Animal protection efforts have unintended results

The wordmark and logo for Middle Tennessee Sta...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the heels of yesterday’s post about the importance of advocating for agriculture within our communities, I find this post from a Tennessee newspaper that further supports the need for agvocacy in our own communities. Rather than summarize parts of the story, I’ve decided it’s best you just read it yourself. Below is a portion; please follow a link at the bottom to the complete story and leave your comments on the website sharing what opportunities non-ag consumers have to learn about agriculture in their area.

The calf huddled in the tall grass near the fence line, helpless and all alone.

Until a concerned passer-by rushed to the rescue. She snuck into the pasture and muscled an 80-pound newborn Charolais out of the pasture and into the back of her Lexus SUV. Then she drove it back to her garage, where she attempted to nurse it with formula and a turkey baster.

English: An inquisitive cow in pasture beside ...
Cow in pasture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only after she brought the rapidly weakening calf to the veterinarian did she learn that her “rescue” was an ear-tagged member of the herd at the Middle Tennessee State University Farm Laboratories. Its mama hadn’t abandoned the newborn – she just stashed it under cover while she grazed nearby.

“That lady had the best intentions in the world, but she didn’t have a clue about animal behavior,” said Tim Redd, director of MTSU’s farm laboratory, who still keeps a photo of the cow, named Abby by the students who spent weeks bottle-feeding her back to health after her brief abduction in March 2006.

There’s a bright line of distrust between Tennessee’s farmers and its animal rights activists. Incidents like this are part of the reason why.

And nothing brings that distrust to the surface like the issue of animal cruelty.

When state lawmakers float a bill like HB 1742, which would make it a felony to fail to provide food and water to an animal, they run into resistance from groups like the Tennessee Farm Bureau. Mainly, bureau officials say, because they fear well-intentioned laws could have unintended consequences for farmers.

In the MTSU case, the unintended consequence of the woman’s action nearly killed the calf the animal lover was trying to save. Charolais are fluffy white beef cattle, and baby Charolais, Redd said, are “just about the cutest thing you’ll ever seen in your life.” But Abby hadn’t been abandoned. Her mother had done what mama cows do with their newborns – nurse them, then stash them under cover while they go off and graze.

Most Tennesseans are generations removed from the farm. There are plenty of people whose only contact with a cow comes on a sesame-seed bun. Odd things can happen when these people get a glimpse of the realities of farm life.

Over the years, the MTSU lab farm used to graze their pregnant dairy cows in a field near Manson Pike, but had to shift the herd to distant fields because passers-by were offended by the sight of birthing cattle – and offended that humans weren’t out there with them, Redd said.

“I don’t know, maybe they thought we should be out there timing their contractions,” he said.

One time, he said, a dairy cow died in a field near a main road and before the staff could mobilize to remove her, Redd said, an irate citizen had called the police, the local paper and the president of the university. The caller was concerned, not just that children on passing school buses would be traumatized by the sight, but that “the other cows would eat (their dead herdmate) and become cannibals,” Redd said.

Then, there are people who call to complain that there’s a bull out alone in the pasture, and it seems lonely. Or that they can see the ribs on their neighbor’s 30-year-old horse. Or there’s a flock of sheep left out in the rain.

On farms, bulls get castrated, tails get docked, horns get sawed off, noted Pettus Read, spokesman for the Farm Bureau of Tennessee.

“Everybody’s treating livestock like dogs and cats. They aren’t dogs and cats,” Read said. His members have gotten angry calls from people who think their dairy cows are being starved because you can see their hipbones, even though that’s the way dairy cows are built. “You don’t want a big fat dairy cow.”

But animal rights activists are equally frustrated by the Farm Bureau’s objections. If farmers are treating their livestock humanely, they argue, they should have nothing to fear from tougher laws.

“We should be able to agree that starving your animal is wrong,” said Paul Shapiro, senior director for Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States. “Farm animals are able to feel pain, they’re able to suffer.”

The anti-cruelty bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Janis Sontany, D-Nashville, is skeptical of the Farm Bureau’s motives, to say the least.

“They’re out to protect the big farming operations and the people who are abusing their animals,” said Sontany. “I get calls all the time about groups of horses that are being starved.’’

Read the full story from The Tennessean

**Updated: The story has been archived and is only available by purchase.


  1. I was born and raised in a big city. The only contact I had with farms was when my parents took me on an occasional visit, what I learned in school and Sunday school, and what I read. I love animals. We raised cattle for more than half a century and had lots of dogs and cats. I was taught to treat animals well by my parents and school teachers. In all my years as a farmer/rancher and as an ag journalist, I have seen very little abuse of farm animals. I am not naive. I know there is abuse, just as there is abuse of people all over the world. I was also not exposed to the rants of these ‘animal rights’ people in my pre-ag days. Maybe they could do more good advocating for human rights. Humans that are treated right, usually treat others ‘right’, also.
    And that includes their cows.
    Why do I advocate for agriculture? Because ag feeds the world and without food, there would be no one. It’s that simple.

  2. Good comments from Caryl! I like (just kidding) how a small rogue outfit (movement) can get so much attention, and the working man who just enjoys his livelihood has to be bamboozled by corrupt, catering, cowardly people who are naive and overly emotional. But, and I know you’re not supposed to start sentences with a “butt,” but that’s a majority of our country today, it would seem. How do I know a majority? Look at who’s in political office and ask yourself how they got there. Someone’s voting!


  3. Okay, I was a little dismayed by these comments from the farming end of things in the article. “‘On farms, bulls get castrated, tails get docked, horns get sawed off,'” noted Pettus Read, spokesman for the Farm Bureau of Tennessee.
    “’Everybody’s treating livestock like dogs and cats. They aren’t dogs and cats,’” Read said.
    That’s precisely the attitude toward farm animals that dismays me. No, they’re not dogs and cats, but does that mean we should treat them any less humanely? They are just as capable of feeling pain and stress as a dog. With dogs, we castrate with pain medication. With cattle, we don’t. (I grew up on a farm and I’ve seen it done.) Does the bull calf feel any less than a dog?

    1. Thanks for the comment Kay.

      I have mixed feelings about use of the word humane. No they’re not humans, so we’re not going to treat animals like humans. I understand many dog/cat owners would feel differently with that statement, but I think there’s a reason dogs/cats are companion animals for people and cows are not. They’re different animals by a good bit.

      I treat my animals with respect, as do most of the people who I have worked along-side. Respect for the fact that they are in my possession and I am charged with providing for and providing their needs.

      1. There is reasons for all these practises( dehorning, taildocking and castrations).
        How humane is it if for instance dairy goats puncture each others udders with their horns or have you ever experienced a blowfly infestation. Horns are sawed off if it is growing at an angle towards the animals head.

        These are practices to ensure an animals wellfare.

        I treat animals with respect ” they pay my salery!!!”

      2. Thanks, Ryan. I would disagree, respectfully. Cattle and even pigs are just as intelligent as dogs, but we view them differently. My father soothed and tamed his cattle so well, he could remove a sick calf from a new mom with perfect trust on her side. Of course, cattle are a bit big to have in the house like a dog, LOL. The word humane does not at all suggest that we treat them as humans. But either way, whether you call it humane or compassionate treatment, they deserve that kind of consideration. (In my oh so humble opinion as a former farm girl.) I’m sure you yourself do treat your animals with respect and I thank you wholeheartedly for that.

      3. Corlia, thank you. I do know that there are methods to saw off horns that aren’t painful to the cattle. Unfortunately, I’ve seen careless workers make cattle bellow in pain during dehorning, which is horrifying. And I’m sure you practice the good method and yes, there are reasons for dehorning, etc.

    2. Like Ryan said, using the word humane is tricky in this situation in that animals are not humans. In the article they talk about people calling to complain that sheep are outside in the rain; While this may not be “humane” when it comes to humans sheep are fine in the rain as are most livestock but some members of the public don’t understand (oh and don’t you dare use a sheep dog and let it stay in the field at night, people go nuts).
      What this article is trying to point out is the disconnect between the public and farmers on livestock behavior and why we have certain farming practices. The cows that are giving birth do not need to be assisted and having humans in the field while they are giving birth may cause undue stress. What we need to do is open a line of communication so that the public can understand why we do things a certain way so that they don’t try to intervene thinking that they know what is best for the animals. When lived on my school farm we had a group of people let our sheep out thinking that they needed to “live free in the wild”. They didn’t understand that sheep don’t live in the wilds of Northern California and they would be killed by predators.

      1. I hear you! We had the same kinds of problems. That’s just a total disconnect and I’m saddened when I hear about kids who don’t know where milk comes from! Again, per my post to Ryan, I am in no way implying they are human. The word humane does not imply that by definition at all. Yes, communication is great, as is education. Thanks for your reply.

    3. The industry is changing. We are starting to incorporate lidocaine in certain procedures. It also depends on the type of animal you are dealing with. We do not treat dairy cows the same as beef cows; their behavior is very different and would react to methods in a polarized manner. Give us time please; science doesn’t happen over night and people don’t change their ways over night either.

      1. That’s very cool, thank you! You’re right, change takes time. I do understand when you have thousands of animals, it can seem strange and petty to be concerned about their pain perhaps. Thanks for your response.

  4. Another example of this is the combined efforts of Cook County that got the DeKalb horse slaughter plant closed- the last horse plant in the USA. This happened at the time of the recession to create a perfect storm of unwanted, unaffordable horses. Rescues are in crisis mode now because they were loaded to the brim with horses and are now hit with doubled, in some areas tripled hay prices. The end result? Horses are now being shipped to Mexico- a very long trailer journey- where they are slaughtered with no humane oversight. Instead of a captive bolt, they get stabbed. Stabbed! When they could have endured a shorter trailer ride and a more humane death in the USA. I am sure this is not what the urban horse lovers had in mind…. they thought they were saving Dobbin from a sad end, when in reality, they doomed them to an even worse death by starvation or Mexican slaughterhouse. Proof is that you need to think things through past your goal endpoint, and see all the consequences. I have a pony I tie out right now to graze, and carry water to, but the bucket always get dumped over at some point. Would this be prosecutable as a felony under this law, since he is technically deprived a few hours out of the day?

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