I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be writing about animal activists coming to farmers' and ranchers' back doors – at least when those farmers and ranchers are located in south central Nebraska, a region in a state I consider to be friendlier to livestock producers than most other states.
As you've likely already heard, reports of animal activists piloting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and even helicopters surfaced this fall right around the same time livestock producers and other stakeholders learned that USDA invited members of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) for a tour and listening session.
In the weeks that followed, farmers and ranchers have reported sightings of UAVs, helicopters, and black vans carrying UAVs driven by activists from an organization called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) – a group that, while separate from HSUS, has been described as more radical. Beyond that, one feedlot producer reported pens being opened overnight, allowing animals to comingle, and risking injury and fighting. Even with just UAVs, when cattle are exposed to an object they aren't familiar with, especially one they can't see that's flying above them, they can get a little flighty. So, the video captured doesn't reflect the normal functions of the operation.
What's more, most livestock producers I've worked with have been more than hospitable – it doesn't take using a UAV and taking photos in secrecy to learn about their operation. If you're truly interested in having a dialogue and have a question about their farm or ranch, all you have to do is ask.
Of course, to do that, animal activists would have to be willing to have a civilized dialogue, and as we've seen in these cases and many before, many of these groups aren't. Whether or not the incidents were connected to the meeting at USMARC isn't certain, but it still illustrates the point that there are some extreme voices that will always have the goal to end animal agriculture.
That's not to say having a seat at the table isn't important, especially when it comes to reaching out to consumers who have questions about where their food comes from. We see a big emphasis these days on telling your story, and many livestock producers have an opportunity to do that, especially with spring calving season on the horizon – how many cow-calf producers have brought a newborn calf into the cab of a pickup or into the house to warm up? It's that kind of care producers give their livestock that always seems to be overlooked by the animal activist community.