Humane Treatment

February 23, 2008

Reading reports this week of a beef recall after disturbing images of sick cattle were shown from a California slaughterhouse. When I see these incidents, I understand completely why people become vegetarians. I hope most people realize that those images are an aberration. All of the people we work with who handle animals would never dream of mistreating them. Most ranchers have a deep respect for animals. We live with them, we depend upon them for our livelihoods, and we spend our days taking care of them. We are in the fast grass growing season now and Joe and Everett are moving the cows daily in order to to ensure fresh grass for them.  Our cattle live on open spaces and never see a feedlot; they relax on pastoral hills and enjoy clean water, fresh air and green grass.

Ironically, we’ve been in discussions lately with the American Humane Association (AHA), the third-party humane treatment certification label we’ve had for the past four years. We follow strict guidelines of humane treatment, developed over five generations of ranching heritage. The value of a third-party label is mainly for those customers who we do not know, and who do not know us. It’s a nice way to verify our practices for those who do not have a chance to come and see our ranches and cattle for themselves. Most of our customers trust that we would never mistreat an animal and actually seek out our beef because of the healthy nature of the animals, land and product. We have decided to not renew our certification with AHA. Following is Joe’s response to one of our customers explaining our decision. As always, we welcome comments and feedback.

  Hi Kimberly,

Thank you for your inquiry and your concern about the recent recall.  I found it repulsive, frankly, and am dismayed that a few people in the dairy business have made such a black mark on the beef industry–as well as the dairy industry.  I just returned from a meeting of our local cattlemen’s association, and there is general agreement that the behavior in question was completely reprehensible and avoidable.
As far as our practices are concerned, our animals live pretty much as their wild ancestors lived, that is to say filling their niche in the life of the rangeland community–which includes you and me, by the way, who benefit and affect the rangelands around us.  In the interest of full disclosure, we are no longer certified humane.  We worked with the American certified humane group, of the “Free Farmed” label, for four years. 
Our practices were certified by them for that time.  This year they had changed one of their criteria, that male calves had to be castrated before they were one month old, and if they were castrated beyond that date anesthesia was required.  For a number of reasons, we have chosen not to comply with this norm.  The reasons include the fact that being with the animals every day during the calving season to make sure we castrated each calf within the requisite time frame is impractical from the standpoint of labor.  In addition the topography of our ranches would make it very difficult to catch and castrate each baby calf.  There are many things to attend to in order to enhance the life of the rangelands and the health of our animals, and the time required to babysit essentially wild animals would not help us toward that goal.  It would be a case of caring for the trees but losing the forest.  We choose to brand, vaccinate and castrate our calves when they are around four months of age, all at the same time: it takes about a minute per calf, after which they are immediately allowed back with their mothers and onto clean pasture.  They are up and eating within a couple of hours, sometimes faster.  While the procedure is clearly painful, we believe that it would add additional stress to hold onto the calves for the time it would take for the anesthesia to take effect. 
Cattle, by themselves, can deal with each other very roughly and deal each other blows that would cripple us, but they do not keep the stress up for almost any time at all.  It is hit and they’re done, with the exception of bulls fighting each other for dominance.  They way we brand attempts to mimic this form of stress and immediate release.  
The “humane” standards were developed by people who do not understand animals very well, and seem to reflect an anthropomorphism of the animals, which we believe is not only unnecessary but very problematic.  I am an animal lover as well and have cared for animals since I was a child–lots of them, but I try to understand what it is the animal needs according to its nature not according to my own.  I have spoken with vets as well as with Dr. Temple Grandin, the animal behaviorist from Colorado State University, and they have all agreed that there are more important stresses to avoid for the well-being of our animals. 
Therefore, we will continue with our practice while always seeking to improve them. If there is a better way, a way to administer an analgesic, for example, to speed recovery, we are looking for it, and we will find it.
I apologize for the long response, but I want to be up front with all of our customers–or potential customers.  If we do not agree, the world is big enough to accommodate us both and better off with a diversity of ideas.
Hope that is helpful.  Please let me know, if you have further questions.
Joe Morris

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