Friday, February 4, 2011

Response to the Oprah Show on February 1, 2011

On February 1st, Oprah aired a show titled The Harpo Vegan Challenge. The show challenged 378 members of the Harpo staff to try a vegan diet for a week. Guests on the show included Michael Pollan, the author The Omnivore’s Dilema: A Natural History of Four Meals, and Kathy Freston, a self-proclaimed vegan expert. The show also highlighted a Cargill meat processing plant and a feedlot manager.

The overall consensus Adam and I had after the show was that it was a step in the right direction to showcase the transparency of production agriculture and the food production process. However, Adam and I would have liked for the Cargill representative, and the feedlot producer to have had more airtime to continue to tell the story of where our food comes from.

I would like to commend Cargill for opening up their doors to the cameras. The American public was allowed access to the processing plant to see where their food comes from and how it gets to their table. The Cargill representative did a great job of explaining the process and describing how the animals are kept calm and treated with respect. Millions of people saw this show and as a beef producer I hope seeing this process made people think about how the food they purchase in the grocery store makes it to the shelves. I also hope it starts a conversation about the topic of production agriculture. It is our desire for people to become more interested in learning about the steps involved in getting food to their table.

The statements from the show I want to focus my attention on are Michael Pollan’s comment about there being a renaissance in small-scale animal farming; animals are now being raised in a way that he can feel good about. As well as Kathy Freston’s statement about the reason she does not eat meat is due to the fact that she exhibits kindness, compassion, empathy, and mercy for the animal.

Mr. Pollan I feel it is my obligation to correct you about your statement. You see a renaissance is not taking place in production agriculture on the farms and ranches of today. I can assure you with 100% confidence that taking care of the animal in a decent and humane way has always been the number one priority on a farm or a ranch. I invite you and Ms. Preston to come out to visit our farm, especially on a day like today when we have just been hit by the worst snowstorm in 50 years. The weatherman has been saying all day, “If you can avoid going outside please do so. The conditions are treacherous out there.” There is a foot-and-a-half of snow on the ground, the temperature is 4°F and by the time you factor in the wind-chill it feels like -17°F. Even in theses conditions I can assure the two of you the cattle raised here are being taken care of in a way you can feel good about. I can attest to and provide several examples of how a producer puts the animal above other commitments and priorities. As well as how they sacrifice their health, sleep, safety, time away from their families and how they exhibit compassion for the animal.

Example 1:

My husband, my dad, my father-in-law, several of my uncles, and friends have been outside all day battling the elements in order to take care of their cattle. They leave the warmth and comfort of their homes to brave the outside conditions before the sun comes up, and often return after the sun goes down. They feed the cattle and ensure the water source has not frozen over during the night. They roll out large bales of hay on top of the snow so the animals have a warm and dry place to lie down. The cows are continually checked to see if one is getting close to having a calf. If the signs are right and the cow or heifer is close, it is put in the barn so it has a warm place to deliver the calf. Then my husband and other producers spend hours outside to ensure a calf is born without complications. After the calf is born they use towels to assist the heifer in drying the calf off and heat lamps to keep the calf warm. These farmers and ranchers continue to stay out in the harsh conditions after the birth of the calf to make sure it gets up, walks around and nurses. Then as if that is not enough, they get up several times during the night to check on the cattle to make sure complications are not arising with the labor and delivery process.

Example 2:

A farmer in our community went to the pasture last night to check on the cows to make sure all of them were doing okay. While doing this the wind blew the snow into such a big snowdrift that he could not make it home. He had to sleep in his truck until the next morning when he was finally able to make it home at 7AM.

Example 3:

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be in a dear friend’s wedding. I was looking forward to going with my husband, enjoying the beautiful wedding ceremony and dancing the night away with him by my side. A few days before the big day Adam informed me I would be going solo. It is calving season and that means the heifers take priority over everything else. While I was at the wedding Adam was continually checking on the heifers to guarantee they were not struggling to deliver a calf.

I can continue to list off examples, but I’m confident you are comprehending the overall theme I am presenting. Farmers and ranchers take care of their animals and this is not a new-found convention, renaissance, or way of thinking. It has always been done this way, and will continue to be how we operate. I will once again extend my invitation to the two of you to visit our farm. Then you will be able to witness firsthand the selfless acts of kindness, compassion, empathy, and mercy we exhibit for our animals on a daily basis. If you do decide to take me up on my offer I would recommend investing in a pair of coveralls, a Carhartt coat and a good pair of snow boots. The cold weather and snow will be here for a few more weeks.

This picture and the one at the top of the post depict
the outdoor conditions on February 1, 2011.

This calf was born a few minutes prior to this picture
being taken. As you can see, the heifer and calf are in
the barn with a bed of straw. The heifer will lick the calf dry,
then if needed Adam will use a towel to ensure the calf is
completely dry.

A heifer and her calf that is a few days old. Adam and his dad have rolled out large hay bales on top of the snow so the cattle have a warm and dry place to lie down. You can see the large round bales in the background. These were put here prior to the storm to create a windbreak for the cattle. These bales block the north wind to create a warmer place for the cattle to stand.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I agree that the transparency part was wonderful. Pollan needs to realize we can't all fee our families off of backyard farms. Looks like me and you could have been each others dates. I also had a wedding to attend a couple weeks ago, and went solo. The Boy was calving cows. You can find the post on my blog. Keep on telling agriculture's stories and good luck with calving.


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