God Hates CAFOs, Says Pastor and State Legislator Hickey

Go to Pastor Steve Hickey’s Church at the Gate, and you’ll get 45-minute sermons. You’ll also get slideshows with images like this…

Hog confinement—image from Steve Hickey, Church at the Gate sermon slideshow, 2015.03.22
Hog confinement—image from Steve Hickey, Church at the Gate sermon slideshow, 2015.03.22

…and this…

Pastor Steve Hickey, sermon slide, 2015.03.22
Pastor Steve Hickey, sermon slide, 2015.03.22

Pastor Hickey marked National Agriculture Week by offering a discourse on the “darkness” taking place in modern agriculture in confined animal feeding operations. Pastor Hickey presented the following six points to his parishioners:

  1. Compassion for animals is an indication of one’s character.
  2. God cares about cows and sows.
  3. Rule and dominion aren’t a license for cruelty.
  4. God’s command for animal husbandry is to meet their needs while they meet ours.
  5. The most saintly in the monastic movements were people who had a special affinities with animals.
  6. We can be ethically complicit with animal misery at our dinner table.

Pastor says in his sermon that the cruelty of confined animal feeding operations weighed on his mind during this Legislative session, when his Republican city slicker House colleague Rep. G. Mark Mickelson pushed a measure to make it easier for counties to approve CAFOs. (Rep. Rev. Hickey voted against that measure, House Bill 1201.) The giant chicken farm proposed for nearby Parker heightens his concern. Recognizing he’s treading on thin political ice, Pastor Hickey said he’s not suggesting that animals have souls, but “My chickens know my voice,” said Pastor Hickey from the pulpit. “my wife knows their personalities.” He’s not talking about animal rights but human responsibilities:

I know that we’re not talking about beasts that are the moral equivalent of you or I, but they are the moral equivalent of your dog, and there’s laws against your dog being treated… in a pen that is inadequate for his needs [Pastor Steve Hickey, sermon, Church at the Gate, 2015.03.22].

Smithfield Farms logo
On Big Ag logos: “We ought to bristle at deception…. There’s not one Smithfield farm that looks anything like that. Their subsidiaries are Sunnyland Farms and Happyland Farms, which isn’t the case for their animals” [Hickey, 2015.03.22]
Pastor Hickey cites plenty of Scripture to justify his contention that raising animals in lifelong confinement and filth is ungodly. But in the clearest blasphemy against his political party and the corporate colonizers for which it stands, Pastor Hickey says, “Some things are more important than efficiency and money.” He compounds his Big Ag blasphemy by citing America’s pre-eminent farm philosopher Wendell Berry, who writes for The Atlantic last week that modern mechanized agriculture destroys natural and human ecology.

Pastor Hickey offers plenty of food for thought throughout his sermon. The full audio of his March 22, 2015, sermon is downloadable on his church website and listenable right here:

When we’ve lost our capacity to wince, we have lost something that’s very important in terms of who God made us to be [Hickey, 2015.03.22].

36 Responses to God Hates CAFOs, Says Pastor and State Legislator Hickey

  1. larry kurtz

    How was Noah’s Ark not a CAFO?

  2. Hey, Larry, I don’t want to live in a cell with you and Troy Jones, but if an asteroid’s coming, I’ll tolerate cramming into a cell with you on a crowded space station for forty days until the dust settles from impact.

  3. mike from iowa


    Rethuglicans voted to kill pets and turn them into dog food.

  4. GREAT POINT Larry.

  5. Steve Hickey

    Much has been accomplished when I can get Cory to listen to a sermon. Thanks for the write up. I’m not really excited about your God hates CAFOs title, feels pretty Fred Phelpish to me. In any case, Smithfield has gobbled up Morrells now and we are about to see a historical shift in SD toward CAFOs. We should pursue expansions in agriculture in SD but the ethics involved in animal misery and the environmental concerns need to be forefront and not sidelined for the sake of profit.

    1.5 million pounds of chicken poop A DAY will come from the Parker CAFO. Chicken poop is better than petroleum based fertilizers but can Turner County handle that volume?

  6. mike from iowa

    Chicken stuff needs to be incorporated into the soil asap for best nutrient utilization and to save wear and tear on people’s nose holes. Leaving it in huge piles doesn’t remind anyone of Chanel No. 5 and is an open invite to every winged varmint around for miles. Flys breed like flys and in a few days there are billions more flys and countless maggots crawling around.

    Petrol based fertilizer-otoh-doesn’t smell as bad.

  7. Thanks, Revvy. More support you on this issue than don’t in SD.

    Poor animal husbandry without care and concern for the animals welfare could be compared to the fallen souls who grew up mistreating God’s creatures. Jeffery Dahmer, Dennis Rader, Albert DeSalvo……

  8. Reverend Hickey,
    We don’t agree on much, but to this I would like to say, “Thanks!”

  9. Steve Hickey

    Glad for the positive feedback. I’d like to hear from our ag community their thoughts on the shift these last decades from ag school programs on animal husbandry to animal science.

    Not sure what is included in the recording but I noted on national Ag day that second only to veterans, farmers warrant our highest esteem. My wife’s grandfather had strong and rough hands and she has mentioned them many times and then quickly adds how he was a quiet man and how gentle he was with his livestock. This seems totally lost on the CAFO.

    Note I left out comments on rodeo animal abuse but there are some comments that may remind some readers about Gordon Howie’s trophy hunting hobby.

  10. larry kurtz

    Related. Don Carr just tweeted: Amidst glyphosate news, @drvandanashiva to speak at SDSU whose prez sits on Monsanto’s board http://ow.ly/KH4LR #drama


  11. mike from iowa

    Reverend,even I will give you a pat on the back for this measure. Don’t let it go to your head because we disagree on most everything else. Disagreement is prolly the wrong word. Your just wrong on most everything else except for payday loans.
    I’ll even give YOU credit for saluting veterans,but it doesn’t extend to your party. Their record on veterans,as they run around wearing US flag pins and saying the Pledge on the capitol steps,is really appalling. Now they want to bomb Iran?

  12. Walt Bones

    Pastor/Rep. Hickey

    My offer still stands . . . would enjoy having you visit our farm and see first hand our livestock husbandry practices as well as our cropping systems. My great grandfather homesteaded NE of Parker in 1879, by brothers and I are the 4th generation poised to transition the place over to our 5th generation which are already on the farm with us. The stewardship practices that my ancestors instilled in us are being passed on to my nephews.


  13. Steve Hickey

    Walt, I know the invite is open and I’ll pick a time. I’ve shared with Lucas my angst at a few things and also my interest to be a champion for ag.

  14. Pastor Steve:
    You continue to touch on “hot potatoes” that few others dare. Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront. I think if people just pause and think of over 1 MILLION POUNDS of chicken dung PER DAY (just one of the negatives), not to mention dipping chickens in boiling water ALIVE to kill them, simply to remove their feathers easier (just one more negative), they will want to look into this more seriously before jumping off the proverbial cliff.

  15. SuperSweet

    Walter, I recall touring your hog operation with you and your dad about 40 years ago. It was high test for the times and I would expect it to be so today.

  16. Deb Geelsdottir

    I agree with you Hickey, on each of your points.

    We had hogs on the farm and I remember watching the babies born. It’s really funny. They pop out, hit the floor, jump up and run to the teats to eat. Those little things are so cute.

    The crates shown in the photo were just coming into vogue among some central SD farmers. My dad, who had glaring short comings, just couldn’t see doing that to his pigs. None of us could. One doesn’t have to be a bleeding heart PETA member to recognize that putting an animal in such a horribly cramped space is cruel.

  17. Deb Geelsdottir

    You know, some are going to say that the price of hot wings and pork chops will go up with more humane animal care. First, limit the CEO’s pay to $1 million – total. That’s including stock options, housing, children’s scholarships, private plane, etc. $1 million total. Then hold the entire executive floor to a hard ceiling of $700,000.

    Now how much must the price of chicken and pork be raised? Whatever it is, I will live with it.

  18. Deb Geelsdottir

    Lastly, I agree with Hickey on the title of this post too. It sounds Phelps-ish and diminishes the importance of this topic.

    (I think the end must be near if I’m agreeing with Hickey this much.)

  19. “Organic Dairy Farming Struggle to Keep Up With Demand” Minneapolis Star-Tribune 3/21/2015


    VS This


    MORRIS, MINN. – The Fehr family thinks big. Members have built their Riverview Farms LLP into the largest single milk producer in Minnesota, with five massive dairy operations that house more than 34,500 cows.

    “The company employs 700 people, predominantly from Mexico, and houses some in on-site dormitories.”

  20. Jeff Kroon

    Usually animals are stunned so that the still beating heart can pump the blood from the body. Killing them by scalding doesn’t make sense. Did you take the pictures? How do you know that this practice is authentic? I agree this is appalling. What is your opinion on throwing live lobsters into boiling water?

  21. Lobsters a bit out of my budget, so poverty keeps me innocent.

    Live chicken scalding seems to be a standard industry practice, as Pastor Hickey said: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marc-bekoff/scalding-live-chickens-is_b_6897914.html?

    That said, I do like chicken strips.

  22. Hey, Larry! Can we get some context/explanation with links?

  23. Jeff Kroon

    The article states that the chickens are electrocuted, necks cut, and then scalded.

  24. mike from iowa

    A chicken with its head chopped off can flop around for a minute or more but does not feel any pain. The severed head can open and close its beak but does not flop around or feel pain. Animals must be alive to bleed out properly. I have skinned and gutted catfish and bullheads whose bodies have wiggled in salt water after all the butchering. You don’t scald live chickens to kill them. Onkly to facillitate removal of feathers and clean the birds up before plucking and drawing.

  25. mike from iowa

    PS be sure to use disposable gloves because chicken fat is one of the hardest greasy fats to get of your skin. You almost have to boil your skin to remove the fat.

  26. Yes, apparently that’s the standard procedure. If it’s not done right, the bird goes in alive. The Washington Posts reported in this 2013 article that “Nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally boiled alive each year in U.S. slaughterhouses, often because fast-moving lines fail to kill the birds before they are dropped into scalding water, Agriculture Department records show.”

  27. Jeff Kroon

    Unintentional? The sermon implies that all of the birds are killed by scalding. Unintentional killings by scalding is unacceptable and needs to be fixed. Hey look…we have billions of mouths to feed, hobby farms where the chickens run free are not going to cut it. If so, who decides who eats and who doesn’t? Triple the price of food and the people who can afford it will eat and the people who can’t will not. Corporate farms can and should treat animals humanely and should be held accountable. They are necessary to feed a hungry world.

  28. Interesting—are we getting to the heart of Pastor Hickey’s value conflict? Letting people starve is un-Christlike. (By the way, how’s our great corporate profit machine at ensuring that every child has a full stomach?) But are we to countenance a system that feeds the masses on mechanized processes that inevitably lead to cruelty?

    And is it really unintentional cruelty if we know the system inflicts cruelty and we let the system continue?

  29. Deb Geelsdottir

    Dad used to wring the chicken’s neck (Hence, “Cut that out or I’ll wring your neck!”), and the chickens did all the wild flopping around Mike described. A lot of blood flew as they flopped, so I imagine that must have played a role in the bleeding out process. It was after the bird was completely still and without any indication of life that we scalded, picked, singed and brought the birds in the kitchen to “dress.”

  30. Jeff Kroon,

    “Corporate farms can and should treat animals humanely and should be held accountable. They are necessary to feed a hungry world.”

    Sorry I disagree! I’ll probably raise a little hell by saying this in my home state of South Dakota but Beef, Pork and Chicken production are very inefficient if you compare it to all the energy involved compared to raising grains and having a Vegan or Vegetarian diet. You can still get proteins from a plant based diet although there will be certain vitamins that you would need to take to make up for not eating meat. Ideally grass fed Beef is where those important nutrients would come from but again it could replaced by pills if need be.

    There would be far less health and environmental issues also if we cut back on our meat consumption and placed more emphasis on a plant based diet. I fee these corporate, factory farms are the extreme opposite being bad for everything!

  31. The Freeman Schmeckfest is this upcoming weekend which reminds me of a former roommate who was Pennslyvania Dutch and happened to be a longtime Vegan. She could replicate all those German dishes her mother and grandmother made but made them entirely Vegan. Those meals were phenominal!

  32. mike from iowa

    As much as I dislike modern slaughterhouses (or older ones), theyspeed up production to make more money,not to torture livestock. I’m sure some birds/pigs die horrible deaths just as I’m sure the lack of meat inspectors and worker fatigue/line speed causes many more instances of fecal bacteria to occur in meat sold for retail. That appears to be the price our gubmint-hand in hand with korporate amerika- has decided innocent aimals and consumers must pay for profit.

  33. Use of Antibiotics in Livestock production expected to soar, raising serious health concerns

    “According to the researchers, the rise will be driven mostly (66 percent) by more animals (particularly chicken and pork) being raised for food — a response to the already growing consumer demand for meat in developing and middle-income countries. The rest of the rise (34 percent) will be triggered by a global shift (also already in progress) to large-scale industrial farms, where antibiotics are used routinely.”https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2015/03/use-antibiotics-livestock-projected-soar-raising-serious-health-concerns-0

  34. mike from iowa

    Cory-if you rilly want lobster,sign up for the SNAP program and you,too can have a new SUV and an Obama phone to go with your steaks and lobster. Gen you wine Fake Noize talking points. Don’t forget to buy energy drinks as well. Whatever is left over you can sell and then buy your cigarettes.

  35. Jeff Kroon

    I’ve got a possible solution to eliminate the million scalded alive problem: two lines through the kill zone. Apparently it’s the speed of the line that hinders a humane kill. Slow the line with two lines and bring them back to one after the kill. Get the engineers on it. Problem solved!