It has been a troubling couple of weeks. The horrendous events that marked September 11 forever in our memory will be slow to fade and difficult to understand. As close as the plane was that our heroic citizens crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside, the threat of terrorism still seems slightly removed, something that only happens far away in a big city.
Animal terrorism. In the livestock industry, we have not been immune to terrorist activities. Activists with a cause and not enough else to do have attacked animal husbandry, animal research, manure management and any other issue that catches their fancy. At times they have legitimate concerns with both scientific and ethical merit. Usually they have neither, and in their opinion, science-based information is biased and without merit if it does not support their cause.
Do we have to worry about terrorism? Unfortunately, yes. For Mahoning County dairyman David Moff, it was as close as his own pasture.
Dairy attack. In June, David and his herd experienced terrorism first hand. While one of the alleged perpetrator’s parents wants to pass the event off as a “little bit of a kid problem,” this deed is not remotely comparable to skipping a class or staying out an hour after curfew.
Toward the end of June, several teens climbed into Moff’s pasture and assaulted the cows who were out for the night. The suspected weapons were left laying about the pasture. A baseball bat, a broken chair, broken light bulbs, spray paint cans.
Eight cows had slash wounds. Eight cows had broken ribs and/or welts that are now permanent lumps on their bodies. In case David missed the destruction, a message was painted on the road concerning that night’s activities with the cows.
After-effects have been pronounced. A herd that was clipping along nicely at 70 pounds of milk per cow per day dropped to 58. A number of the cows were just fresh and working up to a nice peak. Peak gone. The brutalized cows are (legitimately) jumpy. The jumpiness is spreading to others in the herd. Heats are minimal and other health problems are cropping up.
Cause for worry. Unfortunately, David owns one of only a few farming operations left in his township. Like many townships, his has fewer farms and more non-farm rural residents. Many neighbors would like to brush this event off as a childish prank or something that they would not have to worry about.
The fact is that any person, child or adult, that could do this to innocent animals is a short step from doing something equally nasty to other innocent animals or people.
Where is law enforcement in all of this? While nasty, the perpetrators were not real smart. The piece of chair had a name on it. There was a clear trail to the alleged attackers. Then why were David and his son first suspected of inflicting the damage on their own cows? Why should you have to prove first that you did not commit this crime before police would look for the real culprits?
No protection. You might wonder how someone could have done all this and the farmer not know? Think about it. You are sleeping soundly after a good day’s work. Your cows are resting in their pasture when hell sneaks up on them out of the dark. Other cows cannot see what is happening to their herd mates on the other side of the pasture.
When do dairy cows really kick up a ruckus? Animals that are well cared for and gently handled rarely do. Calves let you know if you are late feeding them. The occasional cow or heifer trumpets her estrus status every 21 days.
Even giving birth, only the rare cow qualifies as a “screamer.” That is the cow that you don’t have to walk down to the calving pen to see that she is in active labor because she is shaking the shingles on the house with her bawling. Normally, cows just lay down and deliver a calf (older Jerseys just cough and a calf pops out).
This is not to say that cows do not feel pain, we all know they do. It is just that a dairy animal typically tries to kick or flee discomfort rather than bawl.
So, why share this with you? The whole thing makes me angry every time I imagine what the cows went through and what the Moff family and their cows continue to experience. The reality that there are people out there who would even consider doing these things adds another issue that you must address. Now. How are you protecting your farm and animals from vandals?
Fence defense. A really good electric fence is looking better all the time. Not just a single strand, which is usually adequate to contain cows, but a multiple strand high-tensile fence that has several hot wires. Go ahead kid, grab the fence, try to climb over or knock it down. Most kids don’t carry around big wire cutters with insulated handles. It wouldn’t hurt to have a thick crop of poison ivy growing under the fence. It would be easy to identify someone who tried to crawl underneath.
A particular worry I have is keeping animals off of busy roads. If you have animals out on pasture near a busy road, what precautions have you taken to keep them in? Single strands of electric fence are not adequate for some locations and groups of animals. If an animal gets out on a road and is hit, you are likely the liable party, even if someone else let the animal out as a “prank”.
Add locks, too. For this reason, I feel that certain gates should be locked and fences should be adequate to their location and the type of animal that is being contained. Is it inconvenient to lock gates? You bet. Does that mean that you probably have to deal with the hinge side of the gate so it can’t just be popped off the hinge posts? Yes.
What gates should be locked? A couple come immediately to mind. First, any pasture or feed lot gate in a remote location should be locked. Remoteness might be considered protection, but it also provides opportunity for mischief. Check on these animals regularly.
Second, any gate along a public road should be locked. At 1 a.m., simply opening a gate so that animals might get out can seem pretty hilarious and harmless to a carload of kids out for a night of fun. You know better.
To minimize inconvenience, get a bunch of locks that use the same key. Give everyone a copy who would regularly need access to the gates. Or, hang a key on the inside bottom of the third post to the left of the gate (or something like that.)
Create a plan. This issue raises a whole array of questions – for which there are no easy answers. Please take some time to think about this issue and actions you should take. How easy is it for someone to walk undetected into your barn, your milk house, lift the lid on your bulk tank, turn a valve related to your manure storage, turn the key on a tractor or skid loader or get to your cows or heifers on pasture?
Finally, where is the bull? I hope he only resides in your nitrogen tank, but I know many farms still have a resident stud. As David put it, “if there had been a bull out with the cows in that pasture, those kids would never have walked out of there.” Who do you think would be held liable?
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)