Explaining agricultural practices to someone not involved in agriculture can be challenging at times, but as a rule of thumb it is best to connect with your audience by finding common ground. I had an interesting conversation with my mom recently about misconceptions in agriculture where I did just that – found common ground.
Finding common ground
One of the misconceptions we discussed was how some argue that farmers are trying to hide something because they won’t let anyone and everyone onto their farm without any notice.
My mom is heavily involved in a dog rescue organization that has a 61-acre ranch where they care for the dogs and cats that are not in foster homes. As we began talking, she mentioned that the rescue ranch has the same issue with people accusing them of trying to hide things because they don’t allow just anyone onto the ranch for safety reasons.
To be clear, I am not saying that companion animals and farm animals are one in the same – they have entirely different purposes and needs. I’d just like to share the similarities regarding security measures to provide context that may help some understand why farms need to be secure.
One reason a lot of poultry and swine are raised indoors is to keep them safe from predators and disease. Farmers and the workers who are on the farms every day have to go through specific protocols to ensure they don’t accidentally bring pathogens onto the farm that would harm the livestock. These protocols may include wearing protective clothing and shoes and sometimes even showering in and out to remove any possible germs.
This level of security also helps to ensure that our food supply is abundant and safe. A current example would be avian influenza. This disease is carried by migratory birds (ex: geese traveling from the North) and is transmitted via loose feathers or droppings as they fly near a farm. As of today, there is no cure so if a person were to track feathers or dropping inside a barn and the flock became sick the flock would then have to be euthanized.
One reason the rescue won’t allow many visitors is to keep the dogs and cats safe from people accidentally opening gates and letting dogs loose or coming in contact with an aggressive dog. It is for the animals’ safety, but also your own safety.
Children are taught to ask an owner permission before they pet their dog – this helps to ensure the child’s safety in case the dog doesn’t like children or strangers. Well, some livestock can be temperamental and if you don’t work with the livestock every day, you may not know how to correctly approach the animal without spooking it and the last thing you want to do is make a 1,400-pound cow angry.
Property and privacy
Another thing I think a lot of people seem to forget when they want to walk up to a farm is that not only do farmers work on their farms, but the majority also live on the same property. So when you’re on their farm, you are also at their home. But, just because it is also their home it doesn’t make it any less of a business.
The dog ranch is also an operating business and if someone shows up wanting to visit all the animals, it can disrupt the workers from caring for the dogs because now they have to address the visitor.
As I made these connections with my mom about how farms need to be secure for basically the same reason the dog ranch needs to be secure, I could tell she began to understand because she already understood half of the conversation as it related to something she was already informed about. If you are having difficulty getting a message across about agriculture, meet someone half way. Listen and understand their side of the story – it may help you tell yours.