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Animal Welfare

Sheridan – “A complete recipe for disaster” is what American Farm Bureau Federation Deputy Director for Public Relations Mace Thornton calls the American public’s understanding of modern livestock production methods.
    In an early-November presentation at the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting, Thornton outlined the general lack of understanding that most Americans have of agriculture. He cited the recent vote in California in which 63 percent of voters sided with a ballot initiative that will phase out gilt stalls, pork gestation pens and egg production cages by 2015.
    “The most valuable asset we have is you,” he told the ranchers and farmers in the room, whose meeting was themed “Wyoming Faces of Agriculture.” “You are a priceless resource. Your credible voices, personal stories and commitment to care for your livestock are all things we can never buy. In California our side didn’t have enough voices or time to offset the tsunami of money and celebrity and defeat the proposition.”
    Farm animal welfare is an increasingly controversial and complex topic. “While modern livestock farms produce low-cost meat for consumers, some contend it’s at the expense of farm animal welfare,” said Mace. “The nation’s foremast animal care scientists agree the move toward intensive livestock production has in some ways improved animal welfare.” He noted protection from predators, comfortable temperatures and better access to health treatments as a few of those improvements.
    “For critics of animal agriculture, it has become easy to employ rhetoric against cages, crates and stalls,” said Thornton, adding that PETA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have led to a new public awareness of farm animal welfare. “They’ve led the public to mistrust and question the ethical standards of America’s farmers and ranchers who raise, tend and care for livestock.”
    Mace said those groups aren’t yet satisfied with their work. “The animal rights caravan will march onward, and agriculture remains in its sights,” he said. “Unfortunately, the natural tendency of someone standing in the road when they see a semi truck is to roll out of the way. In the case of retailers and meat processors, they roll over. They cut deals with the animal rights groups to curry favor with consumer perception. Their decisions are about pure marketing advantage.”
    To correct misconceptions about agriculture, Mace said it’s important to find out how much information consumers have and what their opinions are. Because more information was needed to identify exactly what people want in terms of farm animal welfare, AFBF commissioned a comprehensive nationwide survey with Oklahoma State University on consumer opinions.
    The survey found that while animal welfare does not rank as highly as other societal issues like food safety and poverty, most people did say they want farmers to do a better job taking care of animals. The survey also revealed a “halo effect” around small farms.
    “Seventy-eight percent said they believe livestock farmers with higher standards of care produce safer, better tasting meat,” said Thornton. “That’s a key finding for us, because that makes our messages on animal care even more valuable.”
    The survey and research into consumer opinions led the AFBF Board of Directors to allocate funding for the Ag Challenges Initiative. “Today it is more important than ever that farmers and ranchers step out to tell the story of American agriculture,” said Thornton. “It is vital you put your faces on the issues confronting us. Consumers today want to know your hands are on the wheel and that you are looking after your farm animals as carefully as you look after your own families.”
    “It’s up to you to tell your stories of farm animal care,” he said, suggesting stories of cold nights or holidays spent with animals in the barn or pasture. “If you do not tell your story of ethical animal care and the morals that drive you as farmers and ranchers, other folks are out there who are more than happy to do that for you.”
    Thornton said the tactics and strategies involved in the campaign to defend agriculture’s doctrine are not what one would consider conventional in Farm Bureau circles. “We have to constantly position ourselves in relation to what the other side’s doing so we’re firmly between them and the consuming public we serve,” he said. “While we continue to believe in the truth, honor and glory of sound science, our research shows that farmers can talk about science but only on ethical grounds, rather than solely on scientific merit.”
    “We need to tell our stories and dig out our emotion and our emotional messages to run against the other side,” he directed, saying that all these things can be based on science, but science cannot take center stage. “We have to communicate on the consumer level about things like trust. America’s consumers want to trust and believe in America’s farmers and ranchers. We must extend to them a reason to believe in us and an excuse to trust us.”
    Thornton said it is vital that ag producers stay focused on a constant, consistent strategy because HSUS continues to test the water. “They could be looking at a number of states with big populations centers that might have some agriculture elsewhere in order to claim a bigger victory,” he said. “We don’t know where for sure, we only know they will pop up.”
    “The effort is all about you taking the time to tell your own stories. The top-performing message is this: healthy animals mean healthy food for you and your family. It’s all about drawing the direct connection to the kind of good care you provide your livestock,” he said. “Explain the fact it doesn’t make sense for you to do anything but keep your animals healthy. Consumers equate healthy animals to healthy food, which is a big positive for our side.”
    For more information on AFBF’s animal welfare education efforts, visit Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Casper — According to Colorado State University animal science professor Temple Grandin, if you want your facilities to work right you’ve got to get rid of distractions, and all animals balk at the same things.
    Grandin has worked extensively with animal behavior, resulting in her design of livestock handling facilities now in use in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, among others. She has also authored four books on the subject.
    “Distractions that cause balking are shadows, high contrasts of light and dark, reflections on metal or water, seeing people ahead, moving objects and air blowing in their faces, to name a few,” she explained at the eighth annual Doornbos Lecture Series April 20 at Casper College.
    She recommended getting down on the animals’ level to see what they’re seeing. “The animal’s brain is into details. Your animals will show you the stuff they don’t like.”
    One simple and inexpensive solution she offers is blocking problem areas up with cardboard.
    “Animals have a tendency to go from darkness to light, but they don’t go into blinding light. You’ll often get time-of-day effects in a facility,” she said, adding that handlers should avoid the “black hole effect” of entering a dark building.
    “You have to get daylight into the building. Rip some tin off and replace it with white translucent panels to make it look like a bright cloudy day,” said Grandin.
    To avoid time-of-day effects, she recommends sighting loading chutes so they run north and south. Otherwise, wait and hour or two in the early morning or evening until the sun rises above the chute.
    A trademark of Grandin’s handling facilities is the curved chute design. “Curved chutes work because as the cattle come in they don’t see the people, and they take advantage of the natural tendency of cattle to go back to where they came from,” she said.
    “Use behavior, not force, to control animals. Lots of curved chutes don’t work because they’re laid out wrong. The trick to using a curved chute is the animal has to see a place to go before you take them around the corner,” she said, adding, “One of the most critical part of a curved system is he’s got to be able to see up two body lengths.”
    Grandin’s systems are based on three half circles located along a line. “If you’re going to redo your corrals, get a scale ruler and lay it out on paper, then lay it out on the ground with lime or laundry detergent so you can see it. If you’re only going to build one piece at a time, lay the whole thing out to make sure it’ll fit on the site,” she said.
    Gathering pens should be 20 square feet for each full-size animal, 35 square feet for a pair, or 45 square feet for a pair with a big calf.
    “The part of the setup that’s most critical is from the crowd pen into the squeeze chute. If you lay them out wrong they don’t work,” said Grandin.
    Grandin said cattle perceive a man on a horse and a man on foot as two different things. “Animals need to learn to be handled both ways, because sometime in their life they’ll be handled on foot, and there have been horrendous accidents at packing plants from cattle spooked by a man on foot.”
    She also said she prefers to not work cattle in pens and chutes with dogs. “Dogs teach cattle to kick, because they can’t get away from them. You’ve got to think about what’s going to happen with handling later on in the supply chain.”
    When moving cattle, she said to move small groups. “Fill the crowd pen half full. It should be used as a passing-through pen. You don’t want to fill the crowd pen all the way, then let them stand there so they all turn around.” She said the radius of a crowd pen should be 12 feet, and no smaller than 10 feet.
    An exception to the half-full rule is sheep, which can be moved in large groups.
    “Get the cattle prod out of your hand,” she said, noting the only place it should really need to be used is to get a stubborn animal into a squeeze chute. “You should be able to get 90 percent of your livestock into the squeeze chute with no hot shot. Use a flag or a paddle as your primary tool. People’s attitudes toward cattle improve when you get the hot shot out of their hand.”
    Also, she said if more than two percent of animals fall in the chute or exiting the squeeze chute, there’s something wrong with the facility.
    Grandin has also worked extensively to develop an objective scoring system to assess the handling of cattle and hogs at meat plants. “This system measures techniques to prevent bad from becoming normal,” she explained. “Handling quality can be maintained by regular audits of your handling practices with an objective numerical scoring system. Ban words like properly, adequate, excessive and sufficient and go to numbers, like how many times an electric prod was used and how many fell down.”
    National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) guidelines specify an electric prod should only be used on 10 percent of cattle on a ranch. Packinghouse guidelines state only three cattle out of 100 are allowed to bellow. “Good critical control points measure a multitude of problems, and I use animal-based outcome measures,” said Grandin.
    “Lots of times a whole lot of little things add up to a big thing,” she said of livestock handling facilities, both on the ranch and in the packinghouse. “It’s important to get down on the animal’s level to see what they see, then make small adjustments in the system to fix the problems.”
    For more information on Temple Grandin and her work, visit Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lusk — “For creatures to be locally adapted means possessing the anatomical and physiological adaptations and behavioral knowledge that enable survival in a particular environment,” stated Dr. Fred Provenza while presenting an animal grazing behavior workshop in Lusk Feb. 2.
“While the need for nutrients and a place to live are inherent, which foods to eat and where to live rely hugely on learned parts of behavior,” Provenza explained. “Experiences early in life result in preferences in a wide sweep of creatures, not just domestic animals.”
“Many species are social creatures and mom becomes an important transgenerational link that provides stability. Offspring learn from ancestors through the mother. It builds a knowledge base in the group,” said Provenza.
The young add creativity by exploring the unknown. This makes young creatures great to work with when re-training herds. The young often introduce acquisition of new behaviors, he explained.
An example occurred in Washington State where a sheep producer contracted grazing in a forest. The idea was to have sheep eat the undergrowth around young Douglas fir trees to reduce moisture and sunlight competition. For three years it worked very well.
Then came the year the lambs, for whatever reason, started to eat the flush of new growth on the trees. The behavior quickly spread from lamb to lamb and then it spread to the mothers. By the end of the season the sheep had cleaned all the new growth off the trees. The following year it was a new set of lambs, but they were being trained by the ewes to eat the new growth at that point. “It goes from the young to the mom to become part of the system,” said Provenza.
“Through experiences that start in-utero and during early life, young animals learn what and what not to eat and where and where not to go and they remember for life,” stated Provenza. “What mothers eat during pregnancy is transferred to the young through the amniotic fluid. Flavors in the diet get into mom’s milk and prepare young animals for what they will later encounter in the environment in which they are born, reared and live life.”
Provenza provided an example of a recent study where goats were fed oregano during pregnancy. Their kids ate much higher levels of oregano-flavored foods immediately after birth than other flavored foods. The oregano was a flavor they were already exposed to and comfortable with.
These experiences through the mother help young become familiar with foods. The next important step, according to Provenza, is for them to recognize something they don’t know and sample it cautiously. When doing this, animals typically don’t eat a lot at first. They familiarize themselves with it slowly to allow their bodies to make adaptations to whatever the new food is.
To demonstrate this Provenza described a study where animals had been fed barley, oats, alfalfa and corn all their life. Rye was added for a few days prior to the trial being conducted. On the first day of the trial all five foods were fed. After eating the animals were given a mild toxin. The following day they avoided rye, but intake of the other four foods didn’t decrease. Rye was the suspect because it was still a novelty. “This is a very functional way animals operate in an environment,” said Provenza.
Experiences early in life also increase intake of poorly nutritious foods and foods high in secondary compounds. For example, sheep raised on poor quality grass forages will have higher intake levels and will better utilize similar forages throughout life than those raised on higher quality forages. This is an important concept when considering that how much animals eat is directly related to performance.
Lambs exposed to saltbrush in-utero handle a salt-load better than lambs from mothers on pasture. They excrete salt faster, drink less water and maintain higher intakes when eating saltbrush.
A study conducted in Israel compared two breeds of goats and their preference differences. The Damascus goats preferred to eat lower quality, high-tannin browse, while the Mamber goats didn’t care for high-tannin browse. The question was whether the difference in taste was a result of the two different breeds.
A cross-fostering study was conducted where mothers of one breed raised kids from the other breed. The results found that preference was totally a function of experience. The kids’ behavior and performance was based on how they were raised and not on what breed they were.
Nurturing early in life influences an animal’s behavior for life. These behaviors go beyond breeds to the genetic level. Environment can have an effect on which genes are expressed and to what degree. Knowing this can result in more efficient management choices with more desirable outcomes when working with livestock and landscapes.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Gillette — “If you want to ranch the way you did in 1930, God bless you, because that’s what you’re going to get if you don’t open your mouth,” says Steve Kopperud.
    “We must start marketing you and what you do as well as we market beef,” says Kopperud, Senior Vice President of Policy Directions, Inc., a company that, among other services, guides businesses in defending themselves from attacks by animal rights groups. “We spend not one red cent selling you. We do not sell the producer and that’s our biggest mistake. The public must relate to you.”
    Kopperud called for an alliance between processors, retailers and producers. “Processors must be our allies; they’re not just the people who buy the beef,” says Kopperud, who also calls for alliances with retailers. Amidst attacks from animal rights groups, Kopperud says producers must step to the forefront to tell the true-to-life stories, based on experience, that processors and retailers aren’t able to relate to the public.
    “They don’t want to know about castrating and dehorning, but they want you to look them in the eye and tell them, ‘I’m doing the best I can and it’s the best for the animal,’” says Kopperud of consumers. “We must sell the producer and sell the process, the professionalism and dedication. That has to be part of the message.”
    “Open up and start talking to the media,” he suggests, also noting the importance of relating concerns to politicians.
    Opponents in this fight, who Kopperud says base their work on emotion rather than facts, are formidable. “Reality about the Humane Society of the United States is that they have no local affiliation with any state or local Humane Society, they run no shelter, they sponsor no adoption or neutering clinic,” he says. “They are, in fact, a $137 million political organization.”
    Kopperud equates mainstream retailers’ willingness to bow to animal rights demands to blood in the water to a shark. Advising one client facing threats of attacks on their brand-name hamburger, he asked them, “Do you want to be the largest salad bar chain in the world or the largest chain of hamburger joints?”
    Wayne Pacelle, the HSUS President, is a vegan. Since his arrival, Kopperud says the HSUS message has evolved from do the best you can to a goal of ending animal agriculture.
    “Without response from people like you they will prevail,” says Kopperud. “You are the only major industry in the United States of America being told to abandon your technology, abandon your expertise and go backwards and we’ll all be happy folk.” He cites efforts ranging from state-level referendums to the European Union’s push before GATT (General Assembly on Trade and Tariffs) for an ability to erect trade barriers based on consumer concerns.
    “Production policies in this county pivot on the 10-15 percent of people who can afford to shop at Whole Foods,” says Kopperud. He says policy written for the three percent of Americans who are vegetarians will cripple the nation’s ability to feed itself if allowed to progress unchecked.
    “Joe Six Pack and his family, who in this economy on a week-to-week basis isn’t deciding between burgers or steak, but whether there will be beef in their diet at all, they’re locked out of the discussion,” says Kopperud.
    Vegetarianism isn’t a viable option, he says, if the agricultural community is going to feed 307 million Americans not to mention the billions around the world. “Two-thirds of America can’t raise crops,” he says. “That’s a reality we have to deal with.”
    Despite that he says, “There is a piece of legislation to be introduced shortly by the HSUS that basically says the federal government may not purchase for any food program a meat, milk or egg product that does not come from animals raised under animal welfare standards.” The Department of Defense, the school lunch program and Women Infants and Children (WIC) would be among the affected.
     “You can’t feed 300 plus million Americans and the seven billion plus around the planet by dropping back to 1930s agriculture,” says Kopperud. “When someone’s goal is to put you out of business, there’s no such thing as reasonable debate and discussion. Everyone in this room has to get off their duff and start talking to people about what they do.”
    Steve Kopperud was the keynote speaker at the early June Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention & Trade Show in Gillette. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Fort Collins, Colo. – Temple Grandin, animal science professor at Colorado State University, spoke at the International Livestock Forum in Fort Collins, Colo. on Jan. 13 about transparency in agriculture.

“If we don’t show our story, it’s going to get shown for us,” she stated.

Some projects under development, pricing information and customer lists with confidential personal information shouldn’t be shared, she explained. Otherwise, secrets don’t benefit the industry.

“Once something is out and being used, we have to show it,” she said.

Genetic modifications

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are one example that she cited, noting that the public never received good information about why Roundup-ready crops can be beneficial.

“It’s too bad that the first GMO plant was not golden rice – rice with vitamin A. If that had been the first one, rather than Roundup-ready crops, the public would have had a better opinion of GMOs,” she commented.

She added that consumers didn’t even know about GMOs for a number of years, but they became upset when they learned about them.


“Consumers don’t like surprises,” Grandin said.

That was the problem with the pink slime debacle, according to Grandin. Consumers don’t understand finely textured beef.

“The doors should have been thrown open to that big, beautiful factory,” she explained.

If finely textured beef isn’t used as a product, whole truckloads of beef protein are taken to the landfill each day.

“That’s not a very good thing to be doing. On the other hand, it should have been on the label,” she commented.

Undercover activists

In another transparency example, Grandin cited an undercover video created by an animal rights group.

“They had to look pretty hard for a few chickens that probably needed to be culled and then took pictures of four or five grotesque chickens, but they never showed the rest of the barn,” she explained.

Her suggestion was to hold an open house at that chicken house.

“We’ve got to be opening up the door,” Grandin said.

A survey from Purdue University stated that 31 percent of millennials have never been on a farm. Two years ago, a study in the United Kingdom found that 50 percent of people under the age of 25 couldn’t connect pigs with bacon.

“There was also a high percentage of people who thought beef was made out of wheat,” she added.

At a large indoor pig barn that allows public visitation near Chicago, Grandin asked what the most common, weird question is from guests.

She quoted the answer as, “Are those real pigs?”

Removed from ag

“We are talking about a generation today that is totally separated from agriculture,” she noted.

She is also concerned about the public perception of grazing.

“We also have to explain to the consumer how grazing can be good for land,” she said.

Cattle can graze land that can’t be used for other crops and properly managed grazing can improve the health of the land.

“If we throw all of the ranchers off of that land, then no one is going to maintain the water sources,” she added.

She stressed the necessity of communication.

“Consumers trust farmers more than they trust scientists. We need to be getting more people doing blogs. We’ve got to communicate,” she said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..