Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Sunrise In the Valley

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Ag Gag or Agriculture Protection? What Do YOU Think?

Every day it is inferred that animal agriculture abuses their animals. According to many websites and “people on the internet” producers like me are cold, callous and only in it to make a buck. That is a tough pill for me to swallow because in my life the exact opposite is true.

My life revolves around my animals. My Parents raised me to respect, love and care for animals because they are our life and it’s the right thing to do. Their needs ALWAYS were met before ours. The better we treat our animals the better they do, they are healthy when they are happy. Our cowdogs live in our homes and eat better than most people. Our cattle see the doctor more than we do. Needless to say when people criticize me about my animals, it hurts. They are my reason for being.

99.99% of the people I interact with daily care deeply for their animals. Our animals are the reason we eat, sleep and breathe. Our lives revolve around them and their welfare. When people accuse me of animal abuse because of something they read in a book or saw on the internet, when they in fact, have never seen my animals in real life, I lose my stuffing. It is my Achilles heel, I go from ‘let’s talk about it, Megan’ to ‘yeah, you pretty much suck at life, Megan’ and generally completely shut down. In other words I jump in the mud with the pigs, and as the saying goes, the pigs enjoy it and we all get dirty.

This brings me to the topic of ag gag laws. Many states are writing and passing these laws. I was lucky enough to speak to Annette Sweeney, who authored the “ag gag” or Ag Protection Bill in Iowa. I’m going to make a confession before I continue to tell you about my conversation with Ms. Sweeney. Before I spoke with her, I had not read the actual legislation, and did not know what I was talking about. After my conversation with Ms. Sweeney I read more about it, and I have to say, I agree with her Ag Protection Bill.

Ms. Sweeney explained to me “the legislation is to stop people from lying on their job applications and if abuse is recorded it needs to be turned in immediately not to wait for 4 to 6 months and then release it to the media and not to the proper authorities to stop the abuse. When we see abuse we want it stopped right away”. I agree with her. I’ve heard horror stories from other producers who hired undercover animal rights activists that have actually created abuse just to have something to film. I realize those cases are rare, but it happens. Just as animal abuse does happen. The fact is it is easy to manipulate film and pictures, anyone with a smartphone knows that. Sometimes I fear that my full-transparency will lead to a manipulated picture of my ranch that depicts abuse, but I take that risk.

I think the pejorative term “ag gag” coined by Mark Bittman makes the agriculture industry look like we have something to hide. When in fact all Ms. Sweeney is trying to do is to make it illegal for people to lie on job applications and turn in abuse within 48 hours. These are things that a reasonable person should adhere to anyway.

Often when these animal abuse videos are released its weeks or months after the initial abuse, and after much promotion by whatever group took the video. That isn’t ok. All abuse needs to be reported immediately. If it’s a legitimate video, you don’t need to build more of a case. I often question the motive of animal rights activists when they take so long to report abuse. I’m a true believer in full transparency. I think if we made available everything, from pasture to slaughterhouse our consumers would have nothing to fear (knowledge negates fear) and animal activists would have little to attack us for (don’t get me wrong, they will always find or create something, some activist believe raising animals for food is inherently bad).

I’ve worked off the ranch full-time for the past three years. I work in an office building close to a diner and a homeless shelter. I’ve seen more animal abuse in the past three years from the window of my office than in 30 years of working in production animal agriculture. In fact I’ve been subpoenaed as a witness more times than I would like to admit; everything from little old ladies leaving their poodles in hot locked cars, to meth-heads setting their pit-pulls on other meth-heads, to teenagers jumping on the heads of their ‘pet’ for “training” purposes. I would love to see the public’s same level of interest regarding the abuse of companion animals compared to farm animals.

I do not hesitate to report this abuse. It’s the least I can do for the voiceless animal. 99% of the time nothing happens. The cops or animal control won’t come. The cycle of abuse continues. I do my due diligence though, I take pictures and videos and often share on my social media. I live in a small town and once people realize that a community member has seen their abuse, SOMETIMES that helps. My other option is to ignore it, and that is not who I am. Often I value animals more than people (probably because I am a slightly anti-social only child whose best friends growing up were my animals).

What I have found is my transparency and willingness to share and report abuse often comes back to haunt me – especially from within the ag industry. For example when I shared my blog post about my custom exempt beef slaughter my state beef council posted this :

How does my beef council know this? Because most of my friends want to know and want to see, or they at least want to know they can see, IF they want.

How does my beef council know this? Because most of my friends want to know and want to see, or they at least want to know they can see, IF they want. I know as a consumer I want to know and I want to see where the food I eat comes from.

"I was forwarded your blog post from another agriculture organization and a beef producer" (to be fair I'm not sure if this is true or not, the Beef Council never would be transparent with me about how this whole thing started (I would have LOVED some industry tranparency there!)) - again my own industry was attempting to censor me.

“I was forwarded your blog post from another agriculture organization and a beef producer” (to be fair I’m not sure if this is true or not, the Beef Council never would be transparent with me about how this whole thing started (I would have LOVED some industry transparency there!)) – again my own industry was attempting to censor me. By the way CBC I work day in and day out to fund your position, maybe you should listen to your producers?

This comment was from the California Cattlemen Assoc. I feel like she is basically saying we need to sugar coat it for our consumers. I think sugar coating it for our consumers is kinda like lying to them. Maybe I'm wrong.

This comment was from the California Cattlemen Assoc. I feel like she is basically saying we need to sugar coat it for our consumers. I think sugar-coating it for our consumers is kinda like lying to them. Maybe I’m wrong.

But wait. Let’s ask a consumer.

This is from Katherine Atkinson and I think she does a wonderful job of speaking for consumers that want to know.

This is from Katherine Atkinson and I think she does a wonderful job of speaking for consumers that want to know.

** All these comments are from this blog http://thebeefjar.com/2011/07/13/wordless-wednesday-a-beef-harvest-2/

I think more and more consumers are starting to feel like Ms. Atkinson. In the past five years, I’ve seen a food movement grow. People want to get back on the farms and ranches and understand the how’s and what’s of their food. Farmers and ranchers are starting to open their barn doors and tell our stories, and I cannot be happier about that. As farmers and ranchers it is our JOB to tell consumers what we are doing. And as an industry, we’ve done a crappy job. BUT we are getting better, just check out all the farmers and ranchers on social media now, we want to talk and share!

I believe part of our problem is us, our industry. Instead of choosing to admit we aren’t perfect, we get defensive or attack each other. I know I get super defensive, I even admit in the beginning of this blog. Animal abuse happens. How we chose to deal and share that abuse will ultimately decide our fate. I am pleased to see websites like See It? Stop it! shared by my friend and fellow producer Wanda Schott Patsche. Websites and organizations like this, will help us police our own.

I had something happen to me last week, that drove this point home for me. Again through the window of my office I saw a neglected dog in the back of a pick-up barking his head off, it was very sad and not fun to listen to. I posted to my social media and found out the owner of this dog has some history with neglect. My therapist confirmed that abuse and neglect are the same thing. I was deeply frustrated with the lack of care our local police and animal control agencies have over animal abuse in town and asked for advice on how to deal with this in the future:

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Imagine my surprise and shock when a friend, that knew me in real life and also earned an ag degree and works in agriculture, posted this on my comment:

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Leanne illustrates my point perfectly. Instead of dealing with the bad apples or the real issue at hand, our industry will turn on each other.  It reminded me of when the Butte County Cattlemen ostracized my family for turning in a neighbor that was abusing his cattle, instead of dealing with the issue and the bad apple, they got mad that we “turned on our own“. In my world “our own” do not abuse or neglect animals. I do not want to be apart of a group or be friends with people who won’t do the right thing.

This is why we need legislation to protect us (this is a very rare time when I will argue in favor of more laws or regulations). Until the agricultural industry openly addresses transparency to our consumers and policing our own, we will continue to be our own worst enemy by bickering internally over these issues. A divided and angry industry leaves us further vulnerable to attacks from those who do not understand or want to understand what we do. Fellow Aggies, join me in support of agricultural protection, transparency and policing our own – let’s do the right thing.

For other thoughts on this topic please check out Dairy Carrie http://dairycarrie.com/2013/04/16/aggag/

and The Irish Vs. http://irishvs.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/the-irish-vs-ag-gag-laws/

Thank you.

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Guest Post: The City Girl That Dreams of Being a Country Girl

Those of you that have been following my blog for a while remember my adult 4-H program. I asked the Ladies to write a guest post for me if they felt like it. Again, I have a tendency to take my life for granted, cows and pigs and horses are my daily life. I love when I can get into someone’s head and see my life from their point of view, it helps me understand what and how I need to speak to people.

Shannon was not an original 4-H member. At the beginning of this project she was busy! She was in law school (!), has a family and a fulltime job, (having dropped out of law school, I know what that stress was like (OH SO SCARY! Run away, run away!)), anyway, Shannon wanted to raise a pig, but couldn’t. So I told her I would do it for her and she could come out as much or as little as she could.

Well she ended up coming out a lot, helping with the hogs and cattle. And she was darn good help! I’ve noticed some people have a natural knack for working around animals, she is one of those people. I got to know her and her daughter Olive, better as well, and I’m really glad I did. I’m looking forward to many, many  more fun adventures with both of them (also: keep your eyes open for a pony for Olive, she needs one out here)!

I am super stoked to share with you Shannon’s guest post, enjoy!

Disclaimer: Megan called me up and asked if I’d be willing to write something for her blog. I was hesitant at first; I’m not much of a writer. In fact I’d rather be doing calculus problems then writing. But with the advent of the internet and everyone else thinking they are writers, how bad can it be?

I had the pleasure of helping Megan out with her Adult 4H pig project. She pretty much adopted me into the program. I work fulltime, was in law school at nights, and I have a family at home. So I initially told her I’d pass on the project as I had no more time to give to anyone else. But I ended up taking my daughter out to see the pigs on a number of occasions and helped Megan make them food. I found Megan, her Ranch, and the pigs to be so relaxing that I had to keep coming back to escape the crazy, hectic life I had made for myself.
Some background about me: I grew up in a suburb of San Diego in a basic 3 bedroom, 2 bath house. I loved gardening and my family had a variety of pets from dogs, rabbits, birds, and fish. Each year we’d go to the Del Mar Fair (now called the San Diego County Fair) and I’d marvel at the cows, pigs, sheep, and goats and all the young kids rising and taking care of them. But I never had to chance to do anything like that. I am thankful to Megan for giving me that opportunity.

Me, circa 1990

Me, circa 1990

I met Megan about 5 years ago at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She brought meat cupcakes. We talked grass-fed beef. And eventually I bought a half-cow from her.
It has become more important to me over the years for my family to eat healthy food. And a big part of that is knowing where our food comes from. I like knowing what goes into making my food. We grow most of our vegetables, we eat very little breads, starches, and sugars, and I like knowing that the meat we eat was raised humanely and fed well because what the animal eats, my family will eventually be eating. It just gives me peace of mind in this crazy world.
Side story… On one of our trips to visit the pigs Megan let my daughter and I herd cattle. Oh…my…gosh…I LOVED it. Basically the cattle already knew what to do. They’ve been walking from one huge field to the next for the fresh, better grass for years. There was one older cow and you could tell by her body language that she wasn’t too interested in moving. She walked slow and was unimpressed by the 4 wheelers coming her way. She was the last cow we needed to get into the neighboring field. So what did she do? She crossed a rather large creek to avoid us. It felt like she just gave us a cow’s version of, “F-you”. Megan got out of the vehicle and convinced her to cross back over the creek and into the adjacent field. I have 100% respect for that cow and Megan!
Back to the pigs… The first time we visited the piglets, I brought the whole family: my significant other, Jason, and our daughter, Olive. We had a great time and Olive got to feed the pigs and pet them. When we came out additional times, Jason didn’t want to come. I finally asked why. He grew up on a ranch where they raised pigs, chickens, and goats for his family’s food. He’d been through the raising of the animals, helped with the slaughter, and helped put the food on the table. (His grandma actually did most of the work, killing the animals and all. She’s currently 99 and a half. She told me you get to count the half’s when you get to be that old.) Although Jason is thoroughly enjoying the pork, he didn’t want to get attached to the animal that he would eventually be eating. I can respect that. Ranch life isn’t for everyone. And he’s been there, so he knows. In fact I would say it isn’t for most people. It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and buy the attractively wrapped meat that doesn’t have a face. It’s much more difficult to feed and care for these animals every day without a vacation, and then eat them. That takes a different type of person to do that day in and day out.
So Olive and I would still come out and bring the pigs treats. We’d also help Megan with cooking all the food. She would spend all weekend cooking up vats and vats of food for the pigs to eat for the week. I really don’t know how she did that all especially with her full-time job during the week. What a crazy time commitment. And also why I’d make a bad rancher…I like my vacations!

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Slaughter day… I left Olive home for this one. She is only 2 years old. Although I think it’s important for her to know where her food comes from, this wasn’t the right time.
We waited around for the slaughter truck to show up. I wondered how I would feel about this. I’ve fed and petted these pigs too; will I feel bad or sad? I wasn’t there every day like Megan was so my attachment is much less. I was more nervous about my reaction then the actual event.
The truck showed up and the butchers got ready. A small caliber rifle was brought out. The butcher walked into the pig pen with some food. A pig came up and BANG, the deed was done. The butcher quickly cut a small hole in the pig’s jugular and the pig bled out. I was surprised how fast it was. There was some shaking as the body released its energy. But it was all pretty tame under the circumstances. If I had to choose a way to go, that would be it. Quick and painless. Then what surprised me more was the next pig that walked up to get food, completely unaware and uncaring that his buddy no longer existed and was laying there right next to him. BANG! And repeat the quick jugular cutting.
The two pigs were brought out of the pen and were put onto tables so the cutting process could begin. They were washed and cleaned up. Their hooves were removed and they were skinned. Then the organs were removed. The butchers walked us through the process and showed us everything. It was all quite fascinating. I looked over at the other pigs while all of this is happening and they are milling about in the pen like nothing occurred. Like it was any old day. I don’t know if they were oblivious or just didn’t give a shit, maybe a little of both. Pigs aren’t the nicest of animals.
So how did I feel? I felt honored to be a part of this process. The butchers respected these animals. There was no malice or disregard that these were living beings. These pigs were treated with respect and kindness the whole time. These pigs were here for us to eat and this is just part of their life and they had a great life. I feel that their happy, joyful lives gave me better meat. If an animal is stressed, that goes into their muscles and tissues. Just like humans have adverse health effects from stress, so does an animal.

Olive and her piggies

Olive and her piggies

I really enjoyed the process of helping to raise my own animal for food. I liked knowing what it ate and that they got exercise and rooted about and dug things up and were basically being pigs. Thanks Megan for giving me this opportunity to help you, and I look forward to our next venture together.

Yummy pork chop

Yummy pork chop

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Wordless Wednesday: Cows

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Wordless Wednesday: Bliss

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Spring Has Sprung

Springtime on the Ranch often means hormones. That often equates to babies (remember that kids!). We have a broody hen, she has insisted she needs to raise some chicks. We don’t have a rooster so that was going to be a problem for her, but she wasn’t taking no for an answer, in fact it was getting ugly. She was stealing the other hens eggs, when my Mom went to get those eggs, little hen would beat my Mom up (I wish I was kidding). I jumped on Craigslist and found a local farm that sells fertilized chicken eggs, Valley View Farm. We called and went out to select a dozen fertilized eggs.

Enid was very nice and showed us all around her place.

Enid was very nice and showed us all around her place.

Valley View Farm raises heritage chickens! They were beautiful!

Valley View Farm raises heritage chickens! They were beautiful!

I loved their hen houses! Perfect!

I loved their hen houses! Perfect!

My Mom and I had a great time meeting all of Valley View Farm’s chickens and deciding what type of eggs we wanted!

Look at the colors!

Look at the colors!

Since my Mom and this hen have some history and we are all afraid of her, we decided that my Mom needed some protective clothing.

Her weed-eating helmet and safety gloves.

Her weed-eating helmet and safety gloves.

My Mom very carefully placed the fertilized eggs under the broody hen. Of course the hen did her best to peck at Mom and generally be a brat, but we had success!

I have a video of this, but it contains too much cussing from both the hen and my Mom.

I have a video of this, but it contains too much cussing from both the hen and my Mom.

She has eggs now!

She has eggs now!

We left the hen alone for a few minutes and when we came back:

SUCCESS! She is setting! In 21 days we will know if our experiment worked!

SUCCESS! She is setting! In 21 days we will know if our experiment worked!

Some more good news! Our cowdog Ranchie is also expecting! This will be her second litter! The first produced Hoot and Jinx dog and you all know how proud we are of them! These are going to be some amazing   working dogs!

Ranchie is with puppies! We should have chicks and puppies around the same time!

Ranchie is with puppies! We should have chicks and puppies around the same time!

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