Dairy Channel: People see how you treat your animals

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Ever wonder how a fish in a tank feels? Unless someone kindly put a few rocks, plants or some “decorative” ceramic thing in the bottom, there is nowhere to hide.

Anyone can come by at any time and see the fish whether the fish wants to be seen or not.

Fish in a bowl. While we are not, individually, like that fish in a bowl, as an industry we are. No matter where your farm is located, no matter how good a job you do caring for and handling your animals, pictures of the worst situations are taken and held up as industry-wide fact by people with agendas.

Should we do anything? Will just individually continuing to do a good job do the job? It is time to decide.

Recently, information crossed my desk about pending legislation on downer animals. The news release contained Internet links with more “information” about the topic. One of those links was for www.hsus.org, the site for the U.S. Humane Society.

Now, I have to believe that the Humane Society is relatively well-regarded by the average citizen. After all, humane societies are know for taking in and sheltering lost and abandoned animals and helping them find loving homes.

How many school children likely use information downloaded from the site to write reports for school?

Online information. Curious to see what they would have on the topic of downed cows, I logged on. One of the variety of topics under the “Farm Animals” section (which ranged from factory farms to organic farming) was “Videos”.

Under that tab you can listen to self-proclaimed “expert” movie stars voicing their opinions or choose to view a clip on downer animals.

That day, the clip showed a Holstein calf being shoved out of the back of a pickup truck at a sale barn. It was then dragged by the ear down an alley without being allowed to get up and get its footing. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t really a downer cow, the video left a mighty poor impression.

Not justified. Did it appear that the calf needed to be handled this way? Did the calf’s behavior appear to warrant the rough handling? Unfortunately, the answer was no.

I was personally disgusted by the way the calf was handled and I was also disappointed because I don’t think you would have to visit too many sale barns before you witnessed this sort of treatment.

We are hurting our own industry by allowing this sort of behavior, whether it is on the farm or at the sale barn.

Open to public. Sale barns are the dairy industry’s fish bowl. They are the most visible places animals are handled that the general public can access. The sale barn is also an unfamiliar, noisy and potentially frightening place for livestock being unloaded after an unfamiliar ride in a trailer.

Are they likely to balk when they are headed toward who-knows-what around that corner? Of course.

Most of the people who work in sale barns enjoy their work and do a good job. We need to weed out the few who automatically assume that calves or other animals won’t move without beating them on the tailhead with a stick.

Anyone who works with animals understands that there is an occasional bone-headed critter that will require some creative handling.

Train employees. However, we must train ourselves and our employees, whether their paycheck comes from a farm or a sale barn what are acceptable and what are unacceptable ways of handling animals.

In addition to cleaning up animal handling, we need to make sure that the animals sent to the sale barn are healthy, clean and sent in a timely manner. Filthy, badly injured or half-dead animals must not be sent to the sale barn.

It is unkind to the animal, dangerous for the animal handlers and a bad potential picture for the public.

Influence. On-farm euthanasia and disposal is the only option at times. We are in a fishbowl. Employees take their cue from how you handle your animals.

The general public takes their cue from the pictures and rhetoric available to them from newspapers, television, the internet and the sale barn.

What pictures should be shown? What message do you want to be heard? We can make a difference. We need to start now.

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