If you read the animal rights web sites, the essential message is that today’s livestock producers are a bunch of sadistic, money-grubbing jerks who get rich by exploiting and routinely mistreating their animals (a.k.a. “food-production units”). As one who grew up on a livestock farm, has friends and relatives who raise livestock, and knows many various types of producers, this is so absurd it might be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly false, misleading and downright slanderous. Truth is, the great majority of producers not only treat their animals well out of their own self interest, but also because they have a real affinity for the animals they raise. And that fondness comes early and stays late. Just a few examples:
• The memories of baby chicks, pigs, and calves will stay with me forever. I used to love hanging out in the barn with my dad while he milked the cows, largely because I just liked cows. Several decades later I still background (pasture) some beef calves. My goal is always to try to make a little money, but truthfully, even more than that I just enjoy having them around.
• A story that’s been in my family for about fifty years now is about my cousin, who at three years old liked his family’s pigs so much that one day they found him sitting buck-naked and armpit-deep in a mud hole (the way pigs used to keep cool in the old days) with a couple of his porcine buddies. What does he do now? He and his son raise hogs.
• I belong to a Quaker church where an important part of the service is “open worship,” where people have the opportunity to stand and share a reflection on the sermon, a thought, a problem or whatever’s on their hearts. I’ll never forget the time in the early ‘80’s when a fifty-something dairy farmer stood and shared that he had decided to participate in a USDA dairy herd buyout, which was designed to reduce the national milk surplus by buying the herds of participating producers. He wept uncontrollably as he shared the grief of giving up his lifelong work with his beloved cows. A month later he died unexpectedly.
• I know a couple of transplanted Dutchmen who own some of those supposedly big, bad CAFO’s. Both had been dairymen in the Netherlands on a much smaller scale, but when asked why they work so hard and manage so much risk, both answered (independently, in their best English) without hesitation—“I’ve got the cows in me blood.”
My experience is that livestock producers tend to gravitate toward whatever species they raise, not just because of the profit potential, but because they happen to genuinely like that animal—they like to be around them, enjoy working with them, and get a kick (figurative, mostly) out of them—rather than getting their kicks by treating them badly.
Are there farmers who mistreat their animals? There probably are, and if you go to the right web site, the animal rights people will be more than happy to show you some examples. But those are the exceptions. By far.
Bottom line? If the animal rights crowd wants to foist that farmers-mistreat-their-animals crap on people who are unfamiliar with agriculture with the help of some twisted facts and clever photography designed to play on emotions, they can apparently fool some of the people quite a bit of the time. But not this one. I’ve been there and it ain’t so.