Lessons From Successful “Transfarmations”
Animal farming has negative effects on health, the environment, and animals themselves. While many experts agree that reducing animal farming and focusing on a plant-heavy global food system could solve these issues, the viewpoints of animal farmers need to be taken into account. Specifically, the transition away from animal farming could be costly for them, leading to significant resistance.
This study looked at examples of farms that voluntarily transitioned away from animal farming — so-called “transfarmations.” The author collected 27 transfarmation stories that were published on support organizations’ websites and analyzed the motivations for moving away from animal farming, what the farms transitioned into, and how external organizations helped them. Data came from eight organizations in four countries (the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Switzerland). 16 of the stories were written by the farmers themselves, and in 11 cases, the author used stories written by the support organization.
In general, there were three main motivations to leave animal farming: compassion (19 out of 27 farms), economic (6 out of 27 farms) and environmental (7 out of 27 farms). A woman made the decision to leave animal farming in 6 out of the 12 cases motivated solely by compassion, and in 5 out of the 12 compassion-motivated cases it was a man and a woman deciding together. A man took the decision to transfarm in 5 out of the 6 economically-motivated cases.
For those motivated by compassnion, sending animals to slaughter was the point that most often triggered the farmers to change their operations. Farmers felt cognitive dissonance between mourning the loss of the animals and their sense of responsibility for sending the animals to slaughter. When their emotions reached a certain threshold, many farmers felt the need to act and stop the slaughter. Finding a solution to keep the farm without income from animals was usually the second step, at which point many sought out external support.
All farms that ended their animal operations for economic reasons were based in the United States. All but one of these were contractor chicken farms, notoriously a risky and economically volatile business. Many farmers said the income was unreliable, they felt under constant pressure that their contracts would end, and they often had to take on debt. Only one transfarmation was motivated primarily by environmental reasons, but farmers often mentioned it as secondary motivation. In three cases, the farmers transitioned into organic farming first, which improved animal welfare, but did not resolve their concern.
The author identified two main pathways that a transfarmation happens. The first one is transitioning away from the agricultural sector into the “care economy.” In these cases, the farm keeps caring for its animals and also shelters new ones. Sanctuaries cannot be an alternative to animal farming, but they can help educate the public and shape a new social arrangement between humans and non-human animals.
The other option is to remain in agriculture and grow high-value fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, or hemp. Chicken farmers were mostly economically driven, and none of the chicken farms analyzed in the study turned into sanctuaries. Meanwhile, around half of compassion-motivated farmers shifted to a different form of agriculture while a third turned into sanctuaries. The author points out that when farmers are economically driven, there is a risk that they might consider going back to animal farming given the right incentive.
The farmers mentioned several ways that external organizations supported them: finding a place for animals, helping with short-term and long-term solutions (e.g., throwing fundraisers and providing grant details), offering advice about the transition, and providing emotional support. Two organizations — the Rancher Advocacy Program and the Hof Narr Association — stood out as the most effective transfarmation support groups. Farmer-to-farmer support networks were another form of support mentioned by the farmers, and their lack of existence was a barrier to change in Switzerland.
The study is limited because it relied on promotional stories published about successful transfarmations. In other words, there is a chance the stories were biased and withheld more difficult issues (like the hardships and challenges farmers face post-transition). Likewise, the author was unable to consider the views of farmers who opposed, or failed to, move away from animal farming. As a result, the study only reveals a narrow perspective on a select few farms.
To make the biggest difference, the author believes that transfarmation groups should understand the role of gender. For example, women farmers seemed to be more motivated by compassion than men, who tended to be more motivated by economics. Finally, while transfarmation groups aim to reduce the supply of animal products, other advocates should continue focusing on lowering consumer demand. In turn, this may encourage more farmers to get out of the business of raising and exploiting animals.