The chill of good intentions


The morning drive radio DJs were in the middle of their idle prattle when the subject turned to the cold weather and pets. The female announcer urged everyone to bring their pets indoors or give her a call and she’d come and take them to her house.

Gee, here’s our chance to get rid of those stray cats that everyone drops off at the end of the farm lane.

“Seriously, folks,” her male counterpart added, “bring those pets indoors.

My thermometer – just one country south of the radio station – reads 31 degrees and I’m supposed to bring our three dogs and a cat into my house? I don’t think so.

My dogs remain outdoors, where they have dog houses with deep beds of straw, and the cat, which is one of those abandoned castoffs, lives in the garage.

But I did immediately start thinking of the perception many may have – that farm livestock and pets are being treated inhumanely because they’re outside.

Or inside, for that matter. Witness the pressure McDonald’s is putting on egg suppliers to provide layers with more cage space by the end of next year – one source said almost 50 percent more space, 72 square inches as opposed to 49.

The public is becoming increasingly concerned about how animals are treated. And producers should realize that treating animals in a humane manner is not only the right thing to do- but the profitable thing to do.

“Poor animal husbandry practices are counterproductive to (decreasing the cost of production),” says Glenn Slack, CEO of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (formerly the Livestock Conservation Institute.) “In fact, good animal husbandry practices result not only in a high quality product, but reduced losses in revenue.”

You can’t stay in business if you don’t take care of business. That means, if you’re a livestock producer, your No. 1 concern is the welfare of those animals.

Is there room for improvement? Of course there is.

Livestock welfare guru Temple Grandin divides animal welfare concerns into two basic categories: abuse and neglect, or abuses that good livestock producers would not tolerate, such as dragging downed crippled cattle; and boredom and restrictive environments, which do not involve pain but animal boredom and abnormal behaviors that may occur in environments that do not provide adequate stimulation.

Grandin, who’s not afraid to blast animal agriculture for bad practices, says livestock producers are treating their animals much more humanely. “In the past, cattle were forced to do things. It was common to use electrical prods and rough treatment,” she said earlier this fall. “Today, there’s a much greater appreciation of animals. Our awareness for their welfare has been heightened and rightfully so.”

How can animal agriculture explain its generally accepted practices to the general public? Grandin, an animal scientist at Colorado State University, created a Web page,, to educate people throughout the world about modern methods of livestock handling that will improve animal welfare and productivity. It’s worth a visit.

Likewise, most producer and breed associations have guidelines and programs in place for animal care and handling. In Ohio, for example, the Ohio Farm Animal Care Commission created a code of practices that describes a farmer’s responsibilities in the proper care of livestock.

I missed the boat this morning. I should have called the radio station.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!