Promoting Animal Agriculture to the Misinformed

Lessons Learned From A Police Chief

So I recently started following an account on Facebook called “Busted Locals”. Basically bad behavior caught on tape.

It turns out there is no shortage of idiots (in case you doubted that). The trouble they get into is, at times, staggering (again, in case you doubted).  Seems some folks take the phrase,”How stupid can you be?” as a challenge.

Unfortunately, at times, this also shows the police in a not very complimentary light…something that, in my opinion, is about as fair to police departments as an animal abuse video is to farmers. According to, there are approximately 800,000 full time law enforcement personnel in the US working for all levels of law enforcement. A number slightly smaller than the number of folks involved in agriculture. The huge majority of them are amazing. I’m good friends with a number of police officers. They aren’t perfect (and they know they aren’t), but they are compassionate people who are very committed to what they do. They do an incredibly difficult job, and a dangerous job.  Officers are killed in action nearly ever week. The videos, however, don’t separate out the good guys from the bad guys, and brush all law enforcement with the same brush.

In our world, with instant access and reactions to situations that might not be fully explained, anyone has as an opportunity to critize.  Even the responses of those officers and departments who do a stellar job might be misinterpreted if enough care isn’t given to finding out the truth.

One department that is trying to help with this situation is the Brimfield Police Department of Brimfield, OH.
They have a Facebook page, manned primarily by the chief of the department, that gives tons of information out on local events, happenings and problems. If you get arrested in Brimfield, you will probably see details of your arrest on Facebook. He mixes humor with opinion, with notes about drug busts, lost dogs and clothing drives. He condemns the wrongs of officers in the wrong, and occasionally rants on the problems that society has, and how they are forced to deal with it.

I think they are a great model for the ag community. They could go nuts saying, ”WE DON’T ACT THAT WAY!!!”  Instead they tell the story of what they do, giving explanation to events that take place every day, aren’t afraid to apologize when they are wrong, and keep doing the work that they do to keep their community safe.

Ag should be doing some of these things. Condemn the bad actors, applaud those doing it right. Use some humor in the telling of the story. Some of the things that happen on the farm are pretty boring. Some details aren’t farming specifically but are parts of our lives.

They are real. We need to show folks the real side of us.

Does Social Media Have Legs?

When I first got into the feed business, I got so frustrated by what I call, "the good ole boys network." I might have the best product, the best programs, and a great price, but still not get the business. So many of the reasons that people were doing business with each other was due to the relationships they had established. It took a lot of time to get a relationship going with many of these folks. But it came down to relationships.

People are comfortable with those they are most comfortable with. No different than anyone else.

Over the last four years I've been navigating the world of social media. I started on Facebook to stay in touch with some wonderful young people I met on a church service project. To see how this new thing called social media would affect their world. At some point I added Twitter in. And my world got a lot bigger, and a lot smaller. I now have friends in the farming community from all over the US and Canada. Dairymen and women, nut farmers, cowboys, pork producers, college students, ranchers, foodies, equipment dealers, agronomists, and people at BPI are among my friends. Displaced farm kids, wanna-be-farm kids, dairy suppliers, calf ranchers, a dairyman from "across the pond", and a couple of farmers from Australia. Many of them have embraced social media as a way of life. Some have become good friends.

In much of the farming community, social media is viewed primarily as just that, social. It's a part of life that doesn't get to intrude in on the business of business. Conversations about social media and the business community almost always get back to, " how does this help my business". I wish I knew how to make that transition. It's a different way of thinking about doing business.

Does it have any legs? I don't know. But a little while back I got to see what it is capable of accomplishing.

Recently, shareholders for Domino's Pizza voted down a resolution brought forward to eliminate the use of pork produced through the use of gestation stalls. The shareholders voted it down by 80%. A group of farmers decided to thank Domino's for trusting farmers and animal welfare experts to care for animals. First on board was a hog farmer from Missouri named Chris Chinn. She writes a blog thanking Domino's.

So I wrote a blog thanking Domino's for their stand, and then we created an event called, Ag Pizza Party in conjunction with a Facebook page called The Truth About Agriculture.

Participants were asked to leave a note thanking Domino's for their support of farmers. In the end, whatever Domino's decides, is their decision to make, but the ag industry was thanking them for going about making that decision the right way.

It went over really well. Pictures were posted from all over the US. Some Domino's stores received stacks of thank yous. The Truth About Agriculture event got thousands of hits. Tens of thousands of hits.

Has that turned into any business? I can't say. I truly don't know. But it bears some watching.

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The Domino Effect and Rewarding Good Behavior

I talk to a lot of teenagers, that is A LOT of teenagers.  I’ve found one truth to be universal, they respond to positive feedback, a kind word, a compliment, or a text telling them when you notice them stepping up, and that it was appreciated. Far too often we as adults use a “stern talking to” as our first line of discipline, but don’t reward good behavior.

Getting recognized for doing the right thing is a great motivator.  Last week, Domino’s Pizza voted down a resolution brought forward at their shareholders meeting considering a change in animal welfare. The reason they voted the resolution down? They want to consult those who study animal behavior and experts in animal husbandry practices, so that they are really doing what is the best for animals. Actually talk to the folks that care for animals and to the experts that are writing the standards. I know that not everyone is going to agree on what those standards should be, but Domino’s is going to talk to them. They don’t want to compromise animal care for the sake of perception.

In a recent post  on Just Farmers a Missouri hog farmer, Chris Chinn, put forth the idea that we in agriculture reward companies like Dominoes for doing the right thing.

I’m in!  Voting down these resolutions are actually quite common and we in agriculture need to make sure that we start showing appreciation to those companies that are willing to take some time to look into situations before jumping on a sensationalism bandwagon. I am not supporting the idea that this is farmers and a restaurants against groups like HSUS and PETA who are constantly badgering companies to make changes with shareholder resolutions.  Instead I am simply Saying thanks to Domino’s for turning to the experts first. If they do this and have reasonable evidence to move forward in a similar manner as HSUS proposed I will be fully satisfied as the matter was fully investigated first.

So next weekend I’m going to pick up a couple pizzas and leave a note for the management of Domino’s. I’d encourage all of you to do the same.

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Too Much Technology?

Growing up, I was fascinated by my dads hands. They were huge. A game we played as kids involved dropping a quarter through his wedding ring. I think dad wore a size 15 ring. Hands formed by milking cows by hand. Sometime in the 60's they switched to a vacuum pump and bucket milkers. The time spent with each animal went down as the technology increased.

A recent run of events brought this topic to mind for me. But the topic, is one that we seem to running into headfirst.
If we make use of technology in caring for animals, does this diminish their quality of life?

The most recent catalyst for this discussion was a post that highlighted the Lely robotic milkers. Someone I respect a great deal, suggested that this would remove the basic tenets of animal husbandry. This also seems to be the charge leveled against any of today's large farms.

Can any farm with hundreds to thousands of animals really take care of them?

What constitutes care?

This same friend offered that animals make our lives richer, and that we enrich their lives. I can't argue that point, but does an animal need daily interaction with me to be fulfilled?

Is there a different level of interaction that each species would require? And lastly who gets to decide what that level is?
If some of the basic jobs can be done by others/machines, does that diminish what happens on the farm?

When I was growing up, one of the jobs I got, was cleaning the calf barn. With a pitchfork. You know, the manually operated kind. It took a couple of hours each week. Character building kind of work. Within two months of my taking an off the farm job, that barn was being cleaned with a skid loader. They replaced labor with capital. The trend continues today.

Today's farmers are faced with the same issues that people everywhere face.Pay the mortgage, raise a family, and try to improve their quality of life. Growing up on a 40 cow dairy, we rarely took vacations. A week away from the farm was almost unheard of. If an opportunity came up for a day away, it could work, as long as it fit between morning and evening chores. Relief milkers were difficult to come by at best, and impossible to find at worst. The expansion of the dairy allowed for more hired help, more available labor, and more flexibility in time off.

But has animal care gone down? I'd argue that it has gotten better. The barn of yesteryear were dark dank old caves that lacked much of what we now know contributes greatly to animal welfare. People see animals in barns when on their summer vacations and wish they were out running in the pastures and meadows, but when they get out of their cars they head for the air-conditioned comfort of the motel. Today's barns offer shade, and a great deal of animal comfort. Are they perfect? No, but producers are always on the lookout for cost effective ways to take better care of their animals.

Do farms today look like an updated version of Olde McDonald's Farm? Nope, and most likely never will again. Does that automatically make us evil? Nope, it doesn't

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The Blame Game aka Global Warming

One subject that is bound to get people crazy is global warming. And it's no wonder. Weather is one of those topics that never seems to get old on the farm, or anywhere else for that matter. Endless hours are spent wondering if we can beat mother nature, or if she is going to beat us.

I sat in on a presentation form a U of M meteorologist this past February on global warming. I don't have his presentation, but here's what I remember.  Weather averages are reported on a 30 years average. In 2010, the average dropped off the decade of the 70's, and picked up the decade of the 2000's. When that happened it changed the average rainfall for Brookings, SD from 19.24" to just over 24". The high temps for the area aren't as high, and the lows aren't as low. But the the high of the day to the overnight lows, aren't changing as much. We are also dealing with more humidity. A dew point of +70 degrees feels tropical, and used to be rare in this area. Last summer we had 7 days with a dew point of over 80 degrees. On July 19th, Morris MN had a dew point of 88 degrees. Rain events are changing as well. In the time frame from 1986 to 2004, our area averaged just over one rain event per year that amounted to over 2 inches. Since 2004, Sioux Falls, SD has had 23 such events, with the largest event being 4.85". The presenter was quick to point out that he wasn't a theorist, but just a numbers guy. Does this change things on the farm? Absolutely. If we can't count on overnight cooling, and have to deal with high humidity, shade and cooling become MUCH more important. More fat cattle of the black variety during the summer is a real situation that needs to be addressed.

So why do I bring this all up? Everyone has been spending the last decade blaming everyone for everything. Claiming something isn't our fault and that it isn't happening are two different things entirely. So many are trying to find fault with everything and everyone that it gets hard to deal with possible issues. Lean finely textured beef has been available for 20 years and ammonia has been used in food preparations for decades, but is now being blamed for killing us? If one takes a stand in support of technology we get accused of poisoning the planet. Life expectancy is higher than ever, and we are feeding more people than ever before, but still it seems to be in vogue to accuse farmers and ranchers of all sorts of evil.

Is global warming real? I don't know. But I know our winters have been incredibly mild in the northern plains. Europe has been cold. They were trying to skate the canals in Holland this year for only the second time since the 1970's. It hasn't been cold enough for the race for decades.

I know that in today's enviroment everyone is an expert. The internet has allowed everyone a voice. But leveling the blame is getting in the way of moving forward.

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Taking Everything Too Seriously . . .

So passions a great thing right? Absolutely!!

Maybe not.

Recent events made me wonder why we as humans almost always go over board. What in our DNA causes us to take a passion and turn it into an obsession? We've all met those folks. They look normal, but ask the wrong/right question, and it's off to the races in the woods just outside of Obsessiveville. We can get so caught up in the cause that we lose focus and why the cause is important.

A recent post on the Truth About Agriculture page on Facebook really got to me. The poster was asking a farmers thoughts and perspective on the dangers and use of GMO wheat and Monsanto.........

An important detail, there are no GMO varieties of wheat available. None.... The fact that there were different varieties was a surprise as well. But I don't think there was any question that that this person was anything less than earnest in their question. But was the passion misguided?

What happens when we let ourselves get swept away on the wave of concern? I'm not exactly sure, but there are a few things I know. People and their passions will always be a challenge for every walk of life. Wars are fought because of passions, Religions go to war and kill each other because they feel passionate. We tend to take all of our human walk to extremes.
So sometimes it good to get a good handle on our place in the universe. We are but a speck, on a tiny planet, in a medium sized solar system, in a medium sized galaxy, surrounded by billions of other galaxies. In the big picture of the universe, we are incredibly insignificant. Doesn't that mean we are entirely insignificant?

Not by any means. We should strive each day to make life better for everyone and everything around us.
I was reminded of that this past week at youth group when the "Why are we here?" question was asked. A wise young lady answered,"we are here to glorify God".

Are we using whatever passion we possess to do that? Farming/agvocacy or whatever our calling is.
If we let the passion of any of our causes get too important, then maybe we are taking it too serious.
Passion is awesome, but temper it with knowledge, understanding, and ultimately a caring heart. The world will be a better place.

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Disclaimer: These views are the sole views of Mike Davelaar and do not necessary represent the view of Quality Liquid Feeds Inc.

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