Cattle farmer, cattle producer, feedyard manager and president of Will Feed, Inc., Anne Burkholder of Cozad, Neb., penned a thoughtful essay after reading “An Odyssey with Animals” by Adrian Morrison. 

Burkholder, who is also the producer chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee for Beef Quality Assurance in Nebraska, says, “I found many of Morrison’s observations and comments applicable to animal agriculture, and I shared my thoughts relative to the beef industry. It is my hope that this essay will help folks in animal agriculture to think about the true issue at hand so that we can all have the savvy that we will need in order be successful. I do not pretend to have all of the correct answers, my essay is simply sharing my thoughts in order to motivate a continued thought process regarding animal well-being in our industry.”

A cattle farmer’s thoughts on An Odyssey with Animals
By Anne Burkholder

Dr. Adrian Morrison explores the animal rights vs. animal welfare (well-being) debate that is currently permeating mainstream America in his book, An Odyssey with Animals. Although Dr. Morrison’s book primarily focuses on the use of animals for biomedical research, and the rights vs. welfare issues that arise in that field; he makes some very powerful statements regarding the continual development of quality animal well-being practices. For those concerned with the animal rights issue, Dr. Morrison goes through a very thorough scientific look at why the domestication of animals and the use of animals is consistent with nature and morality. For those who choose to focus their efforts on improving animal well-being, Dr. Morrison shares his insightful “hindsight” looking back on his career using animals for biomedical research. For the purpose of this essay, I will focus on his suggestions regarding animal welfare (well-being).

I firmly believe that it is the cattle farmer’s responsibility to ensure that the focus of scientific research and “on farm” animal care practices continue to proactively improve animal well-being. It is also the cattle farmer’s responsibility to take the message of “I care for my animals, and I am competent in providing that care” to the American consumer. In order to accomplish those things, it is imperative that the cattle farmer remains diligent in his focus on animal well-being and does not get solely caught up in the debate of animal rights. While the animal rights debate is one of philosophy, the animal well-being issue is one based on scientific research and practical implementation of best management practices (BMP’s) “on farm”.

While I do believe that it is important to recognize the strategies and efforts of animal rights groups in order to protect our businesses, I believe that it is more important to maintain a proactive and diligent focus on improved animal well-being. Reading Dr. Morrison’s book allowed me to decipher the difference between animal rights and animal well-being, and to begin to formulate how cattlemen must focus in order to move forward successfully on the issue.

There is not much that will scare a cattle farmer more than the thought of increased regulation. I hope that cattlemen will individually place the needed importance on animal well-being without requiring regulation; however, I felt that Dr. Morrison’s statement regarding regulation was thought-provoking. He states, “For the most part, the resistance to change in the early 1980’s, mine included, was not because scientists were not concerned about the welfare of laboratory animals. Rather, we were resistant to the possibility of a b