It’s funny that for as long as I’ve been involved in animal agriculture, people have always thought they knew better than me how to take care of my animals. Sometimes they were right, when I was first starting and learning how to care for animals. I took their advice in the form of suggestions from those more experienced than me; this was the entire point of 4-H: learning to be responsible for something and learning the skills to do so successfully. Interaction with adults, public speaking, leadership opportunities, they all came second to the basic concept of learning new things and sharing my learning with those around me.
More often in my later years, they’ve been wrong. As early as middle school on the local junior fair board, I’ve had to deal with accusations of animal neglect when people failed to load their rabbits up on feed all day. Of course, we all know what happens to people who load up on food all day, so it ought to be common sense that it’s not good for a rabbit to stuff itself either, right? And if you think that they self-regulate, you’re absolutely wrong. In most cases, the animal will eat as much as it can because naturally this makes sense for it. But because its energy is not being taxed in survival all day, it needs far less energy as well and overeating can quickly be the end of it. Is it abuse of children when parents tell them to eat broccoli or restrict the amount of chocolate they can eat?
Of course, as time has rolled on, I’ve interacted with stronger personalities and less educated personalities, both categories of which have either embraced an open mind, allowing me to share my knowledge of proper animal care with them, or they have continued to allow ignorance to dominate their intellect and illogically argued that farmers have no idea what’s best for animals and only keep animals to exploit them. I’ve heard recently from people that being defensive of farming makes it look like we’re trying to hide or justify something when most people would’ve never thought to believe the ridiculous stories that circulate anyhow. This may be true, but I think there’s a spark of pride in the role we all play in feeding the planet that makes farmers naturally defensive of the accusations which are backstabbingly snaked about in the underground of the animal rights movement. And I have never shied away from an argument about whether or not we properly care for our animals.
I’ve often wondered what it is that makes animal rights activists so antagonist towards farmers AND their animals. Are they really so ignorant as to believe their own lies about farmers’ exploitative nature? Animals have survived and prospered for centuries in this “exploitative condition”, it’s a shame we can’t just ask them for their official vote of approval. After all, their domesticability is what led us to settle down and take care of them in the first place. It wasn’t us that hunted them down and forced tameness upon them over the years. (Sidebar: have you ever tried to forcefully tame anything? It doesn’t work.) Or maybe the root of this is that the animal rights activists are actually jealous of the good relationship we have with animals based on hard work and mutual respect. If so, all they had to do was ask. We’re more than willing to share our experiences with those who respect our profession, those who don’t spend every waking moment trying to falsify video and abuse animals themselves to get farmers in trouble.
Feedstuffs recently shared an interview with one of the stars of Food, INC., an animal rights leaning “documentary” on the nation’s food system. I’ll try to upload it to my blog for a while if I can, but there were some very striking quotes that came out of it which I wanted to emphasize. When investigated for their dairy cows waiting at the gate to come in for milking, in good weather and right on their internal schedule as always, the investigator told Salatin that he “didn’t have an animal problem; you have a people problem.” The animals were doing just fine, functioning as they’re well adapted to do, but the neighbor down the road thought she knew what was going on and called in abuse when there was nothing further from the truth.
“This notion that we can have life without death is ridiculous.” and “This notion that you can divorce life from death is … a silly, childish, ignorant notion.” More and more people are making money and garnering attention because of such profoundly obvious statements. I touch on this topic often and my favorite organization to bring this up is still the Zac Brown Band in their commentary on the death that comes about from harvesting vegetables. Salatin goes further to say that if you think death is just a one-way street, he suggests laying naked in your garden for three days to see how nature treats you. That’ll be a harsh reminder of the fact that life requires the death of the living. This simple balance is even in Disney’s Lion King, but people still fail to acknowledge it. Death as a part of life doesn't mean that we should cast off efforts to improve that quality of life, but it does mean we should stop looking for ways to bypass what is fact.
But farmers know this, among all the other things they know. And they take it into consideration every day when they are out planting the fields, killing the weeds, treating the animals and feeding them. Life costs life to feed life, but it is our responsibility to help feed the world. And farmers are willing to risk damage to themselves for the sake of the animals, those same animals which will eventually meet their end in the food chain. This is because farmers truly care for their animals, as well as take care of them. They do this even though they know that one day the animal’s life will come to an end to feed them. Animals benefit from this care and protection from disease and predators, and in turn eventually sacrifice their life in exchange. This is the balance that is life.