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.