The Sheep Live Export Trade is an ethical challenge – one farmer’s thoughts

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Supplying 50,000 Australians with the milk for their breakfast everyday is a noble role – Cows at Clover Hill meander home to the dairy 

There has been a lot of robust conversations about the Sheep Live Export Trade recently and for good reason. As a farmer I have made decisions to send dairy heifers to Vietnam to dairies that I knew were run to very high standards. I have chosen not to send heifers to other countries not because I was concerned about animal cruelty but because our heifers were raised to produce a lot of milk from high quality feed and those countries didn’t have the capacity to provide the feed that would allow our heifers to thrive in their environment. We chose exporters with an excellent reputation and where able to get feedback on their new life in Vietnam.  The dairy export trade is an opportunity trade for dairy farmers. As far as I am aware no-one in Australia is growing dairy heifers specifically for the export market. It is a very important market when dairy farms in Australia are in drought and can mean the difference between dairy cattle being sold for meat in this country or living out their lives in developing countries providing nutritious milk for their families.

I am a farmer and like the majority of Australians I know very little about the live sheep export trade beyond what I read in the press. What I do know is our sheep are providing a very important protein source for people in developing countries. Rob Egerton-Warbuton a sheep farmer from Western Australia has written a very seminal piece that truly moved me. You can read it here.

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Jen Egerton-Warbutton Source

I first came across Rob and his wife Jen when we were both finalists in the National Landcare Awards in 2010. When I heard their story I was fascinated. I loved the way they farmed and the way they talked about it. So I was very keen to read what Rob had to say. Its a story from the heart and gives great insights into how the majority of livestock farmers feel about their animals and their commitment to give them the best whole of life expereince they can.

“To farm livestock is very hard. Every animal we bring to life through our husbandry will die, and that weights heavily on every farmer. My wife gets very emotional when they leave on the truck” Rob Egerton Warbutton Source 

Livestock farmers in Australia play a very important role. We cannot feed all Australian families on the land we have by growing plants only. (See footnote) Nor can we feed all  Australian families on the land we have if every farmer followed organic farming principles.

So my thoughts on the Sheep Live Export trade. Human beings can do dreadful things to human beings. Rick Thorburn certainly reminds us of that but nobody is suggesting we shut down the Foster Care system.  We are outraged when we read about child abuse but nobody is suggesting we shut down Catholic Churches . We are outraged when we read about Harvey Weinstein et al but nobody is suggesting we shut down the Movie business . We are outraged when we read about students being shot in schools in America but nobody is suggesting we shut down schools. This is very sobering reading

The Sheep Live Export Trade system is broken, it must be fixed. Whose role is it to make sure that happens?  This is an extract of what Rob has to say…….

Animal welfare and the policy environment around it is 100% the responsibility of farmers. The problem is in my view we haven’t done a very good job of it. We tend to be too protectionists of our practices, too guarded about our feelings, and too resistant to change. ………..

Its clear why farmers need to be involved in animal welfare and the policy that surrounds it. Its for the protection of animals, not from farmers but from those who imagine they protect them without understanding how they live. Source

Its a very emotional issue and

Being ethical is a part of what defines us as human beings. We are rational, thinking, choosing creatures. We all have the capacity to make conscious choices – although we often act out of habit or in line with the views of the crowd. Source

 In the digital world  it would appear we are all instant experts with strong opinions and too often simplistic solutions.  This excellent article from the team at Agrieducate asks the question  SHOULD AUSTRALIANS TAKE ON THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LIVE EXPORT, AND ARE WE READY TO?

 Below is an extract under the heading Burden of Responsibility 

We are either responsible for the welfare of sheep (in good times and in bad) or we move this responsibility offshore and accept the standards of third party countries to continue a trade dominated by Australia.

If we do accept this responsibility everyone needs to be in the game. Political responses to simply appease generalised conservative and rural voters by the Nationals and Liberals, or urban and greens voters by Labor and the Greens won’t fix this problem. So if we do take on this responsibility, there needs to be political maturity in deciding on a bipartisan approach, with concessions of both sides of the debate. This political maturity is arguably not there, and needs to develop quickly.

It can’t continue to be “greenies” vs. “hard working farmers” or “animal rights activists” vs “cruel farmers”, both sides need engaging about accepting responsibility for the welfare of the sheep and improving the regulation of the entire supply chain. Continuing as adversaries propagates political immaturity for cheap votes, and fails the welfare of sheep, the livelihoods of farmers and ourselves as Australians.

So, irrespective of your political views and the level of political readiness take the first step and ask yourself this “am I comfortable shifting our welfare responsibility offshore, or am I comfortable taking on the responsibility of welfare here in Australia”?

There’s no right answer, and no intended underhand comment designed to influence your thought, but it is a tricky question and it must sit with our individual values before this issue will be resolved.

Pressing problems which require urgent action today are too often the direct result of a lack of action in the past.  We rarely get the perfect outcome but as human beings its important to be consistent in our judgements. I don’t have the answers but I would like to see Australia step up and take on the ‘Burden of Responsibility” and set the bar for animal stewardship across the world

Footnote

  1. 93% of the food consumed in this country is produced by Australian farmers
  2. less that 6% of Australia is suitable for growing crops
  3. Australia farmers feed  everyone here and more than 40 million people around the world

 

Animal Care under scrutiny. Is video surveillance the answer ?

When I don’t sleep I find it cathartic to blog about the things going round in my head. So today you get two very different posts

I want to throw something out there for consideration and it concerns that highly emotive topic – animal  welfare and husbandry practices.

This week a horrifying story has come out of Canada which if you haven’t been in the loop you can read all about here. I cant watch the footage and it just horrifies me that EIGHT people were involved. Obviously this is a very big farm and yes farmers do need our support because as the statistics keep reminding us animal abuse on farms is very much in the minority compared to the the abuse of domestic pets and in particular animal hoarders.

Regarding the Canadian incident (is that a strong enough word ) I was extremely impressed by the BC Dairy Association response which started with the following first step:

First and foremost, we pushed for the immediate installation of video cameras at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, allowing for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm.

Interestingly enough the world’s leading expert on humane treatment of cattle, pigs and sheep Temple Grandin also recommends remote video monitoring in large facilities to maintain high standards of animal welfare.

So I put it out there is there should Australian farmers routinely install of video cameras to allow for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm?.

After all is there anywhere (except the family home) today humans who live and work in cities can go without being under video surveillance to monitor our honesty, work ethic and safety.

So in this changing social and economic climate is it inconceivable that livestock industries follow suit if we want to ensure high standards of animal care as well as limit the impacts on our businesses and ensure long term sustainability.

I agree with this comment

In an era of increased scrutiny and demands for greater transparency, it is not a matter of “if” a painful or stressful  husbandry practice will come under scrutiny but a matter of ‘when’. Siting back and waiting for the next  media ‘expose’ is not a wise approach to the issue.

As farmers I am sure you will all agree that we must be more proactive and engage with the Australian community and assure them the faith they have in the food and fibre we produce is warranted.

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We must agree that it is very stressful let alone hurtful when this happens as it appears to have in Canada if the online vitriol is anything to go by

Now it’s branded every dairy farmer in the country as a vicious sadist whose gleeful pursuit of profit comes at the cost of the animals in his or her care.

As I have said I have put it out there. Do we have anything to fear and perhaps everything  to gain by taking the lead and installing our own on farm video equipment?.

I welcome your comments.

Its scary just how naive the people who join animal activists groups can be

Warning this post is going to be very controversial and I write it in the knowledge that I risk bringing the wrath of the gods down on me

But as a person who has milk in my veins and has supplied it to 50,000 Australians for their breakfast everyday I have been wanting to write a post like this for a long time and then this video came along and gave me the perfect vehicle

Please watch it here

In the first instance it shows just how naive many people who join animal activists groups can be

PETA Mad over cows

In the second instance it asks Animal Activists the question I have been wanting to ask them for years and that is ‘Just what happens to the cows if we stop drinking milk and “set them all free”?

Thirdly I learnt something I didn’t know and that is PETA runs animal welfare shelters and they have killed over 100,000 domesticated animals that have apparently been given ‘sanctuary’ in these shelters.

Yes cow’s milk is for baby cows. Its also the perfect nutrient dense cocktail for human beings and the science tells us having access to this delicious, nutritious staple ( which thanks to Coles is now cheaper than water in this country) is one of the reasons we all have the chance to live into our 80’s

And yes the male of the species is a challenge for the dairy industry in that it doesn’t produce milk. My goodness an industry where the female rules. Heaven forbid.

I can tell you as 6th generation dairy farmer everyday I think of how we can give the best life we can to the male of the species and the answer to that lies in the hands of conglomerates like Coles

When Coles and their counterparts devalue milk and the cows that produce it so its cheaper than water and convince their customers that its all about price and not animal care and the good of the planet – ultimately the life of the baby bull calf is in the hands of those who put $1 milk in their trolleys and fridges.

Then there is this grim reminder of how hard it can be when you let chooks ‘roam free’

Consumers everywhere (and we are all consumers) like it or not its time to think about your definition  of “value” when thinking about dairy,eggs and other Australian grown products.

And believe me PETA and Animals Australia et al do not have the answer. Not drinking milk is NOT the best option for cows or the planet or people for that matter.

Ultimately whether we like it or not every 20 years the number of people depending on one farmer will double. Currently 650 people depend on one Australian farmer. Common sense dictates that the answers lie in producers and consumers working together to get the best outcomes for everyone

The real story about animal abuse

I am lucky enough these days that my various community roles often see exposed to a diverse array of people in the community that give me the opportunity to widen my world view and gain some amazing insights that I can share with the the people who produce food and fibre and the people who consume and wear it

Today I joined the NSW Farmers Animal Well Being committee to hear a presentation by NSW RSPCA Chief Inspector David O’Shannessy

David provided the committee with some statistics that RSPCA  NSW are compiling for their 2013 report  to the Minister which I will share with you once the Minister has made the report public knowledge.

What David did confirm to me is the amount misinformation in the community about animal abuse and who the real bad guys are.

If I said to you for example that over 60% of complaints to the RSPCA are about mistreatment of companion dogs and horses would you be surprised?,

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And that most prosecutions relate to what RSPCA refer to as animal hoarders. That is people who see themselves as “rescuers” of animals which in the main means people who ‘collect’ animals like cats and dogs and retired greyhounds and trotters in flabbergasting numbers and have no capacity to feed or house them would you be surprised?

On top of this complaints and prosecutions against commercial farmers completely pale in significance

That in the main it is people with a mindset ( not notoriety ) that are the main offenders not farmers.

Those people who live in houses where you wipe your shoes leaving the house rather than going in that are the animal abusers not farmers as radical animal activists would have us believe.

I am not saying that every farmer is committed to best practice but its seriously time the radical animal activists acknowledged the majority are .

If we truly care about animal wellbeing its time to acknowledge where the real problem is and commit our resources and donations to the organisations who are going to deliver the best outcomes for animals not newspaper and TV exposure

Navigating the Perfect Storm

navigating-storm

Its been very tough in some parts of south eastern Australia over the past 12 months

Nasty weather,high feed costs and abominable milk prices has created a very challenging  environment in which to farm.

This weekend the media was full of very distressing stories and images on the plight of some farmers and their cattle in South West Victoria.

The Australian Cows are dying as fodder runs out

ABC Desperate Decisions for Victorian Dairy Farmers

The Weekly Times Calls for Drought Declaration

The Standard VFF calls for emergency relief for South West Farmers

Firstly I want to make it clear that the majority of my knowledge too comes from the media and I haven’t visited any of these farms.

What distressed me about the articles was the apparent blame shifting, the government hadn’t done this and should have done this and apparently some animal welfare groups were all up in arms and want to have farmers prosecuted.

Its time we got back to basics. This is a people welfare problem first and foremost and this is where the focus has to start.

It should be just a given that farmers care for their cows and in the main the community think that they do as our Art4Agriculture surveys show   Students attitudes to Farmers and Farming 

Lets send the animal welfare activists packing and lets look after the people so they can look after their cows. Its time to stop the blame shifting and do what the community does best and surround these people with strong support networks. Lets share the burden, find them some feed for their cows and most importantly show them we care .

If you are a dairy farmer who knows some-one in need of help Milk Maid Marian has listed many of the support networks here

In a bizarre media twist this story has come out today from The Standard Our cows are OK say South West Farmers and Vets which sadly highlights once again that animal welfare in this country is a much bigger story that people welfare 

The dangers of putting everyone in the same basket.

I have been writing my two blogs for over 12 months now and have yet to have anyone send me a comment that would cause me offence. Now it would be highly unlikely that anyone would take umbrage at the activities of Art4Agriculture. But there is the chance that like the divine Milk Maid Marian this blog may attract the “haters” every now and then. The “haters” in this case being those extremist  vegans who think all livestock farmers are the right hand of the devil and its their right of passage to tell you so at every opportunity.

Now apparently the “haters” from both sides have been active on twitter this week which has prompted these excellent posts from Alison Fairleigh and Milk Marian Marian ( note the comment by @JohnKeily1)

Lets not forget the world is full of bizarre people and a couple of things that have happened to me in the last 48hours have highlighted this very strongly.

Just check this out I will guarantee it will have you shaking your head as well. Today I was out and about like last Sunday walking the gorgeous Kiama Coastline this time from Bombo beach to Minnamurra with my trusty camera to add to my weight load . Along the way we spotted this painted on the front of a house.

Tree Vandal  (2) 

Obviously some extremist  “nature lover” was very unhappy that the occupants of this house had done something?? to a tree in their front yard. Also in front of this house was this little car

Tree Vandal  (1) 

It too had fallen victim to the wrath of the “nature lover”. Whilst I was taking this photo the mother of the owner of the car approached me and I got the real story. This little car belongs to her daughter who just happened to be staying with friends next door and had nothing to do with the occupants of the house her car was parked in front of. Well “nature lover” who is the real vandal here?.

After our walk we ventured down to the Kiama Markets. Can there be anywhere more beautiful to hold markets? Kiama Markets

You can get 2 bunches of roses for $10, buy extraordinary eclectic pieces made out of spoons and all the gorgeous produce you could think of from the South Coast as well as enjoy food cooked on the biggest barbeque I had ever seen.

 

Well I was walking along minding my own business, taking lots of pictures with my beloved camera.

Camera

And out of no where this man invades my personal space and starts haranguing me about what an abomination cameras are. According to him it is an absolute to disgrace to reduce the world to “rectangles”. Well I did engage him for just a moment sharing with him how much pleasure its gives me to be able to record my journey on my camera. But he wasn’t listening and continued to rabbit on in a very loud voice and I walked away.

Now what does all this have to do with animal welfare and vegan extremists you ask. Well yesterday afternoon I had a call from a friend who told me something that really distressed me. Apparently a local farmer parked his ute in the main street of my gorgeous little village of Jamberoo in front of the newsagency and remained there for a least twenty minutes. Now here comes the appalling bit. On the back of his ute he had a dead cow just lying there for all the world to see little kids included. Just what was he thinking you ask and just how much damage was he doing to the reputation of our other local farmers I cant even begin to think

As I said the world is made up of bizarre people who do just don’t think before they act. All I ask vegan extremists is that you don’t lump all livestock farmers into the one basket. Like 99% of the people in this world, most livestock farmers are good, caring, sensitive people with values and it hurts when you attack us.

As for the farmers who feel the need to fight back like Alison says

Some of the best advocates for Australian agriculture and farmers are people living in cities. You don’t have to be a farmer to “get it”. Give credit where it is due and don’t lump all “city people” into the same basket.

and this sage advice from the US

Be proactive, not reactive.

It’s not about engaging activist crazies in fire fights where everyone comes back bloodied. We can reduce their clamour by building a wall of trust with our customers. It’s as simple as talking with them on an ongoing basis, joining them in conversations about food and addressing their concerns.

• Build bridges with people influential in the food community, who drive opinions and are willing to engage in a conversation about food.
• Meet customers on their own turf and invite them to ours. Answer all concerns they have about food, whether the issues seem real to us or not.
• Talk about our desire to continually improve sustainability, quality and safety on the farm.
• Tell your personal story about how you use fewer resources to produce more, and let them know how you care for your land and animals.
• Be transparent. It builds trust. Share values with your customers.

To move public opinion… to counter the activists… “We must open our doors–and maybe more importantly, open our minds–to consumers and their perspectives about food and agriculture,”

as Marian also rightly says

The ethics of food is so complex. Vegans following a conscientious diet are told they are inadvertently starving Peruvians, causing deforestation and even eating with blood on their vegetarian hands. It’s not easy being green and I don’t blame vegans for being so passionate about their choice. 

I personally have seen my vegetarian friends attacked by perfect strangers asking for justification of the choices they have made. Like my gorgeous vegetarian friends I am doing my best to walk away from the battles I cant win.

 

Come on everyone its time to fight the good fight