Tuesday, March 29, 2011

True Substance

Like everything in life, blogging is really difficult to do right, in that scratching below the surface to write something meaningful takes some deep digging, every day. To quote the English teacher on Easy A, "I don't know what it is with your generation's obsession with posting everything they do online, but I assure you, they're not all gems." It's easy to see why lots of people just don't make it in the blogging world, but I'm determined not to give up so easily. However, in an effort to really get to some hard stuff, some true soul searching as to my part in agriculture and why I wake up every day proud to associate myself with this industry, I'm going to have to refer to you. Ask me questions, the things you really want to know.

This past week marked the weaning season for us out on the Wenner Farm. Now, being a pretty small operation, this isn't as crazy as at some places, but the general ideas are the same. Sheep are ruminants and contrary to some opinions, they actually like to eat grain and forage, rather than milk-based products for all of life. As sheep get older, their stomach's other compartments begin to expand, converting them from the simple Abomasum (which handles milk) to the more complicated bacterial vat called the Rumen, with its associated cooperators, the Reticulum and Omasum. To facilitate this process which also leads to greater growth and a healthier life for the lamb, the mothers and us cooperate to introduce it to hay, and then feed. Once the lamb is eating enough, we separate it fully from the mother. This helps to dry off the mother so that she doesn't get mastitis and can recover from her pregnancy and lactation, as well as helps the lamb to focus on consuming the food which is best for it.

Of course, this separation leads to some anxiety between the ewes and their lambs, but not due to anything beyond an adjustment to the new system. Once the mothers have dried off we turn them out to pasture where they can start grazing on the brand new grass pushing its way up through the ground. It's a happy day when we get to turn the ewes loose to watch them prance around, excited to be turned out and running again. The excitement usually wears off in a day or two, but it's fun to watch until then. This sorting of the ewes also gives us an opportunity to evaluate all the ewes and determine which to keep for another breeding season and which to sell at market where other producers might pick them up, or they might end up in the food chain as mutton.

The lambs are kept indoors for more intensive observation because this is the critical part of their lives where they are growing and more susceptible to disease. Since we raise show lambs, for the most part, it's easier for us to decide which to keep and which to sell to other people when we find people who are interested. Of course, all of this will come later, as I update you as to what's going on at the farm. For now, it's weaning season and the ewes are starting to get turned out. Both us and them wish for some warmer weather as we sit through this abnormally low temperature Spring.

Monday, March 28, 2011

About Freaking Time

I know this post is nothing but timely, seeing as how this news sat in my inbox for the last two weeks, but that's just a sign that I'm finally doing work around the office and at home. But this piece of news was still worth the sharing, so I thought I'd put it up here for those who haven't heard.

Iowa now joins the charge in prosecuting the activists responsible for infiltrating farms under false names or employment intentions and then staging videos of animal abuse in efforts to defame farmers nationwide. This bill is years late, but props to Representative Sweeney for bringing this issue to legislative action. It's a shame that we have to legislate respect and honesty, but animal rights activists have no limit to their moral depravity as they pursue fame and their personal agenda. Hopefully, Iowa is next in a long line of states proposing this type of legislative action against the true animal abusers behind most of the videos. Ohio sure could've used this in the Conklin case with Mercy for Animals.

... As a side note, a day later, it's funny to read Gene Baur's blog on this issue, complaining about being prosecuted for telling the truth. If there was truth to what he told, it wouldn't be in agreement with HSUS and PETA.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Zoos and Extinction

Today's class led lecture on zoos and species conservation was reminiscent of my undergraduate philosophy class and the day that I argued unknowingly with zoology management masters students on the inappropriateness and inadequacy of zoos in today's society. Before I even go into a discussion of what I saw in class this morning, I should state that I am not anti-zoo. From a very early age I made frequent trips to the zoo with Mom, Dad and/or Grandma. I can remember looking down on a rainy day as rhinoceros played and splashed mud on me and the old kangaroo walk where we could get into the pen with them. So I got nostalgic and pulled up some old Youtubes for you from back in the day. Notice how much more hair everyone has then...

You want to talk about a man with a vision and an excitement for animals, it's Jack Hanna.

Of course, for the Columbus Zoo, the days of simple concrete and glass pens with animals "enriched" by a bouncy ball are long gone. The Columbus Zoo is fortunate today to be the top zoo in the country and if you visit it, you'll easily understand why. With excellent attention to detail, exhibits has been remodeled to more closely represent natural habitat and give animals more space whilst still offering a good view of most animals to the average zoo-goer. This is a fantastic educational opportunity and I credit zoos with instilling my first love of animals and my parents for encouraging this from an early age. Once on a farm, this love grew into a career passion which I will carry with me to the end.

It is important, though, to also remember that not all zoos are as fortunate with funding and opportunities as the Columbus Zoo. The Potter Park Zoo, for example, in Lansing, Michigan, is a great example of the old-style zoo with limited enclosures and simplistic environments housing many old animals. This to me seemed like the retirement home of animals and to some it might seem like the animals are forgotten in this place. But if you talk to the zookeepers, you'll find that they are doing their best with the resources and staff available to provide very good care and high levels of scientifically accepted enrichment forms in order to stimulate these animals and better their everyday lives.

Zoo proponents often argue that the primary function of a zoo is to promote conservation through reproduction management of species and education of the general public. This is a function many zoos perform more than ever now as zoos try to transition from a public entertainment enterprise to a more globally responsible institution. And I will be the first to admit that aside from National Geographic, and Jane Goodall, the zoo is the next on a list of influences on me from a young age about the impact of humans on the planet (followed by Bill Peet). But in today's age, how does the zoo help conserve species? Saving a species in a zoo doesn't mean that we can re-release it later. If the habitat is destroyed, then what's the point?

Someone in class made the comment that preventing human destruction of a species is a good thing, but to allow a species to eliminate another is "natural". What is the difference between one being natural and the other not? I refer you to a previous George Carlin video about "saving the planet" which I won't link here today. But on the topic of extinction in the end, what's most amazing to me is that today we were going through recent extinctions. These recent extinctions were the animals on the endangered species list back when I was in elementary school. And just like that, they're gone. Wrong or right, artificial or natural, it just is sad to me to have to say that a species is gone from the world forever, in our time now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mass Media...

... is the sole difference between agricultural corporations/commodity groups and the HSUS. Of course, many people have realized this already as concerned "agvocacy" groups and individuals scramble to educate people on the appropriate and effective use of social media outlets to spread the truth about animal care on America's farms today. And don't get me wrong, this is very important and will lead to better communication on the part of farmers in the future, but this doesn't solve the problem of now. It doesn't help get out the word to counter the lies which spread like weeds on MiracleGro.

Back in the winter (and yes, it's March and 50F outside so I can say that today), Feedstuffs ran a series of articles written by a reporter who got on farm after the chicken footage was released. His articles served as a powerful expose to the creative artwork that went into fabricating the "footage" used to accuse the farm of animal neglect and abuse. Like so many other videos that HSUS, PETA and Mercy for Animals are using to build up their tsunami of uninformed, but extremely concerned consumers, the release turned out to be framed. And after the media hype about the video release had passed and it was found to be posed, who was left to report the truth?

One reporter, as previously mentioned, did a real good job of covering facts and telling the truth and for that he ought to be commended. The same is true for the Smithfield video release back in December, and if you have any interest in reading facts about what happened, follow the link to read some true reporting. The unfortunate thing is that in the end, how far will this article really get? The media has lost the thread on this story long ago. Heck, look how long Egypt stayed on the news and how quickly they trailed off again, eclipsed by some new and unknown TV airtime and advertisement opportunity. Read this if you care about the truth, and then share it. If you want more people to read and to know, you'll have to share it yourself, face-to-face, or wallpost-to-wallpost, or however word gets passed along these days.

(credit to cartoonstock.com for the picture)