Last year a blogging buddy posted an article, “Excuse Me, Your Bias is Showing: Dissecting an Animal Rights Video” that “depicts” animal abuse on a dairy/farm. It’s a text-book how-to production zeroing in on how vids can be manipulated, tweaked and in some cases, manufacture total lies.
Oh yeah, the vids tug at your heartstrings. They make you ask, “Why are the animals so abused?”. You might even walk away thinking you just HAVE to do something about this.
Me? I watch these vids and get aggravated. You see, there IS another side to this story. Forget that the organizations airing the vids want your money. And, they know how to get it by playing on our emotions.
But the truth is, animals on every farm/ranch we’ve ever known of, take care of their animals. Why in the world would you intentionally harm a calf? That would be like a coach kicking his star quarterback in the shin or a gardener forgetting to pull weeds or a dentist drilling the wrong tooth. If that calf/quarterback/carrot/patient doesn’t thrive, you’re wasting your time and efforts.
Ethically, it’s wrong. Financially, it’s devastating.
Putting all of those thoughts aside, one reader asked DairyCarrie why are so many animals limping around in the video, obviously hurt and in pain? Or in the reader’s words,
My question about the video though is why are there so many “bad/injured/distressed” looking cows. Like around the 6 minute mark, it appears there are quite a few limping or having issues walking. Does that happen a lot?
And then toward the end, there just seems to be a lot of dead dying cows, for one single farm? Is that also normal? It just seems excessive.
Excessive?!!! Just ask the ranchers in North Dakota after the freak blizzard last October!! Yeah it’s excessive. And it happens. Often.
Can you see Big Boss doing the palm to forehead slap at this point? Yikes. OK, there are lots of folks out there who still see a farm as 40 acres with 5 or 6 chickens, 2 cows, 1 horse and a goat or two. They really do NOT understand that farms have changed since 1920. A lot. Oh let me count the ways.
But let’s bring in Big Boss for an “Expert’s” view on all of this!
Those not associated with our industry (ranching, feedlots, cow/calf operations) often get the wrong impressions–especially since a picture is worth a thousand words and pictures can be extremely manipulative. I could take a series of pictures depicting Kansas at our local long-term care facility and I suppose some might ascertain that all citizens of Kansas are above 80 years of age–or at a local cancer ward and some would assume that everyone was sick.
It is true that there are those in our profession that are not professional in their work–but I think that would be no less true of any profession–certainly not above the norm, especially for owner-operators.
The truth of the matter is this–animals have a built-in fear of humans–show cattle must be broke to lead–horses must be broke to ride. Certain animals and breeds are worse than others in this regard. The distance at which an animal moves when approached by a human is called a “flight zone”. For some animals that zone is the length of a football field, and for others, it is only a few feet. Handling of the former is difficult because when fear controls, animals often hurt each other as well as themselves, not to mention humans!
I will say that for the most part in my experience, animal injuries occur far more with self-injuries or as the result of nature as opposed to human induced injury. I have seen cattle push other cattle into feeding troughs, where if left without human intervention, the animal will die in a matter of hours or minutes depending upon weather conditions. That means the stockman may be working with an animal at 11:00 pm in below 0° weather. And there might be up to 4 or 5 cowboys out there helping. Sometimes a tractor has to be used to lift a huge animal up and out of danger.
I have seen cattle get their heads caught in fence or gate rails and suffocate, jump over fences and break legs, slip on wet ground and damage nerves in their hips and never walk again. Regardless of how perfectly a facility is constructed, conducive to cattle handling, accidents are never totally preventable. Leave cattle in the wild without any human intervention and examine how many kill each other there or are killed in unmerciful ways by other species or by nature.
Currently, at our main headquarters, there are approximately 4,000 head of feeder cattle. (That means they were born elsewhere, fed up to a certain weight, then sold to us to feed them to about 800 lbs.) There are 8 calves in pen 9 that have injuries–none of which was inflicted by a human being (re: slipping,getting stuck in mud, sticking a leg through a fence, fighting with other calves, stepping into a prairie dog hole…all resulting in broken legs, hips etc.
If we divide 8 by 4000 we get .002 or .2% head of the total. That means that in a large feedlot of 100,000 head, at any one time there could be 200 injured animals. They reside in what we call “Sick/Recovery Pens” where injuries or illnesses are tended to and the animals are monitored closely and isolated from the well cattle so that they cannot be bullied by the healthy cattle. (Animals do not, necessarily, have compassionate consideration for injured/ill animals.) They are given special formulas of feed and given whatever meds the vet thinks necessary. You see we want the animal to thrive. Every calf that dies, means hundreds of dollars lost. We want them to live.
And, believe it or not, varying seasonal temperatures can do a real number on the livestock. If they’ve been stressed already due to long transports, a 9° night followed by a 40° morning can be devastating! They are better off if the temperatures don’t vary over 30-35° during a 24 hour period. The larger the difference in temps, the harder it is on an animal’s well-being (stress).
Someone who has never been on a dirt road, let alone understand the concept of 21st century agriculture can easily misunderstand what is actually happening on the farm and in the feedyard. Society is now at an intersection where many feel with their eyes and then think with their feelings.
Since agriculture comprises such a small portion of our population, this will not be an easy dilemma to overcome. As more and more of the population continue to wrestle with what it means to be human–and continues to believe humans are actually just another of the animal species and occupy no special importance above the animals they care for–I expect the problem to only worsen and our livelihoods as special caretakers of our animals to only get more difficult.
So now you know. We value our animals. We take care of them…at all hours, under whatever weather conditions exist…being the best stewards of the blessings God has bestowed on us.
Proverbs 12:10- “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals.”