Last week in Indianapolis, animal rights group Mercy for Animals took its one-sided messages to the street about “factory farming” and why people should not eat meat because of the way animals are treated. Just back from a week on the road visiting veterinarians in the hinterlands of Nebraska, I beg to differ from their portrayal of animal abuse as “business as usual” in my industry.
I started off on my journey from Kansas City visiting with Brad White, DVM, MS at Kansas State University, discussing shipping issues of cattle and the research that is being done on everything from where an animal is placed in a trailer (front, middle or back), the internal temperature of the trailer, wind/vibration effects and how to better prepare calves for transport to sale facilities to keep them healthy and in great shape.
Next stop was Kearney, Neb. where I went to a feedlot with Tom Edwards, DVM, and I viewed pens of contented cattle eating at the bunk and dedicated pen riders quietly guiding their horses through the cattle looking for the most subtle signs of lameness or sickness, and then pulling those cattle if any was found.
From Kearney, I took a 180-mile trip up through the Nebraska Sandhills to Atkinson where I spent the day with Kip Lukasiewicz, DVM, and Michigan State University Veterinary Student Levi Smith at a Holstein feedlot owned by a dairy farm in Minnesota. This feedlot feeds out steers as well as raises replacement heifers.
In one of the first pen we walked one of the employees was scrubbing the water tank with a sponge. I was told if they weren’t done every day, they were done several times a week. The water was crystal clear and the calves couldn’t wait to crowd around it. In another pen I was mobbed by Holstein steers that, because they have been handled since birth, are socialized and curious as to what you’re doing and will follow you everywhere (I even lost a glove out of my back pocket to one of them…).
In the treatment barn where some calves were pulled for sickness or lameness, they walked calmly into the chute and calmly out of the chute. Several times I saw the employee who was treating those calves walk past the front of the chute and scratch those calves on the head. You don’t do that if you don’t care about animals.
From Atkinson I traveled through the Sandhills and some of the most beautiful land God created (did I mention I am also from Nebraska?) to Burwell (home of the famous rodeo). I went with Dr. Brett Andrews northwest from there deep into the Sandhills to a ranch to do breeding soundness exams on 50 Charolais bulls.
We came up behind the cowboys on horseback with their dog and another vehicle following who were moving the bulls to the ranch for the exams. It was pouring down rain and cold. The bulls were being contrary and taking out the occasional fence post (at 1,500-2,000 they can do whatever they want), going through the odd fence, jumping over one or getting down in the creek. If people don’t think that real cowboys – real cowboys from real ranch families – do this kind of work on horseback like they have for decades and generations, they need to come to the Sandhills.
I can tell you I am not a fan of bulls – they are dangerous and intimidating, and to hang around 50 of them all together made me just a bit nervous. But like at the feedyard, these cowboys knew just how to work them once they got to the ranch. They moved them quietly and respectfully, walking them through the chute for their exams and turning them back out. More than once I saw one of them pat one of these enormous heads when it was in the chute. The rancher’s young kids were also there and pitched in on riding horseback or helping at the chute. It was truly a family affair.
A week out of the office is always a good thing. A week out of the office immersed in the industry I serve with veterinarians (and in my home state to boot) is a great thing. It was an unusually cool, rainy, windy June week which was the barest taste of the weather conditions these producers deal with day after day, all year long, because they love the animals the produce and the food that comes from them to feed the country and the world. Maybe the animal rights groups should get out from behind their computers and see if they would be willing to live an often difficult lifestyle to provide for others.
Mercy for Animals, PETA and the Humane Society of the United States want to promote isolated incidences of animal abuse which our industry abhors and condemns. They would rather take those videos and forward them on than come out and participate in our industry and see how ranchers, feedlot operators and dairymen – and their families – really care for animals.