Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Support Horse Welfare -- Support Horse Slaughter!

I am a strong proponent of horse slaughter. This might seem like a strange contradiction for someone who adores horses. Rather, it is my absolute love of them that makes me believe every horse should be treated well in life & shown respect in death. My mother was a dedicated horsewoman, and so I grew up around equines. Some of my first memories are of riding her Quarter Horse, Zada. I don't remember actually learning to ride, since by the time my memory formed I had already spent countless hours in a backpack or sitting in front of my mother on a horse! It was a good education to spend hours caring for horses, to learn about nature from atop their backs, and to develop the integrity to get back on when I got bucked off.

The picture above is of my beloved Lassy. My mother had always wanted a good Quarter Horse (so named because they are the fastest horse in the quarter mile) to take West to ride in the Rocky Mountains. Pine Raider's Lassy -- her registered name -- was born in 1978 and came to live with us in 1980. I was 4 and she was 2, so we basically grew up together! My mother rode Lassy all over the country and as I got older I also rode Lassy quite a bit. Eventually, as a teenager, I got my "own" horse: Tewanna. This wonderful mare passed of old age (approx 36!) while I was living in Washington DC. When I returned to Ohio, Lassy & Abe the Mule eventually came to live with me at Harrison Farm. I was the official "retirement home" for my mother's older equine!

By the time my mother passed on, Lassy & Abe were both getting up in years. This picture of Lassy with my godmother & friends was taken in September of 2009. Lassy was 31 then, and was no longer the gorgeous, noble horse who had once thundered along the mountain trails. Instead, Lassy was slower, a bit grumpier, but still quite loving toward me (if not Abe the Mule!). In August of 2010, Lassy passed quite suddenly. There was no lingering illness, simply a quick death from old age. I miss her, and especially missed losing that tie to my mother. At the same time, her death did lift a burden from my finances. In order to keep Lassy as healthy as possible, I was spending a great deal of money on a special feed for her. Even with this measure, she was still quite thin -- simply as a result of age. I do not regret spending that money whatsoever, but I did have to give up things I needed (goodbye health insurance!) at the same time I was making this purchase.

I wonder what I would have done if I was in a different situation. When I experienced a major job change and resulting financial strain in 2010, I was fortunate enough to have a roof over my head, supportive family & friends, and plenty of goats I could eat! But what about those who don't have my resources? If a single parent loses their job, has four children to feed, a mortgage to pay, and a car payment to keep up to date -- do they keep buying expensive grain for a high-maintenance horse? Beyond that, is it wrong for our society to expect them to do so . . . with the possible situation of children suffering as a result? I would resoundingly answer: YES! Sadly, few options exist for a horse owner in this situation.

Prior to 2007, three horse slaughter plants operated in the United States. Horsemeat was processed for sale to overseas markets (where it is commonly eaten) and for zoos & other wild animal facilities. This provided numerous positives: unwanted/untrainable horses had value because they could be sold for slaughter, they were processed in American facilities with inspectors on hand to ensure a humane end to their life, American jobs were created & product was sold overseas that added to our American Gross Domestic Product, and the horse industry could rely on the fact that every animal had economic potential. Due to Congress no longer authorizing federal funds to pay inspectors at USDA plants for horse slaughter, combined with the closure of the three existing plants due to state lawsuits in TX & IL, horse slaughter ceased in the U.S. in 2007. Since then the horse industry and horses have suffered.

A few months ago, the U.S. Senate requested that the General Accounting Office (GAO) issue a report on the unintended consequences of ending horse slaughter in our country. I have pored over the document, and found that my observations have now been documented through this comprehensive study. Jobs HAVE been lost. Revenue HAS decreased. Horses ARE suffering. The equine industry IS reeling. The worst part to me is the documentation that removing slaughter has created an increase in incidents of mistreated horses. There is no longer an option to sell your horse, thus the value is gone during a time when Americans are struggling economically. Do you feed your child or your horse? Many horses are being abandoned on public lands: state parks, federal forests, etc. This creates suffering for domesticated horses that are not used to a wild mustang lifestyle. There is not enough food on these lands for abandoned horses, thus it becomes the burden of the taxpayer to fund state governments & federal agencies to deal with these animals.

Admittedly, animal rights groups (including HSUS), maintain in the GAO study that the end of horse slaughter has NOTHING to do with the dramatic increase since 2007 of 1)abandoned horses, 2)shipment of horses to Canada & Mexico for slaughter, and 3)reports of mistreated or malnourished horses. It is baffling to me that anyone could look at the rise in these three statistics since the key year when horse slaughter ceased in the U.S. and profess there is NO connection. Unless, of course, they had another agenda in mind . . .

As humans we must guarantee animals are treated humanely in life & death. The United States has excellent inspected slaughter facilities that work to produce quality products. There is a strong market for a product we have in abundance at a time when we need jobs in our country. Horse meat is full of protein and there are people who are starving in our world. Let's tell our Senators & Congressmen to bring back horse slaughter . . . and make sure that all horses have value & humane treatment!

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Goats Beat Me!

From time to time, I relish listing all my wounds! Currently, I have 3 band-aids on my hands. One is a nasty mosquito bite (I can't resist scratching!) Another is a random gash from farm work. I am so accustomed to pain that I did not even realized I had injured myself until I saw blood pouring down my finger. The third is from a particularly aggressive chick who decided my hand looked like food! (Dear Chicks, I am NOT food! Sincerely, The Goatherd.) I have a jagged scratch on my big toe from climbing a fence barefoot. Apparently, I NEVER learn that roaming the farm barefoot is not smart. I have a bruise on my right leg from colliding with a feeder while trying to catch a goat. Finally -- and most impressively -- I have large bruises on my left leg from an unintentional mishap with my buck, Boyo K. Harrison.

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to posting pictures of cute baby goats, without discussing the imminent dangers of working with livestock. It is an absolute fact that baby goats are the cutest things ever! Yet, it is also a fact that they are livestock -- not companion animals. Their nature dictates their personality. Even the most pleasant goat is a goat, and the bigger they are the greater the risk is for the human.

Boyo was actually a bottle baby. He grew up with me as his replacement "mother" and is thus quite used to humans. Typically, I would advise against anyone keeping a bottle baby as a buck. I have endeavored to train Boyo that I am the "alpha" in the barnyard. It is adorable when a baby goat jumps up on your legs . . . it can be dangerous if a 150 pound buck goat does this. I have trained Boyo to recognize my authority, and I am grateful to have a buck with a good demeanor. Boyo's father Dexter Manley and his grandfather Mr. Knightley were both very aggressive. I had less experience with fullsize bucks then and was often intimidated walking into a pen with those males. I have sworn that I will no longer have anything on the farm that I cannot trust. Boyo, however, is calm and responds very well to his owner.

Despite this favorable personality, accidents happen. Boyo is now roommates with Mojo of Middle E Performance Horses & Goats (check them out on Facebook!) Mojo is a strong, handsome man -- and is currently going through Katherine's Goat Taming School. On Memorial Day, I went into their pen to give them grain. This is something that makes them very excited! They are animals, though, and that excitement is displayed through aggression. As I poured the grain in the feeder, Boyo walked up immediately next to me. In just a moment's time, I quickly realized he had walked up in such a way that my leg was in the curl of his horn. Then, when Mojo approached to tussle with Boyo for food, my leg became collateral damage. It was probably trapped for just a few seconds, but by the point I extracted it, my calf was already turning red with damage. My leg was swollen that night, and was displaying brilliant colors by the next morning!

As it happened, I had my annual dermatologist appointment the following day. My grandfather had skin cancer (basel cell carcinoma) and my mother fought a brave battle against the melanoma that eventually claimed her life. Skin care is a very serious matter to me. PLEASE, take care of your skin! Skin damage from the sun is a wide problem in the farm community. I am naturally pale, so I rely on long sleeves, hats, and sunscreen. This is the Goatherd's Public Service Announcement: do not tan! It isn't worth suffering from melanoma just to look "summer-bronzed"! And be sun-smart: my mother was not a sun worshipper, just someone who spent a LOT of time outside!

My dermatologist is a super nice lady, and was recommended to me by my mother's oncologist. It is a good thing she knows my line of work, because she always comments on my injuries. As she started my exam, the doctor commented on the little bruise from the feeder collision on the front of my leg. "Just wait until you see the ones on the back of my leg!" The doctor was amazed, and reported them to the nurse for inclusion in my file. I am fairly certain that doctors have to be mindful of such things, for fear of potential domestic abuse. All I can offer is that I do suffer . . . my goats beat me!

Photo Caption: Craig the Cat helps me show off some of my lovely bruises!

Another Fascinating President's Message!

Just in case you missed the most recent edition of The Conveyor, the Franklin County Farm Bureau quarterly newsletter, here is my most recent President's Message! And . . . if you would like to receive a hard copy, I would be delighted to get you signed up as a Farm Bureau member!

With the change of seasons, it is exciting to anticipate all the fun events of summertime! In agriculture, summer brings exciting new opportunities, as well as its own seasonal challenges. Farmers will be busy baling hay, harvesting fruits & vegetables, and caring for livestock during the summer months. The weather has a huge impact on the success of these endeavors: will there too little or too much rain? Will crops grow well under pleasant conditions, or will they be ravaged by drought, heat, or pests? Despite such challenges, farmers embrace the excitement of agriculture!

While the percentage of the population that farms is very small, the entire American population is served by our country’s farmers! The farm community is obviously impacted by the challenges of agriculture, the success or failure of crops, and the creation of regulatory policies that affect farming. In reality, however, such things reach EVERY American. If you eat, you are enjoying the products of farming! Whatever impacts the farmer will also impact the consumer. A wet spring that prevents planting in the Midwest, farmland being flooded in the Mississippi River region, or even a ban on earmarks that funded state wildlife predator control programs – these things might seem as though they barely touch the daily life of the typical Ohioan, but the impact on agriculture affects all of us as consumers!

As a farmer, it is very exciting to see the renewed American interest in food and farming! As new niche markets develop – organic, naturally-raised, etc – these markets offer new opportunities for farmers. Farming has been continually marked by evolution and improvements. My great-grandfather would be amazed by the changes in our farm and by the new marketing opportunities that I have as a farmer! One hundred years ago, he could not have dreamed that someday I would be able to raise meat goats for a thriving ethnic community in Columbus. Like my great-grandfather, I am driven by a passion for our farm and a love of caring for animals. Yet, I am fortunate to have new opportunities, new scientific advances, and new markets to make my career in agriculture possible. Tradition and evolution are both driving forces in farming.

Farmers work incredibly hard to provide food for consumers no matter the season. While many people enjoy cool air-conditioning inside or relaxing pools outside, farmers will be out in the heat of the day working in the fields & looking after livestock. Despite the difficulties of farming, those who engage in it are passionate about their chosen field. Farmers love sharing about their work and explaining why they do what they do! If you have questions about agriculture or about food production, talk to a farmer! Better yet, get involved with Farm Bureau’s activities and let us know your concerns as a consumer. Even if you are an associate member of Farm Bureau – and do not farm at all – we treasure your membership and your involvement!

During the summer months, Franklin County Farm Bureau hosts many exciting events! Some are social, some are educational, and these events are open to all our members. The highlight of our summer is the Franklin County Fair, which runs 16-23 July 2011 at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard. The Franklin County Farm Bureau sponsors an educational display area in the Burke Building, where visitors can learn information about farming and see some interesting animals! While visiting the Fair, make sure you stop by to meet the chicks, goats, and a very personable donkey!

The Franklin County Farm Bureau is dedicated to supporting agriculture and to connecting farmers & consumers! Many of our fair activities are designed to meet these goals. Farm Bureau is the largest financial supporter of the Junior Fair Sale and of the Creative Baking Competition, and also sponsors the Junior Fair Poster Contest. By using its financial resources to aid young members of the community, Farm Bureau creates opportunities for our youth to develop their skills and prepare for the future. Farm Bureau is also a major sponsor of the Franklin Fun & Learn event, which will take place on Wednesday 20 July 2011. Franklin Fun & Learn is an educational day that brings children from the YMCA Camp and the Free Lunch Program to the Franklin County Fair. These young people take part in several activities to increase their knowledge about farming, thus helping to teach our future consumers about agriculture.

To achieve these things, Franklin County Farm Bureau needs YOU! Franklin County Farm Bureau sincerely appreciates its members who provide the financial resources to keep our organization successful. Have you renewed your membership for 2011? If so, THANK YOU! Are you ready to do more with Farm Bureau? Our volunteers make our events possible, and we would be delighted to have your participation! Contact our county office to volunteer for one of our fun Fair activities at 614.876.1274. Want to learn more about farming? Always feel free to contact me at Dwight Beougher (Chair for our Food & Animal Issues Team) and I are both delighted to serve as speakers on agriculture. Farm Bureau is YOUR organization! With your support, Franklin County Farm Bureau can successfully connect farmers & consumers!