Tiny is usually first to go in the hutch. When no one follows him, he’ll go back to the group and try and get them interested in following him. When he realises no one is taking any notice of him, after about 3 attempts he gives up and sits out with the others. When he does this, one of them decides it IS time to go to bed and they all toddle off. I’m sure they do it to annoy Tiny and have a laugh at his expense.


Some days they like to come back up near the house and try and get into the hutch they spent a couple of weeks in, before they were big enough to roam free. They hang out at the door until I open it and then hop in and sit for a while, to reminisce I guess! Back to their old stomping ground. Then they’ll all hop out and go back to the garden.

If Chris is working in the shed, the chickens will usually follow him and sit around watching whatever he’s doing. When he was out there playing his guitar last week, Jekyl was making howling motions like a dog!! Chris couldn’t hear if he was making any noise though, as Jekyl stopped every time Chris stopped playing.

We will miss the boys

The chickens give us so much pleasure and are a joy to have living with us. As three of them are boys who will soon be roosters, they will have to go to their new homes, as roosters are not permitted in the suburbs. That is going to be a very sad day and I’m going to miss them terribly. I guess it just means we’ll have to get some more girls to keep Gigi (and me) company!

Da boyz-500-338

“Da boyz” in the early days. They will be greatly missed.

Having now lived with and experienced life with chickens, I can’t imagine not having them as companions.

Liz D (Edited by Paul Mahony)

Do you have any thoughts? We’d love your feedback or some news of your own experiences in the comments section below.

See also:

Saving Ester by Chantal Teague

When you’re adopting chickens, life’s like a box of chocolates by Tamara Kenneally

Guest post by Tamara Kenneally

Tamara Kenneally is an award-winning, animal based photographic artist living in Melbourne, Australia. Tamara is  passionately interested in animal behaviour, animal rights and animal welfare, all of which greatly influence her work.

Tamara cares for over thirty rescued hens (ex-battery and broiler) and four rescued sheep. She also has many dearly beloved, departed animals from the past locked forever in her heart.

You can see Tamara’s superb photography in this post and on her Facebook page at

Here we learn of five very different characters in Tamara’s very busy
Paul Mahony

With so many chickens living with us, we’d have to be blind if we didn’t realise chickens had different personalities, just like people. Some chickens are quiet and shy. Some chickens are in your face and loud and brash. Some chickens prefer corn to watermelon. Some prefer to sleep in the corner rather than roost at night. Chickens make firm friends with other chickens that they like and get along with, just like people. Here are some stories about some of my dearest friends.

Retro, a real sweetie

Retro, one of our ex-battery hens (a Brown Isa cross Leghorn) is a sweet chicken who never pecks or starts a fight. She can be picked up without a fuss, sits on my knee without stressing and is generally just a very chilled-out girl. She waits at the back whilst all the bossier chickens get food. Other chickens don’t pick on her; her sweet nature seems to be appreciated by the other hens. Our rooster, Super Chicken, loves her the most of all the hens. Retro chooses to sleep on perch number four of coop number two. All of our chickens choose where they are going to sleep at night, and they all have their favourite spots.


Retro – a beautiful girl indeed.


Retro may be a little quiet, but she stands tall and proud.

Willow and Boudica, sticking up for each other every day

Willow came to us after she was pulled from a pile of dead and rotting hen bodies at an ex-battery hen factory farm. She was unconscious and only now, ten months after rescue, has she started to re-grow her feathers. That’s how badly damaged her little body was. She may be small and delicate, but her personality makes up for it. Willow is the first to cause trouble. She is the first to plot an escape plan from the chicken run. She’s the first to find a way into the feed shed and she’s the first to come running when I call her name. Willow is a dominant hen, which means she fights a lot to keep her spot as “top” hen. She pecks anyone who gets in her way, everyone except Boudica.

Boudica was saved unconscious from the same pile as Willow and they recovered together. Willow was very protective of Boudica throughout their recovery period and, to this day, they sleep cuddled up to each other and call each other over when the other has found something delicious. If one accidentally wanders into coop number one to go to bed and the other is in coop number two, they will peck the tin walls between the coops all night trying to get to each other and this is why we always ensure they are together.

Willow has a very strange habit of pecking my back whenever I am crouching down to take a photograph. She does it every single time. I don’t need to ask who it is who is pecking me; I always know that it’s Willow.


Willow and Boudica happily sharing


Willow standing tall and proud, just like Retro

Rhonda the roughead

Roughead Rhonda is named that for a reason. If she was a person, she would be drinking Jim Beam and cola on the street in front of the Aldi supermarket yelling for her five kids to “get the hell back here”. She is our chicken who would get tattoos if she could. Rhonda tells everyone where to go, including us. She barges through everyone to get to food, pecks anyone who gets in her way and generally makes everyone scared of her. Rhonda is a beautiful looking chicken, a pure Rhode Island Red, who was given to us by a couple who no longer wanted chickens in their small suburban backyard. Her looks do not reflect her personality that’s for sure.


Rhonda may look like a dainty lady but looks can be deceiving.

Mrs. Gideon is relishing her freedom

Mrs. Gideon was rescued about 6 weeks ago, and now that she has tasted freedom, she wants nothing else. Mrs. Gideon is the hardest chicken to put back into the chicken run at night. She wont be enticed with watermelon, lettuce or grapes. She doesn’t care if all of the other chickens have gone or not, she just continues to scratch up dirt and dust bathe to her heart’s content. I should have called her “Freedom”.


Mrs Gideon: “I’ll just pretend I don’t hear them calling.”

Each chicken in my life makes me smile and adds a great deal of joy to every day, each for their own different reasons.

Tamara Kenneally (Edited by Paul Mahony)

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Tom Hanks in the movie “Forrest Gump” for the quotation: “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”

See also:

Saving Ester by Chantal Teague

Life with chickens: a whole new world! by Liz Dealey

Guest post by Chantal Teague.

This guest post by Chantal Teague is the first in a series of Terrastendo posts on the nature of chickens. I aim to demonstrate that chickens are individuals, with their own lives and personalities. I will contrast that information in subsequent posts with information on what humans do to them in the name of food and profits, and the enormous scale of the industry.

Ester entered Chantal’s life via the school at which Chantal was teaching. I am confident that the story of their journey together will open many eyes and hearts.   Paul Mahony


Ester likes to be in the house, and feels like a member of the family. That feeling is reciprocated.

How we came together

Ester came into my life quite unexpectedly. Hanging on to life with stoic determination, Ester’s days were seemingly numbered, or so I thought.

A schoolyard chicken, Ester’s existence had been no more than a novelty. Deemed to be of ‘educational’ use, Ester’s role in life was to teach children about animal husbandry. Yet, when she fell gravely ill, instead of being cared for, she was locked in a shed and left to die.

Days later, when I found Ester, she was alone in a darkened, cramped shed, unable to move, let alone eat or drink.

Things were touch and go

The school refused to pay for any medical care and I was ridiculed for ‘bothering’ to take her to the vet. On the way, I had to lift her head or wings, just to see if she was still breathing. Things did not look good.

Ester spent three nights and four long days having x-rays, needles, antibiotics and numerous tests at my demand. I was determined to not give up on her like everyone else had. It was on the fourth day that she began to eat again.

The new family member comes home

Having absolutely no experience in caring for chickens, I took Ester home. Disgusted at how the school had blatantly disregarded her life, I refused to bring her back. I had no idea how I would look after her; she was still unable to walk unassisted to get to her food and water. But as far as I was concerned, every day that she lived was a hard battle won.

Our bathroom became a chicken rehabilitation unit fitted out with a nesting box, straw, newspapers and a heat lamp. Each morning I would clean, feed and tend to Ester’s every need. Evenings were spent watching and hoping to see signs of improvement.

Getting to know each other

She was so unusual; big floppy comb, little black and orange eyes, prehistoric gnarly looking feet. I was used to the soft fur, wet black noses and big brown eyes of my dogs, and this was all a new experience. But what originally seemed so foreign soon became a comfort as I softened to Ester’s face and her quirky characteristics.

During those long nights, Ester and I would just sit and look at each other. I would stroke her feathers and comb, talking gently to her. She was eating more but was yet to walk.

It’s not only cats who purr

One night, I started to swirl my fingers gently around her head. It was then that I heard it for the first time; Ester started to purr. Not like a cat, in fact, not like any other animal. It was a thick, rolling of small clucks accompanied by a deep inhale and exhale. Her eyes closed, and Ester fell asleep.

The next night, I decided to pick her up. I wasn’t particularly good at handling her, but she patiently allowed me to put her on my knee. She looked up at me quizzically, but soon settled down as I stroked the back of her head once more. Shortly, I felt her sink into my lap. Her head fell slightly to the side and once again, she started to purr. Before I knew it, she was in a deep sleep. I sensed that she trusted me, and in that one action, I felt a great sense of responsibility to always look after her.

This became a nightly ritual. I would come in and give Ester her medication, drop water into her beak, and give her fresh food. Once Ester began to walk again, she would hobble over to me and wait for me to pick her up so she could sleep on my knee.  She craved my company and affection and would seek the comfort of my touch. If for any reason, I could not get to her at the usual time, I would find her sitting at the door, out of her nesting box, waiting for me, her food and water untouched.

Ester ventures outside

It took three months before I could bring myself to allow Ester into her outside pen. I’d spend evenings settling her in, and she would follow me to the door. I’d have to keep putting her back into her nesting box and talk to her gently before she’d settle. If we left the back door open, Ester would follow me inside and sit at my feet, waiting for me to lift her.


A confident Ester after gaining strength and becoming accustomed to her external surroundings

She was becoming more confident by the day. Her strength was improving and we allowed her to come and go as she pleased. On cold nights, Ester would come inside and place herself next to our log fire. She’d ruffle up all her feathers, shake herself off a few times and slowly sink to her feet and go to sleep. She has been known to jump up on the arm of the couch to sit by me as I rode my exercise bike or next to my computer chair. Ester had to be near me at all times.

I’d often find, while I was preparing meals in the kitchen, Ester would follow me around like one of the dogs. She’d stand patiently waiting for a little treat to fall off the bench. I’d bend down and give her a pat and a piece of bread or some veggie scraps and she’d ‘tut tut’ back at me with a beak full of happiness.

That was over two years ago, and Ester is still a very affectionate little lady. Whenever she hears me coming she starts her little ‘chicken’ dance, picks up her petticoat and prepares to follow me with every step I take. She still follows me inside and waits by my side. It’s often a race to the back door to get in before Ester does.

A major scare

The night before my birthday last year, Ester went missing. We went outside to put her in her pen but she wasn’t in her usual place at the back door, where she’d wait for us. We spent hours searching for her by torchlight. I was hysterical; she had never done this before and was too weak to have jumped a fence and escape.

I spent the night listening to each and every miniscule sound. Was it a fox? A cat? Was Ester in trouble? Was she caught in something? Had she been taken by someone? The hypotheticals kept me awake all night, and by morning I was exhausted. At the first hint of sunlight I was back out searching for her, hoping she’d be by the back door waiting for me as usual. But she wasn’t there.

I sat by the door crying and calling for her. I pictured Ester there on my knee, looking up at me cooing and clucking softly as I preened her terracotta coloured feathers. I had no idea where she was or what had happened. Back to bed I crawled, despairing at the loss of my precious Ester. I kept hearing the sound of ‘pecking’ on the floorboards, but convinced myself I was imagining it.

When I got back up, I started walking around the house, I walked past the spare room and saw something I was convinced wasn’t there the night before; a clean, white egg. It was next to a fabric-covered chair. I lifted the chair slightly only to spot two orange, wrinkled chicken feet underneath. I threw the chair aside only to find Ester staring back at me. She’d trapped herself under the chair to lay her egg, and had spent the night in our spare room. Needless to say, she was the best gift I got all day.

Ester has a habit of leaving her eggs around our house. She prefers to lay in our home and will seek out the most unusual places to nest in. I’ve found eggs in the shower, on the top of stairs, and in the bedroom. Despite having the most luxurious of chicken beds, Ester thinks of herself as one of us, which she is, and prefers to be in the house where the action is.

Just one of the crew (or maybe the ringleader)

Every Sunday, the local fire brigade starts its siren as part of its training drills. Our dogs always start to howl. Ester happily joins in the chorus and will howl and cluck along with them. She puffs up her chest, fluffs her wings, lifts her head and parades around the house or backyard with the dogs. Sometimes, she will hear something and start howling first and the dogs will join in. She has the most entertaining personality; a fact I never even imagined when I first brought her home.


Just one of the crew? Maybe the ringleader!

A deep emotional attachment

Having Ester in my home has enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. Her intelligence, affectionate nature and charismatic personality were always there. It’s just that nobody had ever taken the time to get to know her before.

Ester had been a forgotten creature, stuck in a schoolyard and no more than a chore for the staff and students. Had her health not deteriorated like it had, and had I never been made aware, she may have died meaning nothing to anyone, like so many others. This incredibly deserving, brave and deeply determined little lady has forever etched herself into my heart. Her life is far more than an educational novelty, or an egg-laying machine, she is part of my family where she is loved immensely, and loves back in her own chicken way.

Chantal Teague (Edited by Paul Mahony)

See also:

When you’re adopting chickens, life’s like a box of chocolates by Tamara Kenneally

Life with chickens: a whole new world! by Liz Dealey

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