While I can easily confess I don’t know a whole lot about sports, I’ve sat on the bleachers watching nephews play basketball and hockey enough times to know it’s a lot easier to be on the offense than it is to be on the defense.
The same can be said in agriculture — a subject I am considerably more comfortable talking about.
A perfect example of playing defense in agriculture stems back to my 4-H days, showing dairy goats at the Minnesota State Fair.
There is a particular goat breed with very small or no ear flaps, and one of the tourists — believing the goat’s ears were deliberately cut off — threatened to notify PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and report the crime. I explained to him that the goat was born with small ears — it’s a trait of the La Mancha breed.
Clearly I was put in the position of playing defense. Could you imagine how the discussion could have escalated if the goat’s ears were deliberately cut? Most consumers can reasonably understand the need to dock tails on lambs, piglets or milk cows for health or safety reasons, but I would have had a hard time defending the cutting of goat ears.
Looking back on that experience now, I tend to think the dairy goat barn could have served as a great educational tool for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Minnesota State Fair each year. We could have had giant pictures identifying each of the breeds of dairy goats, and people could have seen for themselves the varying characteristics between Saanens, La Manchas, French Alpines, Toggenburgs, Oberhaslis and Nubians.
A little information can go a long way toward building a positive experience.
This brings me to an e-mail I received last week from someone at Watkins Glen, N.Y.-based Farm Sanctuary. She wanted to let me know she’d sent a letter to the Nobles County Attorney requesting that if a recent hog barn fire reported in the Daily Globe was found to have been caused by “someone’s act, omission or neglect,” the perpetrator be charged with cruelty to animals.
Honestly, I didn’t get past the first paragraph without muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
For those of you who don’t know about Farm Sanctuary, let me fill you in just a little. This organization is against the use of farrowing crates for swine and pens for laying hens. They would rather all animals be allowed to roam free, but what they really want is for people to not eat meat.
Hearing what they’re about makes an incredible case for the need of animal advocates — farmers to share the real story about raising livestock and growing crops to feed a growing planet.
Now, I’m just a former farm kid who writes for the local paper, but I wasn’t beyond giving this New York chic a little Minnesota farm kid feedback.
Aside from pointing out the obvious — that the fire occurred in another county and in another state — I didn’t mince words when I told her no farmer, not one in Minnesota or Iowa or anywhere else for that matter, would purposely set fire to a barn filled with pigs so they could suffer. Those pigs were — and are for other hog producers — their livelihood.
I said a couple of other things in my heat-of-the-moment email reply that I certainly don’t regret saying. Sometimes it’s like that when you’re on the defense.
This incident seems to have happened at a perfect time. Trent Loos — animal advocate, radio personality, cattle rancher — will speak about animal advocacy Monday night in Worthington during the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers annual meeting. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. at the American Reformed Church, Worthington, with the Rock-Nobles Cattlemen serving a steak meal at 6 p.m. Tickets are still available at First State Bank Southwest, and will be available at the door Monday night for an increased price.
I’ll be there in search of a way to better control my temper when it comes to Farm Sanctuary claims and the like.
I hope to see you there.