Learning to identify abuse in livestock may require more than observation


WOOSTER, Ohio — The Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio State University Extension are joining efforts to help humane officers across the state learn how to distinguish normal livestock handling and care from animal abuse.

Combining forces

The effort is being heightened after a public battle between the Humane Society of the United States and the state’s agricultural community over the creation of a statewide animal care commission. The issue has increased anxieties over whether a local humane officer would know how to identify abuse in a livestock operation.

The Humane Society of the United States has been pressing for the state of Ohio to pass legislation similar to the state of California, which requires changes in the way chickens, pigs and veal are raised.

The state has instead passed legislation to create a ballot measure on whether or not the state will create a board to establish livestock regulations.

However, that has not eased the fears of many farmers. So the Ohio Farm Bureau and employees of local humane societies gathered to learn about the basics of animal husbandry in Wooster July 23.

John Fitzpatrick, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director in Wayne, Medina, and Ashland counties, said the training is meant to help volunteers learn what may qualify as neglect or abuse in livestock and how to handle the animals.

“We want them to know they should get the farmer and work with them in order to keep themselves safe,” he said.

Two-way street. The Ohio Farm Bureau wants the local humane societies to work with farmers.

“Not all farmers are perfect, but most are trying to follow good management practices, but it may not be the perfect management. We want them [humane officers] to work with farmers and get extension agents or breed organizations involved if there is a problem with a herd so they improve. It is a two-way street,” Fitzpatrick said.

Advice given

After attending seminars conducted by a beef cow specialist, swine specialist and sheep specialist, the attendees asked questions about the difference between abuse and getting an animal’s attention so they do what you are asking; euthanasia for an animal that has lived out its life or is suffering; and what type of shelter is needed for different animals.

One point that each animal specialist emphasized: Talk to the owner and ask questions before jumping to conclusions. It could be the easiest or most difficult task, but talking to farmers can fill in the gaps and help you to understand what is going on at the livestock facility.

The experts raised a set of questions animal welfare agents should consider: Where in the life cycle is the animal? Is it a new mom? Is it a calf? Is it an older animal? What season is it?

Body condition

Each of the animal specialists explained about how to determine each species’ body condition and some tips on determining why an animal may appear underweight. They also discussed what type of housing was needed for each animal type.

Legal ramifications

Another segment that proved to be popular during the seminar was a legal briefing by David Pennington, legal counsel for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Pennington explained a humane officer cannot enter a property without permission. If permission is denied by the owner, then a search warrant is needed.

“You need probable cause. And probable case is whatever the judge believes it to be,” said Pennington.

Pennington added there is a portion of the law that could make the officers liable if they cause undue injury or cost to a farmer.

He explained that if they enter a livestock facility and breech the biosecurity measures and something enters the barn and causes a disease outbreak, the officer could be personally liable for the damage.

Volunteer education

Estill Tibbs, an Ashland County volunteer, said the seminar helped him to learn more about cattle and pigs.

“It gives you things to look at. It gives you different points of view to consider,” said Tibbs.

Equine training

After the classroom setting, the group assembled at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technology Institute equine facility to gain some hands-on knowledge of what to look for in an abused horse.

Fitzpatrick said they chose the equine facility for the training because many of the phone calls the humane agents receive are about horses, but some agents have never had experience with a horse to know what is acceptable and not acceptable in a stable.

Deb Powell, assistant professor, emphasized that communication needs to be established between an owner and the humane society before making judgments about what is happening in a barn or to an animal.

“Ask not just questions, but the right questions. Get a feeling for what the owner is saying and doing,” Powell said.

She added it’s not enough to determine a horse is underweight, but why. That can be taken from different observations and has to be taken into consideration by the humane officer.

“It may just be that the horse owner does not know and that’s when education is needed.”

Fitzpatrick said this type of training will be an ongoing training program in the future.


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