Having been involved in the livestock industry for my entire life, I know that the vast majority of producers go above and beyond what’s expected, to provide their animals with the best care that is absolutely possible.
For a cattleman to purposefully mistreat or abuse the source of their livelihood makes about as much sense as a new-car dealer going around with a small hammer and deliberately putting dents in their automobile inventory, or for a clothing store owner to take a knife to their new line of mens’ suits. But, there’s always the chance that one bad apple could rot the entire barrel, so when I see a headline that reads, “Hidden camera shows widespread abuse at local dairy,” I cringe.
When I clicked on the heading: WARNING – GRAPHIC CONTENT! THESE VIDEOS SHOW COWS BEING THROWN TO THE GROUND, DRAGGED, AND SHACKLED, the first thing I noticed was that the video was provided by one of our favorite animal rights groups. The second thing I discovered is that it was not recorded by some kook with a hidden camera, but rather a hack into the dairy’s video recording system that was always on, so that the manager could monitor the cows and his employees 24-hours a day.
As the video began, the camera showed a caretaker assisting a cow with a difficult birth, by attaching OB straps to the calf’s legs and pulling it out of the cow. When the calf did come out, it fell on, what looked like to me, about a foot deep of fluffy, clean straw. Once the calf was on the straw, the worker dragged the calf (again, through clean straw) about 10 feet from the rear of the cow to begin drying the newborn with a clean towel. The next clip showed the worker putting a tube down the mouth of a newborn to “force feed” the calf, and the last one was only a still photo of a cow “with her legs shackled.”
If the news site, or the animal rights group, knew anything about cattle or had done even the least bit of research, they would know that calving difficulty is fairly common and without assistance from a veterinarian or other caretaker, the calf…or cow…or both could die. If they had ever helped deliver a calf, they would also know that the reason the newborn was dragged a few feet away from its mother to clean it, is that within a few moments after calving, the area directly behind her is going to be splashed with substances that my reading audience doesn’t need to have described.
The esophageal feeder (the plastic tube placed down the mouth of the newborn) is sometimes required for difficult births because the calf’s tongue may have swollen during the process and can’t (or won’t) suck for few hours. If the calf doesn’t get nourishment within the first few, critical hours, its chance of survival is greatly reduced.
So, I ask you, are these examples of animal abuse or are they illustrations of the work and care involved to assure the animals live and thrive? We need to educate non-farmers.
As for the hobbles on the cow – they are sometimes necessary (on a small percentage of cows) for first-timers being acclimated to the milking parlor. They are only on the cow for the 10 minutes it takes to milk her and usually needed only for the first few milkings. While viewing that picture, I couldn’t help but think that this farmer could have offered the photographer a real learning experience by allowing him to take an extreme close-up, from directly behind a cow’s first visit to the milking parlor – without the hobbles.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’