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No matter how we spin this, “agriculture” will be faulted as “circling the wagons,” “protecting its own,” or “ignoring the problem.”

“This” is the latest Mercy for Animals undercover video of livestock abuse on a Texas farm that custom raises a reported 10,000 calves and heifers for other dairies, and dairy steers. The gruesome video shows calves being killed by a blow to the head with hammers and pickaxes, neglected and denied medical care. Local media report the Castro County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the actions.

The video was recorded by a farm employee. We’re not going to link to it, but we’re sure you can easily find it online.

Mercy for Animals, you’ll recall, is the same outfit that recorded footage on Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio last April. A farm employee pleaded guilty to six charges of animal cruelty in the ensuing investigation. After seeing the unedited footage, a grand jury declined to press charges against the farm owner.

Several media are reporting the owner of E6 Cattle Company issued the following statement: “I take full responsibility for what happened in the video. I am embarrassed and disappointed. The four men in the video have been fired. This is not what we do at the ranch and it will never happen again.”

Here’s the thing: If it’s not “what we do” at your farm, you need to have standard operating procedures, or protocols, in place to ensure it doesn’t. You need to train employees, retrain employees, and continue to communicate the importance of animal welfare to your employees. I applaud the owner for taking responsibility, but there seems to be some obvious management problems that start at the top at this farm. “This” is unacceptable.

You can’t hide from the general public, and agriculture can’t ignore bad apples or pretend abuse doesn’t happen. But this is NOT the norm, and we also need to speak out about our own emphasis on animal comfort and care. Every livestock farmer I know cares for his/her animals. They get out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to assist with a difficult birth, or to check on a ewe ready to lamb. They feed the livestock before they eat (heck, sometimes they buy livestock feed first and buy groceries with what’s leftover in the budget).

They care, and they cry.

Ten years ago, Farm and Dairy reported on a case of dairy heifer animal cruelty and neglect involving a well-known farmer. I received phone calls and letters from the farm community asking why we were crucifying this good farmer and dragging his name through the mud — why were we reporting this news that would give agriculture such a black eye?

In the end, the farm owner pleaded guilty to 30 counts (30 animals had died). (And it wasn’t Farm and Dairy or the media that gave agriculture a black eye.)

There is no excuse for animal abuse on a farm. None.

All livestock producers need to make sure they’re following the law, and generally accepted agricultural practices when caring for animals. And farm owners need to communicate animal welfare to everyone on down the line on the farm.

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.
Susan Crowell
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