REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — Members of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board reviewed nearly two years of investigations and violations, during their Nov. 20 meeting at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
State Veterinarian Tony Forshey said that since investigations began in April of 2011, there have been 68 investigations total, with 38 resulting in no violations and 8 that require further follow-up.
Forshey said more than half of investigations so far have involved no violations, and often stem from a neighbor dispute or feud. But each complaint is taken seriously at the time, he said, and thoroughly investigated.
A recent trend has been the difficulty to supply adequate feed to animals, especially horses, because of the high feed prices this summer and fall.
“I have a feeling that this fall and winter we’re going to see more of those in particular,” Forshey said, partly because of the drought of 2012, which severely limited feed supplies.
So far, the Division of Animal Health has traveled a little more than 35,000 miles and spent nearly $62,500 on investigations and follow-ups.
Members have long promised that the standards would be enforced in a way that “are meant to keep farmers in business, not put farmers out of business.”
The focus the first two years has been on education and bringing animal owners into compliance. But several board members said if requirements are not being met, especially after a warning period, then fines need to be issued.
“If they (animal owners) aren’t adhering to the standards then I think we’re going to have a tough time further down the road enforcing them,” said Jeff Wuebker, a board member and swine farmer from Versailles.
He warned against inspectors judging the issuance of a fine over whether the property owner can afford to pay it, especially when a standard is clearly broken and remains broken.
“I think we go down the slippery slope when the inspector is deciding whether or not someone can pay,” he said.
Board Member Leon Weaver, a dairy farmer from Montpelier, said the care of the animal should come first.
“If you’re trying to decide which way to go, then the animal comes first,” he said.
The board considered a two-visit policy before issuing a fine but did not take formal action. Forshey said the emphasis is still on bringing people into compliance, and said some people just need educated.
“A lot of these people on these investigations have never heard of the livestock care standards, don’t care about the livestock care standards and don’t care about changing,” he said.
The OLCSB board members held regional meetings across the state to explain the new rules, and continues to operate a web page on the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s website, but he indicated further outreach could be an option.