By Susan Crowell / Farm and Dairy Editor
Last spring, the horrific wildfires that blazed through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas burned nearly 2,100 square miles. Early estimates were that the fires killed more than 20,000 cattle and pigs.
And Texas officials have yet to know how many thousands of cattle may have died in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but the counties that sustained damage were home to 1.2 million head of cattle.
Then Irma hit Florida, after pummeling several Caribbean islands. Prior to the storm reaching land, Florida Dairy Farmers, the state’s milk promotion organization, shared an update on how dairy farmers were preparing for the hurricane.
On some farms, cows and calves were moved to reduce the potential for injuries. Generators were checked, not for the homes, but for the milking parlors. “We will run all night with the generator under a load, to provide one final test before we fuel it up for Hurricane Irma,” said Florida dairy farmer Ben Butler on the association’s blog.
He moved his cows from the freestall barn to a pasture away from potential debris. That may seem like it leaves them unprotected, but the No. 1 reason for cattle deaths after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992 was fallen structures.
Butler farms in Lorida, in Highlands County, south of Orlando. In 2005, a storm took out four of his barns and took years to repair.
When I checked the region’s reports Sept. 12, 95 percent of the county’s residents were without power. Roads were closed, trees were down.
In Okeechobee, Kris Rucks and her family also worked to prepare their dairy for the storm. “Our biggest concern is keeping our employees, their families and our cows as safe as possible,” she’s quoted in the blog post.
I thought of all the livestock owners who work so hard every day to care for their animals, on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Compassionate people who inwardly — if not sometimes outwardly — cry when an animal can’t be saved.
An Extension agent told me about the cattlemen who crossed their lands after the March wildfires, looking for animals. They had to euthanize most of the ones they found, along with wildlife. It was, he said, as gut-wrenching as the fire itself.
And I thought about a report I read from the 2017 Animal Rights National Conference held in Virginia in early August — and got angry.
Everyone has a right to eat as they choose, be they meat-eaters, vegans or vegetarians. But the goal of animal rights activists is not animal welfare but the end of animal agriculture, period. The conference was touted as “dedicated to the vision that animals have the right to be free from all forms of human exploitation.”
It’s as if farmers’ compassion — the misters, the stall mattresses, the feed, the special attention, the fresh straw, the extra scoop of feed or ear scratch — doesn’t matter. It’s exploitation.
“We eat babies,” was the statement of one speaker, Harish Sethu, volunteer director of The Humane League Labs. (A recent Humane League Facebook post declared, “Being an animal lover means leaving them off your plate.”)
Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agricultural Alliance, says conference speakers made their goals very clear: “ending all forms of animal agriculture, regardless of how well animals are cared for.”
The conference was filled with sessions like how to pressure restaurants to stop selling animal products, targeting millennials and engaging children, using technology (think drones, undercover hidden cameras), and solidifying political alliances.
“Who cares, I am an animal,” said PeTA’s Ingrid Newkirk at the conference. “There’s isn’t a human race and all other races.”
Humane meat is a myth, speakers declared, and that includes livestock farms of all sizes.
There’s more, much more.
Bottom line: While we’re protecting and caring for livestock every day, there’s a huge faction out there who says you are evil and should be stopped. They can disguise their ultimate goal in a variety of tactics, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of “oh, it’s just an animal welfare movement.”
The storm will hit and you could lose everything.