AGRICULTURE NEWS: What if cows roamed free?

By Keenan Bishop/Extension Agent Published:

Folks that attend the Farm City Banquet this Thursday will meet many local farmers who have spent their lives caring and nurturing their soil and their livestock. Their livelihood depended on the health and vigor of the animals in their charge. We have many local farmers that have paid to attend Master Grazers, Master Cattlemen’s, Horse College and Cow College to learn how to properly manage the resources and animals they have chosen to raise.

All which require that they devote several evenings and often travel to neighboring counties. There are dozens that pay to attend Beef Quality Assurance Trainings every three years on how to properly and safely vaccinate and care for beef animals. Dozens still have voluntarily signed up for Premise Identification to assist in disease tracking.

Still they must constantly prove to the public, as animal husbandry ambassadors, that they can properly and humanely care for the animals that someday will enter the nation’s food chain. Sometimes they must even defend their vocation and lifestyle.

Dr. Roy Burris, UK Beef Extension Specialist, had the following in the April issue of UK’s “Off the Hoof” Newsletter. Titled “As People Who Care About Animals…”, Dr. Burris pleads for the other side of the animal rights movement. His article follows.

 “As people who care about animals” is a phrase that was used in an article on the Internet in which a vegan is imploring ovo-lacto vegetarians to become more militant in their beliefs or to “damn more and more animals to lives and deaths of total misery (from the book “Vegan Freak”). But…“people who care about animals” describes cattle producers better than those that oppose our way of life. I contend that they don’t care as much about animal welfare as we do.

We are the ones that stay up all night in sleet and rain to deliver a calf, or to warm up and feed a chilled calf. We will bottle feed an orphan calf knowing there is little chance for a profitable outcome. How many of you have had a chilled calf in your kitchen? How many of them have? We do care about animals.

We are the ones that cut, rake and bale hay in the heat of the summer only to feed it back to the cows in the middle of the winter. We have cattle that spend most of their lives grazing pastures with clean water. They convert forages, that have little value for human nutrition, into meat and milk that nourishes a growing world population.

Would our animals really be better off if we “freed” them? What would happen to them? They are animals of prey that are used to being protected. Would we just let them die and put a few in a zoo? We would still have to charge admission to buy feed. Welcome to the real world.

It costs the cow-calf producer $400-$500 per year to keep a cow. Do we hope for a profitable outcome? Of course we do. Otherwise, we couldn’t afford to provide feed and care for them. Many years don’t work out for us but we don’t usually quit. If other animal lovers want to buy land, cattle, feed and fences to give cows a good home without generating any revenue, they certainly have that right.

Our critics point to meat as being unhealthy. Everyone must know that lean beef can be part of a healthy diet. They should also know that a diet of hamburgers, fries and colas with no exercise is not a formula for good health. Is that our fault? Don’t “throw the baby out with the wash water”.

Ultimately, we have to get down to the crux of the matter. This opposition to animal agriculture is not really about isolated cases of animal abuse. Those cases are real and, although isolated, they do exist and should not be tolerated. However, the animal rights movement wants us out of business because we ultimately harvest animals and eat meat. This is not about animal welfare but about animal rights.

You see the most fundamental question is “do animals have the same rights as people?” I don’t believe that they do. Does mankind have “dominion” over animals? What does that mean? Everyone interprets that to mean whatever supports their position.

What I believe

Here’s what I believe (these are just my opinions and don’t necessarily represent anyone else).

I think that we have the ultimate right to use animals to advance mankind along with the responsibility to treat them well and humanely. This means that we provide feed and care for them during their productive lifetimes and then harvest them as humanely as possible….and, yes, we eat meat.

We want to avoid letting animals get sickly, die a slow death of old age and malnourishment and then find their way into groundwater, landfills or became food for the buzzards so that they can spread disease. Yes, we consume meat. We love healthy, wholesome, safe beef as part of our diet.

We aren’t going to change the minds of “animal rights” groups. We may have to “agree to disagree” with them, but we have a responsibility to educate the undecided population who could decide our future. We must let them know that we aren’t evil and that we aren’t factory farms.

This issue reminds me of presidential elections. It isn’t the hard core Democrats or the hard core Republicans that elect a president – as passionate as they both are. It is the other voters who determine the outcome of most elections. 

The passage of Proposition 2 in California has opened the door for animal rights groups to place similar initiatives on ballots in other states. The general public will be voting on issues that can regulate us out of business. That is the ultimate goal of those that oppose production agriculture – especially animal production.

“Undecided” voters may also think that this will result in a better outcome for farm animals but it won’t. We need to reach them. We have a good story to tell.

“Beef – real food for real people by real people.”

To learn more about the educational programs offered by Extension, call 695-9035.

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