Talk about handing your opponents a box of ammo.

And then loading the gun for them and helpfully pointing out the target.

Sometimes, even (apparently) well-meaning people are animal agriculture’s worst allies ever, when they engage in activities that are puzzling at best, almost barbaric at worst. And when people hear about the story, it turns into an animal welfare issue that extends not just to the incident in question but to food and farm animals, as well.

Here’s Exhibit A:

Animal welfare groups across Ireland are demanding that the Kerry County Council put a stop to what can only be described as a bizarre ritual: The hoisting of a pygmy goat in a cage above fairgoers in the town of Killorglin, a lovely little village of 2,000 people on the River Laune in southwest corner of the country.

Unfortunately, Killorglin’s idyllic setting is no protection against the cluelessness of local officials.

According to an Irish Examiner story, a “wild” goat—more on that in a moment—in a small cage is lifted into the air for three days to dangle above the crowds and the musical acts at an event called the Puck Fair. Predictably—understandably—animal activist organizations quickly condemned the idea of an animal “pulled from the wild” being displayed for people’s amusement in a manner that resembles “something out of the Dark Ages.”

Their time frame isn’t too far off.

As the Irish newspaper The Journal explained it, the Puck Fair is one of Ireland’s oldest traditional fairs, with the first one believed to have taken place in 1613. As part of the festivities, a mountain goat is taken from “the wild”—meaning, some farm in a more remote area of the country—then returned to “the wild” after the fair closes.

Photos accompanying the story depict a Renaissance Faire-type setting, with a young woman dressed up like a member of some royal court reading a proclamation to open the fair.

Puck Fair officials said the animal is well-treated and emphasized that this year’s goat—the 401st—will have five inches of standing room between his horns and the roof of the cage.


Oh, yeah: They added that “wild goats were accustomed to heights,” so no harm, no foul.

John Carmody, spokesman for ARAN (the Animal Rights Action Network), demanded that the Kerry County Council cancel the raising of the goat, claiming that it violated the 2013 Animal Health and Welfare Act. The goat will be raised 60 feet up in the air in “varying weather conditions,” he told The Journal, and will be “confined, terrified and confused among thousands of party-goers and drunken revelers.”

(Hold on—as someone of an Irish-American heritage, I take offense to that last characterization. We prefer the phrase, “filled with song and merriment.”)

A weak and worthless defense

Regardless of your views on the appropriateness of time-honored rituals like wild goat hoisting, understand that the majority of people—ordinary consumers not necessarily opposed to (or even aware of) factory farming or the controversies over livestock handling issues—come down on the side of radicals like PETA and ARAN. And when they agree with the outrageousness of a goat-in-a-cage stunt, it’s but a short step to forming negative opinions on the treatment of farm animals, as well.

Even worse, the fair organizers dropped the bar to a new low for how ham-handed they could possibly be in describing their sensitivity to animal welfare:

“Each year [the goat] is paddocked in a farmyard three weeks before the Fair to ensure he becomes familiar with his handlers and secure around people in general. At the initial stage the goat is examined and inspected thoroughly by a vet, who determines that the goat is in good health.

“The goat is then gradually introduced to more people, and by the start of the fair is well-used to interacting with people at close quarters.”

Sorry—no sale.

Maybe back in the 17th century capturing a wild goat to be displayed in the town square had more meaning for a peasantry not far removed from hunter-gatherer days themselves. But in 2014? You’d have to be brain-dead to think that animal activists wouldn’t capitalize on what can only be described as a relic of earlier—WAY earlier—times.

And here’s the coda to a totally inept attempt at rationalizing the goat-in-a-cage stunt:

“King Puck [was] placed on his platform at 6 pm on August 10 and removed from the stand at 6 pm on August 12—that’s 48 hours later [not three days],” fair organizers told The Journal. “The goat is checked three times a day by his handlers, fed and watered twice a day and brought down and examined daily by a vet.”

All that is more humane than simply leaving the goat hanging out in a high-wire cage on its own, that’s true. But such a lame explanation is hardly a rationale for continuing with a “tradition” that even an Irishman who isn’t filled with song and merriment would have a tough time justifying.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.