let's talk farm animals

Another perspective of intensively raised livestock

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few weeks investigating the concept of a “factory farm”. It’s an interesting label because it seems to come with inherent biases of agriculture and food production - the name itself implies a 1930’s concept of human exploitation. I’ve also been surprised how commonly and in a generally flippant manner it used when discussing agriculture on social media or in person.

Broiler chicken barn

Broiler chicken barn

During my investigation it became quite evident that when people refer to factory farms they are generally referring to large scale intensive livestock operations. And these references are overwhelming negative. My first impression is that big equals bad. And it is not an outrageous jump to make - I can imagine how any non Ag person would react when walking into a broiler barn with 15,000 chicks or onto an Alberta feedlot with 20,000 head or upon hearing the words ‘robotic milkers’ for dairy production. Big equals anonymous care where staff simply do not care, that technology has replaced individual attention, and where health and welfare are of little concern.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 16th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Education and public awareness,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , ,

The Intentions Behind PETA Attack Ads

Jean L Clavelle

You may have seen the DairyCarrie post recently regarding the PETA video which told a story of cows slogging through deep mud, living in deplorable conditions, emaciated, and generally uncared for. However, upon further investigation DairyCarrie identified several questionable points about the statements and images in the video and that perhaps the story was not all it was shown to be. The video stated that cows were emaciated and generally uncared for however upon closer look the cows had shiny glossy clean coats, were bright and alert and actually in good condition. To the uneducated eye and in comparison to say a sow with large rounded hips dairy cows may look emaciated but that is really just their anatomy - this is normal. It was said that cows were forced to live sleep and eat in mud and manure but if cows actually lived in the conditions shown their bodies hips and tails (not to mention the walls and every other surface in the barn!) would be covered in mud but they were sparkly clean above their legs. (See DairyCarrie.com for the full article).

This one small blog stirred up a virtual hornets nest on social media. By the next day DairyCarrie had 1.2 million views on Facebook and 160,000 people reading the article. Harris Teeter (the grocery food store chain), implicated in the video by PETA as purchasing directly from the farm, denied ever having any relationship with it and PETA was forced to retract their statements.  Upon investigating PETA’s allegations, local county inspectors determined they were unfounded, the cows were actually well cared for and there were no (zero nada zip) welfare concerns.

So why would a group like PETA set out to defame a small dairy farm like this and the dairy industry as a whole? What could possibly be the objective of such a stunt if there was in fact no animal welfare issues? PETA, Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals and others believe in animal rights. Simply put they do not wish for anyone to use, own, have animals of any kind whether that be for food, for entertainment or for pleasure. Including companion animals. They often implicate poor animal welfare as the reason for investigating farms or organizations that involve animals. And let’s be honest occasionally there are poor animal welfare conditions that are beyond ideal and downright negative. However as shown by the DairyCarrie post sometimes (and perhaps more often than you realize) it has more to do with the fact that people are simply using animals (regardless of animal welfare) and the posts and videos distributed by these extreme animal rights groups have nothing to do with animal welfare. And because the general public doesn’t understand the normal anatomy, physiology and animal management of a particular species PETA and other groups spins false truths playing on our emotions. For example in the PETA video it was noted that cows were referred to by number and that implied uncaring conditions. However what an excellent management practice for producers to know an animals complete history from birthday to health issues to production. So even though they do have numbers it’s a practical way to provide the very best health management and individual care for each animal based on what each cow requires.  And as I mentioned earlier to the untrained eye, it might appear that dairy cows are emaciated however obvious hip bones are normal for cows in good condition or even overweight cows.

The Animal rights belief system is certainly a valid one.  It’s unfortunate that these groups behave so badly and devalue that perspective by lying and marketing false truths. I ask each one of you to ask more questions before you believe on face value everything that is published by one of these extremists groups. Contact your local agriculture office, or any of the provincial industry associations who can help you answer your livestock questions or to visit a farm and find out what really happens.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on September 2nd, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,Animal welfare,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,HSUS,PETA,Uncategorized
Tags :: , ,

Changing perspectives in a changing world

dairy cow PICJean L Clavelle

Interesting how perspective can change.

When I was studying large animal behaviour in college a lot of the focus of our discussion and research was centred not just around behaviour but on animal welfare.   It was a natural thought progression I guess. At the time however, the word “welfare” carried with it a negative connotation within the ag community. It was associated with something on the fringe or for people who were extreme and equated with animal rights groups and activists like the PETA members who got naked on the corner of a downtown city block to protest something or other.

Now let me be clear it’s not that agriculture didn’t care about animal welfare it’s just that they didn’t necessarily have a word for it. It was more a belief system of it being the ‘right thing to do’. I’m reminded of what a family member told me when I explained I was writing a paper on feedlot animal welfare. She explained that I had better be careful before I ruined my career before it started. When I let her read the paper she said something to the effect of “well yeah, that’s just common sense”. It was simply the label of Animal Welfare that was foreign, not the concept.

Seeing the now infamous dairy footage recently was disheartening to say the least. It was simply wrong, it was disgusting and it was unacceptable. It set back everything that I and other proponents of animal welfare are trying to do not to mention cast a black cloud over the rest of animal agriculture and the good work that the majority of producers in Canada do. I am encouraged though to see that the ag community has not battened down the hatches to defend the poor decisions of a few. The agriculture community has not circled the wagons to say to the public “no, you just don’t understand”.   As a group and as individuals they have stood up and condemned that behaviour publicly. Animal abuse is Not Ok. The ag community has seemed to embrace the terminology that you the consumer can relate to - Animal Welfare.

Ironically I feel like I’m now being reverse discriminated against for being involved in livestock. I have been called disgusting, moral-less and without ethics. I have been asked how I can be involved in a business so horrible and would I eat my dog or my horse? I’ve been told I only have my views because I live in Saskatchewan and that’s all I know. I have been told numerous times that agriculture is big business and big business is intrinsically unethical so how can animals really be cared for well. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many producers are introduced to the public or how open we are about what happens on farms the worst always seem to be believed. It used to feel like a noble profession, feeding the world. But that positivity seems to be stolen with every negative tweet.

My only hope is that the recent evolution in livestock agriculture has not come too late to keep up with the dynamic social media world. My request is that if you have questions about something that you’ve read or heard please find a producer and ask for the real answer and an honest response. Maybe hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will change your perspective.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on July 21st, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Misconceptions,Social media
Tags :: , , ,

It’s a good thing!

Jean L Clavelle

Today I would like to share some of the positive things I am enjoying about livestock agriculture!  FACES OF FARMING PIC

It is satisfying to hear about all of the young people going into agriculture as primary producers.  Agriculture is not just a career choice with a myriad of job prospects but many young people are finding primary production a viable way of life.  Going back to the farm offers a life that is inherently satisfying regardless of the stress and long hours. Each year the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan publishes a billboard campaign featuring influential and modern young farmers who are making significant strides in their fields. The 2014 campaign was recently released so if you are in Saskatchewan look for these signs around Saskatoon and Regina.

I am excited to see the increasing application of technology in the day to day operation on farm.  Agriculture is not represented by the stereotype of uneducated hillbillies.  I understand that this may not be what our consumer is expecting or perhaps, wants to see but I think it is reassuring.  Many producers have a university education and are incorporating the latest technologies in their operations. This allows for production methods that are constantly improving - quicker identification of disease, better use of resources, healthier animals, and improved food supply for the consumer.  This is meeting the challenge that society has set – to improve efficiency, sustainability and animal welfare. To me the use of cutting edge technology implies a need for improvement, for evolution and for advancement which is everything that agriculture should be doing.

A great example of this is dairy robotic milkers.  As I have mentioned numerous times in previous posts I support many types of production systems - organic, conventional, small production for local markets, larger corporate farms etc etc etc.  However for robotic milkers to be feasible, farms need to be large enough to warrant the expense of a robot and are thus a best fit in mid to large size operations.  There are some advantages to robotic milkers that I believe warrant discussion.  Cows have the option to choose to be milked at whatever frequency they desire, instead of being milked the conventional twice per day.  It is interesting to see that cows will often go through the milker 2 to 5 times per day depending on the stage of lactation and the individual cow.  Robots are able to measure the somatic cell count in the milk which is an indication of mastitis.  Long before regular practices would be able to identify the problem the robot can predict disease and those cows treated as well as automatically divert the milk.  This is beneficial for the cow and for the consumer and for the producer.   Robotic systems also allow the producer to be in constant contact with their barn.  Alarms will sound if there are ever any problems with the cows or equipment which prevents problems before it happens.  Now this is not to say that non robotic systems cannot have optimal management but this technology certainly enhances a producers’ ability to manage his or her operation.

I think one of the biggest things I am enjoying right now is our renewed sense of pride in the fundamental nature of agriculture.  Tagvocate PIChe AGvocate movement has re-ignited the belief that what we are doing is worthy and worth explaining to the world.  Yes we need to continue to evolve and improve but overall Canadian agriculture efficiently and cleanly provides healthy food for our citizens.   It may be overwhelming but the ag community has taken up the challenge to share what we do with society.  And in the words of Martha Stewart “it’s a good thing”.

Share

Posted by FACS on May 26th, 2014 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,AgVocacy,Animal welfare,Dairy cattle,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , ,

Some good news on animal welfare

Jean L Clavelle

Lately my professional world seems to be focusing on the negative – on everything that’s not happening, how agriculture seems to be under constant attack, what we are not doing that we should. Today, I’ve decided to focus on the positive. I wanted to share some of the great work that our local and North American livestock ag community is doing for animal welfare.

To start, the 4th Annual International Beef Welfare Symposium is set to be held July 16 to 18 at Iowa State University (www.cpm.iastate.edu/beefwelfare) This conference was designed to offer producers, processors, retailers, government officials, NGOs, animal scientists, veterinarians and students the opportunity to discuss, debate and learn about the current and emerging welfare issues that face the beef cattle industry. Renowned beef cattle experts, bovine practitioners, philosophers and animal scientists will offer their insight and perspective and discuss the latest research findings during the invited presentations and poster session. Something that will benefit everyone involved in livestock agriculture and help to spread a positive message on the importance of animal welfare.

Share

Posted by FACS on May 15th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Canada,Codes of Practice,Research,Social media
Tags :: , , ,

Young farmers confident about future in the veal industry

By Lilian Schaer

(Auburn) They’re young, they’re educated and they’re passionate about their future as veal farmers in Ontario.

Tom Oudshoorn and his brother Paul raise about 2,000 grain-fed veal calves on their home farm in the Auburn area near Goderich and on a second farm near Kincardine, where Paul now lives. They were still in high school – Tom, age 14, and Paul, age 16, – when they started raising their first 20 calves after a barn had become empty on their family’s farm.

Both have since graduated from the agriculture program at the University of Guelph-Ridgetown Campus, with Tom finishing his diploma in June 2012, and are now full-time farmers keen to continue to expand their farming business.

Tom (left) and Paul Oudshoorn (Photo courtesy of the Ontario Veal Association).

Tom (left) and Paul Oudshoorn (Photo courtesy of the Ontario Veal Association).

“Every day is a bit different when you’re farming and I really like being my own boss,” explains Tom, adding both he and Paul enjoy making their own decisions, a benefit that comes with being self-employed. “As well, there are always ways you can improve and get better.”

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 10th, 2014 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal welfare,Farm life,Veal
Tags :: , , , ,

Fence Lines to Corporate Board Rooms Conference

 

SONY DSCJean L. Clavelle

For the 22nd year the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan (FACS) will be hosting its annual Fence Lines to Corporate Board Rooms Conference December 5th in Saskatoon.  This year’s theme is “Tactics and Triumphs” and will address issues ranging from understanding and meeting consumer needs, to dealing with pressures from non-agricultural groups, to the future of agriculture messaging in a constantly changing world.

Speakers will include Janet Hufnagel Thompson who built a feedyard in Western Australia and ended up being targeted by environmental extremists despite doing everything right from a regulatory perspective.  Greg Peterson of Peterson Farm Bros. will focus on his experiences telling his story through videos as well as the need for positive agriculture advocacy.  Julie DeYoung, A Public Relations Consultant, will address how the farming community rallied around a family farm being sued by environmental extremists and helped them win their case in court and for agriculture to win in the court of public opinion. 

Share

Posted by FACS on November 18th, 2013 :: Filed under Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal care,Animal welfare
Tags :: , ,

Bridging the great divide

by Jean L Clavelle

There are some statistics being tossed around these days on social media - only 3% of the population is involved in food production agriculture.  Of those involved in primary production, 98% are family owned and operated.  Interesting as it seems this has set up our culture to be an “us against them” scenario in terms of food production and the general public.

It has been my experience that people in animal agriculture are passionate about raising their animals.  This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.  Most of my colleagues feel the same way, and primary producers (those directly involved with on-farm production) that I’ve had the pleasure of working with here in western Canada exemplify this statement.  They want to produce a safe product, they want their animals to have a satisfying life and they want to have enough income to provide for their families and continue on with this lifestyle.

Sure there are some bad eggs (sorry for the bad pun) and those that don’t make the right choices.  This happens in every walk of life, every profession, every business however it is not the norm and it is certainly not the norm (or considered acceptable) in animal agriculture.

Sadly animal rights groups and some media presentations like those we saw in the recent W5 report do their best to highlight the small percentage that do not represent what conventional agriculture really is.  And instead of highlighting positive practices, sensationalized media coverage takes small snippets of unacceptable episodes and position them as being the norm.  Let’s be clear, animal rights groups do not want us to use animals in any way shape or form.  They do not believe we should eat meat or any animal by-product.  And unfortunately this message is lost for the average consumer.

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on November 12th, 2013 :: Filed under Activism,Agricultural Advocates,Agriculture Education,Animal welfare,Canada,Feeding the world,Media,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , , , , , ,

Perceptions of Antibiotic Free Meat

By Jean L Clavelle

There has been much discussion lately on social media sites regarding marketing and how perceptions can be easily manipulated.  One such topic is that of antibiotic free meat (AFM) where animals produced for food are never treated with antibiotics.  It involves consumer health, animal health, medical drug prescriptions, animal management and more – all highly charged emotional topics.

Much of this discussion revolves around the concern for human health and that antibiotic use in livestock may result in a public health risk due to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.   The implication being that AFM is a healthier option for humans.  The scientific component is a complicated one and has been debated at length in scientific journals and trade publications not to mention social media.  I won’t discuss it here as its more than one blog can adequately cover in a sitting.

One element that is often overlooked is that of animal welfare and the moral issue of raising AFM although I have seen it used as a marketing (dare I say) gimmick by many retail and food services organizations.  Antibiotics are products used by both humans and animals to prevent and treat disease illness and suffering.  We had previously discussed the definition of animal welfare (http://www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca/2013/07/25/do-you-know-what-animal-welfare-really-means/) and an important element of welfare is freedom from pain injury or disease by rapid diagnosis and treatment.  If we examine the exact nature of an AFM production system would it be considered inhumane?  Under this system animals cannot be treated for illness or disease if they are to be sold into this market.  Which is fine.  Until an animal falls ill.  And it will happen just as you or I might succumb to an illness despite our best efforts which can only be treated with antibiotics.  Good animal welfare and animal management dictates that sick animals be treated or if that’s not possible euthanized.  Just like we would want ourselves and our loved ones to receive treatment.

Share

Posted by FACS on October 28th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal cruelty,Animal health,Animal welfare,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Social media,Uncategorized
Tags :: , , , , ,

A poultry vet responds to this week’s activist videos

Guest blog by Dr. Mike Petrik, Ontario poultry veterinarian

(reprinted with permission from http://mikethechickenvet.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/response-to-activist-video/#comments)

This blog post is one I was hoping not to have to write. In Canada, there was recently an “investigative report” on the commercial egg industry. It developed after an animal activist group took undercover footage and passed an edited video to a television newsmagazine. The resulting 30 minute show was a black eye to the professional farmers, and has caused a stir in the public. I am disappointed in the response from the industry groups to address this attack, so I am writing this blog post in hopes of doing my part. This commentary does not represent any organization, and is entirely my own opinion.

First, let me point out some of the issues that are at play in animal activist videos in general.

1) Modern farms are large. This is daunting to most non-agricultural people. Looking at a barn with 10,000 chickens is as alien to you as me looking at an auto assembly plant, or a brewery, or a company that makes computer components. The shock of seeing the alien environment is leveraged by insinuating that it is impossible to care for large groups of hens. The fact is, there are basically as many laying hens in Canada as there are people. The farms are large because so many people live in cities and towns and don’t have time or interest in raising their own food. 30 Million chickens have to live somewhere in Canada if we want to continue to eat eggs the way we do now. Interestingly, the average flock size in Canada is smaller than anywhere else in the developed world….in the US, farms are between 50 and 100 times as large.

2) Activist videos are not what they seem. No, I’m not saying they fake them (although that has happened in some cases). What you need to realize is that the activist takes video for 4-5 months, then edits the video into the worst possible 15 minutes possible. The mandate of animal activists is to stop the use of animals…..all animals. They aren’t interested in showing the truth….if false representation helps them stop a process they see as immoral, that is very acceptable to them. Think about what this means. Imagine someone secretly taping you interacting with your kids or coworkers for months, and then trying to make you look bad. Imagine going through 4 months of footage of baseball games, and clipping out batters getting hit, hard slides, collisions at the plate, then make a 15 minute video of how baseball should be stopped because it is too violent. If the people watching were from the interior of China where people are unfamiliar with baseball, what would their opinion of the sport be?

Share

Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 23rd, 2013 :: Filed under Activism,Agriculture Education,Animal care,Animal cruelty,Animal welfare,eggs,Laying hens
Tags :: , , , ,