Compassion, life and death on the farm

By Pete Hanebutt, NDFB Public Policy Director

Anyone who has been involved in animal agriculture has experienced the joy of new birth and new life.  Along with the joys associated with new life is the heart rendering compassion for those cuddly little critters in our care.

If you’ve ever been around one, you’ll know there’s nothing softer than a week-old foal, and there’s nothing more rambunctious than a litter of pigs. Little calves or lambs playing in the field reflect all the youthful exuberance of our own children.

I think it’s the nurturing instinct that makes livestock producers successful.  We care for our animals just like we care for our own children and families. ParkePaulOscar2 (002)

And the fact  we raise animals for profit doesn’t nullify the compassion and nurturing nature of the American farmer, regardless of the size and scale of modern farming.

The overwhelming majority of farmers I know are college graduates. These are people with degrees in agronomy, ag economics, marketing and a host of other studies. It also includes those who majored in animal sciences, what used to be called animal husbandry.  I’m always put-out by those who did not major in ag or science degrees  who somehow assume they know best how to care for animals, or even companion animals.

This disconnect with science in our society is growing in our culture, and it flies in the face of common sense. Why do we rely on advice from professionals in one field to make judgment calls against professionals in another, completely unrelated field? Brain surgeons don’t weigh in on the best management practices for the plumber’s union, and vice versa for good reason. But that’s another story for a different day.

I think it’s important for consumers to know the simple truth about why farmers and ranchers care so much about their livestock. And the answer is very basic and very simple. It’s because we’re people of the land. We’ve grown up nurturing every animal in our care and our great grandparents did likewise. Animals aren’t just a means to climb the economic strata. They are part of our lives generationally.
It’s important for consumers to know the farmer who stays up all night caring for the sick calf. This is the calf born on a rainy night and, in spite of being dry and in the calving barn, develops pneumonia. He’s also the calf from the old cow the farmer himself raised and showed in 4-H fifteen years ago.

The calf gets the best veterinary care and is kept pampered for days, but, even with this heroic effort it may still die. It’s a harsh reality of everyday farm life, just like it’s a harsh reality in the forest or out on the prairie. Not every newborn survives. They may be killed and eaten by predators and they may die in spite of the best care of our professional animal husbandry college graduate.

The difference is, in nature hardly a city person notices. But in rural America, the gruff coverall-clad rancher cries.



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