Artful Land Care

An Old Word to Honor and A Modern Word “That’s For the Birds”

In Animals, JustLiving Farm on February 8, 2015 at 8:00 am

15.02.08

February 8, 2015

“That’s for the birds,” has an interesting undertones these days. The avian influenza, a highly contagious and deadly virus is ramping up across the countryside. Who knew that when the flu rolled out this year, we’d be talking bird flu rather than should we have gotten our flu shot or not. For a chicken though, getting the flu and getting shot is a bit different than for us. Today, the government is dispatching birds right and left.

Bird flu fear is so great, China, the European Union, and many more countries have banned US poultry and eggs. Other nations, like Canada, have placed trade restrictions on exports from Washington and Oregon. These actions have folk wondering the economic impact of the flu. Fear has also led chicken folk, industrial, and small farm alike, to take precautions like requiring farm visitors to walk through bleach tubs before entering the farm. This is what the government, the agricultural industry, and media has termed as best biosecurity practices.

The bird flu is clearing muddy agricultural industry waters and three problematic areas come into focus: dispatching birds, economic impact, and biosecurity. While not spending much time on the first two, I will say, using the word dispatching other than “kill” is a tell of an industry who fears public knowledge that animals are killed at unimaginable numbers today, healthy or not. When it comes to an economic impact because of export restrictions, one has to wonder why chickens, chicken meat, and eggs are exported in the first place? Chickens and eggs are so easy to raise, very few communities need US farm poultry and eggs. What has my goat though is the idea of biosecurity.

Biosecurity does not have a place in farming or ranching. Biosecurity, a word the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) defines as, “the protection of agricultural animals from any type of infectious agent—viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic,” is an industrial word. Biosecurity lends itself to sterilization, confinement, fear, return-on-investment, and massive facilities. Farming and ranching calls for a much different word.

I grew up the age-old, relational word of husbandry. I prefer to stick with it. Derived from the Old Norse/Icelandic word husbondi (a peasant who owns house and land); husbandry came to refer to farm management by the late 14th century. Some folk may think the word husbandry tired and patriarchal, but I hear it as relational and caring. Husbandry speaks of care for the creational household. Husbandry knows the goat, cow, and chicken as household life. Husbandry is creational thinking and living. Rather than providing animal care from an office, observing operations through security cameras, husbandry has wo/men present and walking among the animals. Unlike biosecurity where animals are an economic product, husbandry places meaning in relationship and creational wellbeing.

The relational factor of husbandry is far better than industrial biosecurity because it does not stop at the fence line. Rather, care of animals is care of neighbor. Farmers and ranchers know their neighbors animals are just as likely to be nose to nose with their own at the fence line as not. They know the wellbeing of their neighbor’s children is the wellbeing of their own. Neighbors are not the facility down the road, but the folk who come over for supper. Husbandry fully lived out is care beyond ones farm or ones animals, it is care of neighbor, community, creation.

“That’s for the birds,” has an interesting connotation these days. The avian influenza, a highly contagious and deadly virus is ramping up across the countryside. Who knew that when the flu rolled out this year, we’d be talking bird flu rather than we should have gotten our flu shot or not. For a chicken though, getting the flu and being shot is a bit different than for us. Today, the government is dispatching birds right and left.

Bird flu fear is so great, China, the European Union, and many more countries have banned US poultry and eggs. Other nations, like Canada, have placed trade restrictions on exports from Washington and Oregon. These actions have folk wondering the economic impact of the flu. Fear has also led chicken folk, industrial, and small farm alike, to take precautions like requiring farm visitors to walk through bleach tubs before entering the farm. This is what the government, the agricultural industry, and media has termed as best biosecurity practices.

The bird flu is clearing muddy agricultural industry waters and three problematic areas come into focus: dispatching birds, economic impact, and biosecurity. While not spending much time on the first two, I will say, using the word dispatching other than “kill” is a tell of an industry who fears public knowledge that animals are killed at unimaginable numbers today, healthy or not. When it comes to an economic impact because of export restrictions, one has to wonder why chickens, chicken meat, and eggs are exported in the first place? Chickens and eggs are so easy to raise, very few communities need US farm poultry and eggs. What really has my goat though is the idea of biosecurity.

Biosecurity does not have a place in farming or ranching. Biosecurity, a word the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) defines as, “the protection of agricultural animals from any type of infectious agent—viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic,” is an industrial word. Biosecurity lends itself to sterilization, confinement, fear, return-on-investment, and massive facilities. Farming and ranching calls for a much different word.

I grew up the age-old, relational word of husbandry. I prefer to stick with it. Derived from the Old Norse/Icelandic word husbondi (a peasant who owned house and land); husbandry came to refer to farm management by the late 14th century. Some folk may think the word husbandry tired and patriarchal, but I hear it as relational and caring. Husbandry speaks of care for the household from a perspective creation. Husbandry knows the goat, cow, and chicken as household life. Husbandry is creational thinking and living. Rather than providing animal care from an office, observing operations through security cameras, husbandry has wo/men present and walking among the animals. Unlike biosecurity where animals are an economic product, husbandry places meaning in relationship and creational wellbeing.

The relational factor of husbandry is far better than industrial biosecurity because it does not stop at the fence line. Rather, care of animals is care of neighbor. Farmers and ranchers know their neighbors animals are just as likely to be nose to nose with their own at the fence line as not. They know the wellbeing of their neighbor’s flock or herd is the wellbeing of their neighbors children and their own. Neighbors are not the facility down the road, but the folk who come over for supper. Husbandry fully lived out is care beyond ones farm and animals, it is care of neighbor, community, and creation.

When it comes to the chickens running around the barn out back, I think I will stick with practicing the art of husbandry.  Biosecurity?  Well, that’s for the birds.

 

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  1. Dave, my growing up years were spent in close relations with chickens, cows, and goats. So I understand the relationship you describe as husbandry and which I refer to in my NWATD paper as agrarianism. My most direct contact with industrial agriculture was during college years in Eugene, when I had a part-time job at Swift and Company in the plant where they slaughtered and packed chickens (and occasionally turkeys). I cannot begin to imagine what slaughter houses are like.

    Keith

    Keith Watkins hkwatkins@mac.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had no idea you had done such work Keith. It reminds me that my fathers family raised and butchered chickens late in the depression, through the war, and into the early 50’s. Thanks for reminding me. Dave

      Like

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