Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 17, 2000
Theology led farmer to respect his pigs
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Colin Millang is a hog farmer from Camrose. He may also be a vegetarian's best friend.
At a conference in Vancouver, Millang learned that most vegetarians did not develop their vegan ways because they were worried about health issues related to eating meat.
"I thought it would be for health reasons, but most of them asked if I had seen the conditions of how some of those animals were raised. What vegetarians were saying to me as a farmer is that factory farming is a very inhuman way to produce human food."
The conditions many of the vegetarians talk about, Millang said, are of small holding pens, dark windowless barns and feed laden with synthesized products.
These were the conditions Millang was guilty of providing for his animals. But four years ago, he changed all that. He came to understand that raising hogs and chickens for someone else's supper table did not mean he had to deny his animals proper food and living conditions.
"We raise good food on our farm now," he said. "We've gone to a holistic way of farming."
Millang spoke to about 50 people at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church April 7 as part of the parish's Lenten series.
As a child growing up on the family hog farm, Millang roamed the fields and walked among the sows. He spent most of his days outside chasing gophers and listening to birds. He was a farm boy and he loved his farm.
He went to college for a couple of years where he learned that farming was no longer a way of life, it was a business, where successful farmers are businessmen first and farmers second.
He learned about farm chemicals and animal science. He learned that you can increase productivity in pigs by giving them less room to move around in and limiting their exposure to sunlight.
He learned that animals didn't necessarily need to eat the natural grains. There were synthetic vitamins you could add to the feed to boost growth.
"Farming was not about animal husbandry," Millang said. "It was not about stewardship of the land. It was just about productivity."
Millang took all he learned in college and applied it to his farm. He turned it into one of the top 20 hog farms in Alberta.
"But at what cost?" Millang asked.
Millang joined the pack of chemical farmers, who turned the farm into an assembly line. Pigs were put in dark barns because it's a more effective environment for them in terms of production. Cattle were force fed to get them to market faster. Chickens were cooped up and expected to eat and lay eggs.
"Chemical farming is very good at calculating its cost and knowing its cost, but it doesn't figure in the cost of soil erosion," Millang said. "It doesn't figure out what the chemicals do to the soil. It does not have a column in the ledger book that tracks the suffering of animals."
Millang's views on farming changed after he started attending Newman Theological College 10 years ago. He is pursuing his master's in divinity and hopes it will lead to work as a Lutheran pastor.
"I was understanding theology, . . . coming to understand creation," Millang said. "One day I walked into the barn and saw one of the sows chewing on the metal bar of the farrowing crates and I practically fell on the floor."
It was then he realized the suffering of his farm animals.
In the last four years, the Millangs changed their entire farm. They added windows to their barn and enlarged the pens so their pigs had room to roam and interact with other pigs. The chickens also have more room to go about and do their pecking outdoors. They even eat the dandelions on the farm.
The Millangs use straw and natural products like sea kelp and garlic in the feed and have cut back on the use of chemical antibiotics. As a result, they have lost fewer pigs from death and their pigs are leaner.
"So we get a better price for them," Millang said. "It's working out better than what I had thought. We can raise good food and still make profit."
Millang said his message is important for people during Lent, a time when people seek improvements in their lives.
"Consumers have a tremendous power," he said. "They have choices in what they can buy."
Millang challenges people to think about what the meat at their grocery store has gone through.
He wants them to think how that cow or pig was raised. He wants people to realize how much synthetic feed and antibiotics was pumped into it.
"'I want you to raise them in a human way' - that's what I hear regularly from people these days," Millang said.
When Millang was a chemical farmer he could not look his pigs in the eye because "If I looked into their eyes, I'd have to set them free.
"But now I can look into their eyes and pat them when I walk by."
Millang doesn't fear that the end of the traditional family farm is near.
"It's the most sustainable form of food production," Millang said. "It's how we've been doing it for generations. Organic farming is the most sustainable form of farming. It's the family farm that is producing the most amount of food - good food."
But most importantly, said Millang, it's an ethical way of producing food.
"Whether it's an unborn child or a micro-organism in the soil, to be human is to be compassionate to all these living creatures - to respect these things that God has given us."