Someone contacted me not too long ago, concerned about comments I made in a writing about the "old days," some 50 years ago, when a cow that kicked might get hit a time or two to try to calm it down. Few people do it today because it seldom worked. More people believe in the Temple Grandin-style of handling animals. Think like the animals think – set up pens and corrals that match how they see, and work them calmly.
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The reason someone took exception with the comment wasn't because they're so naïve to think that farmers never hit an animal, especially in the past, but because it has a negative connotation. Someone could take my comment out of context, if that is all they read from the article.
This person I’m talking about does a super job of caring for their own animals in an environmentally and animal friendly way, and believes agriculture needs to be proactive in telling the story that happens on the vast majority of farms today.
So wait a minute: Who would be the most likely candidate to pick up a quote about out of an article that says cows used to get hit once in a while? Someone with the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals or the Humane Society of the United States would be the most likely candidates, I think. Their tactics include sending "workers" undercover to get black and white videos of the one time a farmer or other worker lets their temper get the best of them, and when they perhaps treat an animal rougher than they should. Then it's all over the news feeds for the next day or two.
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PETA or HSUS as the case may be, has accomplished their purpose – they've raised the issue of animal welfare one more time, painted farmers in a bad light, and greased the skids for more donations to come their way from people who believe they are in it for the right reasons of protecting animals.
So how could we come up with a headline about what such negative-to-agriculture – at least on the surface – groups have helped agriculture? Because they have produced a new generation of farmers who think like the one who was concerned about a sentence that only implied that in days gone by a cow reluctant to be milked might have been hit.
The truth is there were some animal abuses. My own father took a pipe to a cow more than once – back in the '50s and '60s. I actually worked for someone in the same time frame who pulled calves by hooking a tractor to the calf if the calf was huge and the heifer too small.
Would these acts be considered abuse today? Absolutely. They were abuse then, but no one seemed to know any better, and no one seemed to be paying attention. Most people were only one generation removed from the farm, and knew that problems with animals arose and had to be dealt with.
Today's young farming generation is open to better, more humane ways of handling animals. They use technology to detect if an animal is sick, and sophisticated methods to make sure milk from a cow treated with antibiotics never enters the food chain.
Thank PETA and HSUS in part for creating this positive attitude and awareness about animal care. In their zeal to wipe out animal agriculture by turning the public against farmers, they have created a generation of farmers bent on doing things right and explaining things in ways the public can understand.
In an ironic sort of way, PETA and HSUS have been their own worst enemies, without even knowing it. In their zealous quest to convince the public farmers are careless and mean to animals, they've also sent the same message to this new generation of livestock producers – that people are watching, and the right thing to do is treat animals right in the first place.
One farmer I know is going through the Indiana Certified Livestock producer program, clearly voluntary, so he can document that he is trained in how to properly care for animals, just in case anyone ever questions what he is doing.
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Thanks to PETA and HSUS and groups like them, farmers everywhere know people are watching. And the bad actors, while there were never many, are disappearing. The new generation is aware.
Thanks PETA, thanks, HSUS. You've done agriculture a tremendous favor, whether you know it or not!