If, like many of us, you have moved to the French countryside or are planning to, then you need to be aware that, as a vegan, you’ll be in a minority. Countryside equals farming, so there will be the usual sight of farmed animals to contend with, plus the local chasse and its practices that I’ve written about at length. Plus, you may find that your French neighbours, especially the older generations, are likely to still raise and kill chickens, ducks and rabbits, and sometimes sheep and pigs, too. Whilst the younger generations of French, and here I mean the Millennials, certainly don’t seem to be following these traditions, backyard farming is far from dying out.
Expats living the “Good Life”
You may find that your fellow compatriots are also indulging in a little hobby farming. Many expats freely admit that they move to rural France to live what they consider to be the ‘Good Life’. The dream is not complete without a flock of ducks and chickens, a few sheep, goats or pigs and a well-tended potager. For some, the fact that rural France is akin to 1950s rural Wales is the motivation for their move. Personally, I don’t really like the term ‘expat’ but it serves to make the distinction here between those who have been brought up in these traditions and those who have deliberately adopted them. It may also surprise you to learn that there are expats running fully-fledged farming enterprises and benefitting from all the EU agricultural subsidies on offer.
What are the rules about backyard farming?
There seem to be no rules with regard to keeping chickens and rabbits, apart from complying with the Code Civile with regard to cruelty and welfare. For larger animals, such as sheep, pigs and cows, then there’s a registration process via the Chambre d’Agriculture. Even small hobby farmers, keeping a few animals for their own consumption on a non-commercial basis need to have a cheptal number, ear-tag all their livestock and comply with the rules for transportation. It appears that, strictly speaking, backyard slaughter is illegal and all animals should be taken to an approved and registered abattoir, along with their ear tags and paperwork, which must all match. However, the issue is one of enforcement and in rural areas it is reported that officialdom will turn a blind eye to backyard slaughter for home consumption, provided no meat is sold.
What to do if you are worried about cruelty and neglect
Back in January 2015, France finally recognised that animals were sentient beings as opposed to pieces of furniture, and granted them rights accordingly. Theoretically, the penalties for animal cruelty are high, with a €30,000 fine or three year prison sentence. Enforcement is, of course, the issue. Any neighbours keeping farmed animals should be duly registered and have the paperwork to prove it, along with the fact that their animals should have ear tags. You can check this via your local Chamber d’agriculture, sometimes on line – it will depend on the set-up in your department. If you are concerned about the welfare of any animals then the first stop is the Mairie and failing that the gendarmerie or prefecture. Other associations may be able to assist, such as the SPA and animal welfare groups like 30 Millions d’amis. The next step would be to contact the Direction Departmentale de la Protection des Populations (DDPP) which has a service veterinaires (DDSV). They are responsible for investigating cases of ill-treatment in commercial operations or individuals with more than nine animals. Both organisations operate on a regional basis, so you’ll need to check for the office in your department.