Thursday, August 16, 2007

A letter to the editor printed in the Daily Chronicle

Consumers should be criticized, not Cavel | 133 comment(s)



As a person who has been around horses much of my life (e.g., as a rider and owner, behind farm implements, during “putting down” and burials), I have been following with increasing incredulity the debate about the slaughter of horses at the Cavel International plant in DeKalb.

Let's approach the issues rationally. Here are two basic premises central to the debate on which both sides can agree:

Premise 1: All of these horses will die at some time.

Premise 2: All of them will be consumed in some way (e.g., by humans, animals, maggots or flames).

Now what is the cruelest way for these horses to die (aside from hanging, drowning, torturing, etc., as with fighting dogs)? Probably it is from the various vicissitudes of old age or from intentional starvation. The government regulates the means of killing animals at various kinds of slaughterhouses, and apparently it is quick and about as painless as a veterinary euthanasia. So the ultimate issue seems to be who or what will consume the remains. Unless the horse owners submit their animals to taxidermy, the remains will be eaten by pets (if the carcasses are sent to a rendering plant), eaten by humans (if Cavel sells them), eaten by maggots (if the carcasses are buried) or consumed by flames (if the horses are cremated).

The first two options seem the most resource- and energy-efficient, especially considering the employment generated by these options and the cost and energy entailed in burial or cremation.

So, isn't the bottom line a question of who or what consumes the remains? And if one objects to human consumption, shouldn't that be brought up with the consumers (Japan, Belgium, etc.), not with the processors? It seems to me that society would be best served by working on the dog-fighting issue.


Sycamore, IL

Monday, August 13, 2007

Such a waste

As a young 4-Her, I remember lamenting, with my brother and sister, the untimely death of our best club lamb. We had vaccinated for all the relevant sheep diseases, as suggested by our veterinarian, but the lamb was still dead and for no good or apparent reason. An elderly neighbor pointed out the only solution to raising animals and never having to deal with a dead one. It was quite simplistic actually – don’t raise animals. That is the only way you can be guaranteed never to lose one. As much as I hate dead ones, I can’t imagine a spring without baby calves frolicking across the pasture or the gangly legs of a newborn colt trying to stand to nurse.

Our girls have already had a good dose of having to deal with and learn about the cycle of life. But the cycle of life doesn’t always make a complete circle, if you know what I mean. Some animals just go before they really should and all we can do is learn about ways we might have prevented the death, understand possible causes and try not to let it sober us to the many positive things going on in our operations. But that doesn’t always take away the pain of a loss, even for those of us who deal with it on a regular basis. For the city folks who might have to face putting the family pet to sleep, we may seem a little hard hearted. It’s not that we aren’t upset about the deaths that occur, it’s just that we know it is inevitable.

We have encountered several losses during the severe winter cold and into the wet spring that we felt were simply just the waste of a potentially great animal. Like the perfect little filly we rescued from the chilling rain and wind. We warmed her in the bathtub for half a day, reunited her with her mother and two days later they were outside enjoying the sunshine. She was retrieved from the mud around the hay ring by our oldest daughter only to suffer a fatal kick to the head from a jealous mare in the pen. What kind of justice is that?

Or perhaps I should mention the first-calf heifer that prolapsed giving birth. The girls fell asleep in the pickup as the veterinarian, two fellow ranchers and I spent half of the night putting her back together. We spent several hours searching for the calf we knew she had given birth to but were unable to find until the sun came up the following day. It was then too that we discovered that our surgery was too little, too late. So now we have a bottle calf to feed twice a day.

We haven’t even considered the baby goats that were born in sub-zero temperatures this February. Even though they were in the barn, if there were more than one born to a nanny she couldn’t get them cleaned off and warmed up in time to keep them alive. So we carted them to the house, warmed them up, tried to pair them back up with nannies that could feed multiples. We still ended up with two bottle goats to feed and a few dead ones piled by the door of the barn until we could haul them off.

So, as farmers and ranchers, we do accept that death is a part of our business but that doesn’t make it a pleasant experience. In general, farmers and ranchers are a conservative lot. We don’t like to waste much of anything so these unwarranted deaths are a little harder for us to deal with. If an animal is harvested and goes on to provide food and by-products for humans or pets, it is a more reasonable and logical conclusion to their life. But when they die and have to be trucked off to nearest rendering plant, it is simply just a waste.

In that same vein, we have a problem with the notion that animals should be wasted rather than have a purposeful end to their life. Whether you are wasting an animal that could provide nutrients for another living being or you are wasting the resources necessary to keep this animal alive, either way you are harboring something that could be put to a better use. And what happens when we save all of the unwanted horses? Who will feed them? Taxpayers will not want to foot the bill for long and the activists against horse slaughter have saved all the horses their refuges can hold. Where will feed come from for these horses? Hay prices are at near record highs and pasture is in short supply due to the drought. And finally, when these horses do die a “natural death”, what will we do with all of the carcasses? Renderers are reluctant to accept them. Will landfills in New York City let us pile them there? Perhaps the Hollywood starlets who campaign to stop the harvest of horses will allow us to bury them on their rambling estates. Or not? Have they smelled many dead piles in the heat of the summer sun?

Death is death. If you don’t want to deal with it, get out of the business but by the same token it is not for someone else to demand that we make better use of our nation’s natural resources and then dictate policy that forces us to waste both feed and the potential products that could be generated by harvesting undesirable horses in this country. The double-edged sword is being used against us and it is just now slashing through the curtain that shields the world of agriculture. If we let it sweep forward, our entire industry is in jeopardy. And that would truly be a waste!
Animal Husbandry from Uncle Sam

I spent the past weekend in Big Sky, MT at the Young Agricultural Leadership Conference. Once again I felt the tremendous energy present when I am fortunate enough to accompany any group of young agriculturists. That energy is what fuels my desire to continue traveling the country. Many issues were addressed and potential solutions generated. However, I feel there is one that needs more attention in order to keep the momentum rolling in the right direction and that is the “eradication of Brucellosis” in Yellowstone Park.

Information was presented suggesting that the presence of Brucellosis in wildlife is not a problem but there is a chronic disease problem in the bison herd. Widely recognized by many as a true success story, the once nearly extinct bison are now plentiful and the largest herd of free roaming bison does indeed reside in Yellowstone Park. With that said, positive news recently came from Wyoming as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service amended the state’s Brucellosis designation to Class Free from Class A. The Class Free status is based on a state finding not Brucellosis in cattle for one full year.

As hard as it might be to believe there are individuals among us that believe the bison would be best off if man didn’t attempt to interfere. This misguided thought needs to be eradicated as well. Every American citizen stands to benefit if the great bison herd of the Yellowstone were free of this population crippling disease. Mary A. Bomar, President Bush's nominee to head the National Park Service, recently said "Systematic vaccination of elk and bison will, over the long term, reduce disease prevalence in elk and bison populations, especially if vaccine technology and methods for remote vaccine delivery to free-ranging wildlife are improved." I agree completely but would add that sooner is better than later.

Obviously cattlemen adjacent to Yellowstone stand to benefit from the complete eradication of Brucellosis but I think the urgency should be felt by every family that enjoys visiting Yellowstone Park as a vacation destination. The healthier the bison population is, the more animals there are to view and enjoy. It is reported there are more and more bison interacting with park goers on the roads. In fact Al Nash, Yellowstone's director of public affairs was quoted as saying "There are the occasional parents out there who want to photograph their child with or on a bison.” I’m fairly sure those parents aren’t aware of the fact that there have been cases of Brucellosis transmission from animals to humans.

My recent trip to Big Sky country confirmed that most people enjoy traveling with their family dog. Dogs are also susceptible to Brucellosis and it would not be difficult to for Rover to come in contact with bison mucus. Since more and more Americans treat Rover like a kid, it would be easy for the disease to be transferred from canine to human. Is all of this likely? Probably not but it is more likely than some park visitor getting mad cow disease from consuming beef and look at all the new regulations beef producers are footing the bill for thanks to unscientific scare tactics leveled against the industry.

I am no way, shape or form attempting to create unnecessary fear for park vacationers but I am trying to emphasize that everyone has a vested interest in accelerating the eradication of Brucellosis in the herds of livestock owned by the U.S. Government. Every reputable livestock owner in the country would implement any reasonable measure possible to improve the health of his or her own herd. Should Uncle Sam be any different?