Zero-grazing=poor man’s factory farming?

While perusing our new issue of WorldArk, the magazine of Heifer International, we stumbled upon a new (to us) concept: zero-grazing. Zero-grazing is primarily used in areas where grazing land is scarce, or where predators are a problem, such as in parts of Africa. Fresh food and water are brought to the livestock, who live in a sheltered enclosure. Processes such as milking are easier to perform, as the animals are kept corralled. Manure is collected from the enclosure and used as fertilizer for growing crops.

Zero-grazing can be helpful to rural farmers who lack grazing lands or have depleted the nutrients from their crop-growing soil, but we don’t like the idea of the animals sometimes being kept indoors their entire life; standing in their manure; and being fed corn, which they are not equipped to process properly. How can the animals stay healthy? What is their quality of life? Is this just factory farming on a small scale?

We could stop here, at the level of the poor African farmer. Zero-grazing systems do help pull some farmers out of extreme poverty by allowing them to produce milk on land that cannot otherwise support livestock; and when a farmer owns only a few animals, he will likely tend them carefully, as losing one would be detrimental to his income. Unfortunately, the term zero-grazing is also applied to  mega factory farming. Perhaps the programs that train rural Africans how to build small dairy businesses should adopt a new term for the farming system they promote, that doesn’t make one think of an industrial feedlot.