When things calm down long enough to sit and reflect (and seeing as I am finally hitting the “uncomfortable point” with 7 weeks to go in my own pregnancy, sitting is the position of choice as of late), it reminds me how many things we do on the farm every day that are completely foreign to those that have never seen it. I’ve been working in livestock barns since I was old enough to walk and talk. Our families’ Christmas cards usually contain as many animals as people.
When you are young on the farm, you are taught how to care for animals and you get to see the results of that care. Working with animals every day, you learn what the signs are for sick, hungry, thirsty, and uncomfortable. I admit I typically take for granted knowing and understanding these signs, and knowing what to do to fix them the best I can everyday. Just because an animal squeals, chews on something, or does something else “odd”, doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Our cows chewed and removed all the insulation out of the garage doors in our new barn. Weird, yes; inhumane, no. Pigs will chew on anything near them. We had to move the locations of the outside hog pens every spring break because the pigs would have destroyed nearly everything in them within a year. I’ve said many times that I talk to the animals (a lot), and they have yet to answer me (thankfully). Until they do, I have to use my knowledge and understanding of the “signs” to do the best I can. I believe that all farmers do the best they can every day. I have yet to meet one that doesn’t.
And, then, one of these undercover videos showing suspected farm animal abuse comes out and I worry consumers aren’t getting the whole story. (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/walmart-christensen-farms-mercy-for-animals-video_n_1683119.html - Farmers are encouraged to leave a comment behind.) When someone abuses any animal, it makes my blood boil as much as the next person, and I’ll wholeheartedly support punishing abuse. Period. But, some things are blown out of proportion. When I step back and think about the things that we do with our animals on the farm, I realize that some of them may seem less than desirable through a different lens. However, we (farmers and consumers alike) both want to provide the best care possible for animals. The same method or production practice may not be the best option for every animal or farm. Each farmer needs to judge for themselves what works best for their farm and animals. There are legitimate reasons for different farm methods Maybe we as farmers don’t do the best job of sharing, showing, and explaining what these methods are, and why we do them. But, that is the goal of the Field Mom program, so that they can see everything we do, ask questions, and get the information from the source of where their food comes from. And, in turn, we as farmers, can see what we do through a different lens, and get a fresh perspective.
Carrie Pollard, MS
Bethany Swine Health Services