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International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Published by Michigan State University

Official publication of the Research Committee on Sociology of Agriculture and Food (RC-40)
of the International Sociological Association (ISA)

Editors: Raymond Jussaume, Claire Marris and Katerina Psarikidou

Frequency: 3 issues per year 
ISSN: 0798-1759

Volume 15 Issue 3 (2007)

Farmers' Relationship with Different Animals: The Importance of Getting Close to the Animals -

Case Studies of French, Swedish and Dutch Cattle, Pig and Poultry Farmers                                                                  108-125

Authors: B.B. Bock(a), M.M. van Huik(a), M. Prutzer(b), F. Kling Eveillardc and A. Dockes(c)
Affiliation: (a)Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands; (b)Human Ecology Section, School of Global Studies, Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden; (c)Institut de l’Elevage, Paris, France

Abstract             PDF

The article analyses how cattle and poultry farmers in the Netherlands described their relationship with their farm animals and explores the factors that influence their level of attachment to them. The analysis draws upon Willkie’s (2005) framework of farmer-animal relationship, which distinguishes between different levels of attachment and detachment. This framework was useful for explaining why farmers developed different levels of attachment to animals, with the species, farm sector and housing system all playing roles in influencing this. Farmers tended to be more attached to cows than to chickens and felt more attachment towards breeding, as opposed to fattening, animals. Breeding, especially of cows, linked the animal to the personal histories of farmers, since their ancestors had often established the bloodlines of dairy cows. Farmers’ relationships with their animals were also influenced by the organization of production at the farm: the number of animals, their length of stay on the farm and the housing system. These factors all influenced the visibility of the animal as an individual and as a ‘real’ animal and not a living tool of production. The species and function of an animal and the organization of production largely defined the frequency, intensity and intimacy of farmers’ contact with individual animals. Practically all farmers (across sectors) perceived taking good care of animals and avoidance of suffering as a core element of their job and caring about animals as central to their definition of a ‘good farmer’. Beyond this, different groups of farmers showed clear differences in their level of attachment to their animals. In general dairy farmers felt more strongly attached to their dairy cows than farmers to their beef cattle or veal, whereas most poultry farmers felt rather detached from their chicken, and tended to perceive them as part of a flock and ‘living production tools’. These animals were not only de-individualized; at times and when seen solely as part of a meat and egg production system they were almost de-animalized.

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