Animal Ag Engage


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When a farm kid goes to an animal rights conference…

I grew up on a cattle farm in rural Missouri. I am a classic, stereotypical farm kid that was involved in the local 4-H and FFA. I raised cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits and ducks. I know how to drive a tractor and drove a truck in a field before I drove a car on the highway.I'm a farm kid, and I went to animal rights conferneces.

Bullying farmers and ranchers 

I became aware of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) from their pessimistic TV commercials trying to gain more donations by appealing to viewers’ emotions. I knew these animal rights organizations always said they were trying to help dogs and cats, but when they said they needed to “rescue” farm animals, that’s when I started to do research.

In August of 2014, Missouri residents voted on a “Right to Farm Bill”- ensuring Missouri farmers and ranchers are guaranteed the right to farm for forever in the state. I advocated heavily in favor of this bill, yet I met several people who were skeptical, and the majority of those people were misinformed on the bill by anti-agriculture groups. Therefore, I attained a dislike for these groups that felt the need to bully and pressure their way into getting what they think is best for animals – which often does not align with science.

blog picBlending in with the activists

After that, I never thought that I would attend multiple events sponsored by the organizations that are trying to annihilate the industry that possesses my livelihood.

That quickly changed when I moved halfway across the country for my summer internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The Alliance sends representatives to national animal rights conferences each year so that it can inform the industry about what strategies and tactics activist groups may be using next. Not knowing what was going to be said or done, I sat quietly and noted what the organizations had to say about the animal agriculture community.

I did not know exactly what to expect when I walked into the first conference, the HSUS’ Taking Action for Animals Conference. My first thought was that I was not going to blend-in with the activist crowd. During the opening session, Paul Shapiro, HSUS’ vice president of farm animal protection, said something opposing the animal agriculture industry that made the whole audience stand up, clap and cheer. Since I was trying to blend in, I had to stand and clap as well. I was weak in the knees to stand and applaud somebody that doesn’t understand the importance of animal agriculture and the hard work and dedication that farmers like my family possess.

The second conference I attended was the 2016 National Animal Rights Conference hosted by FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) in Los Angeles, California.

The banquet entree at the 2016 Animal Rights Conference was "chicken" in a mushroom sauce.

The banquet entree at the 2016 Animal Rights Conference was “chicken” in a mushroom sauce.

While at this conference I tried vegan food, which added to the eye-opening experience of being exposed to the animal rights movement. This conference was much larger than the one hosted by HSUS and included more radical sessions that made me cringe by just reading the titles like, “The Spirituality of Veganism,” and “Getting to Know Our Adversaries.”

While sitting through hours and hours of similarly themed sessions I did learn a few things. I learned that most of the animal activists will believe the lies of “factory farming” without ever hearing the truth from farmers themselves. Several of the activists think that animal agriculture is an abomination to mankind that needs to be destroyed and the animals need to be “liberated.” I also learned of the different tactics that are being used by groups to essentially spy on farms, fairs, and other similar events. From drones, telephoto camera lenses, body cameras and the use of the Freedom of Information Act, activists are willing to stop at nothing to “free” the animals. To see what these people are willing to do to “liberate” animals is intimidating, because their tactics are ruthless and unethical.

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SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) uses drones like this one nicknamed “angel.”

Controlling my emotions 

A skill I learned while attending these conferences was to control my thoughts and expressions while listening to the lies spewed by speakers. During the HSUS conference, Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals, specifically said that “4-H is a child’s first betrayal of animals.” I retired as a 12-year 4-H member and Missouri State 4-H President in early June. It took courage for me to clap at the comment rather than speaking out to defend the organization. I learned that the activists are willing to say anything to make people believe their lies about farming.

Leading with lies and misinformation

As I unwillingly applauded several animal rights leaders, listened to speakers preach about plant-based diets, tried vegan food and talked with people about “how horrible farmers are,” I realized the key difference between myself and the activists. While claiming to care about farm animals, activist groups rely on lies and misinformation to spread their goal of ending animal agriculture while I rely on truths, farmers’ experiences and science to promote the industry I love.

If you have questions or concerns about how farm animals are cared for please ask a farmer who cares for their animals every day, not animal rights groups with a radical, unrealistic, and downright absurd agenda.

The Alliance has published one report on the HSUS conference and is currently working on a report from the 2016 National Animal Rights Conference. These reports are exclusively available to Alliance members.


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How will you answer when someone asks – Why do youth show livestock? What is the point?

Shane Potter,  State 4-H Youth Development Specialist at the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, shares his insights on how to engage about livestock showing at the fair.

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I was recently asked “Why do youth still raise livestock and show at the fair?” I love questions like this. They open the door to not only inform and educate but to also share the impact involvement in 4-H and livestock can have on the lives of youth. Here are the main steps I walk people through and teach my 4-Hers.

Start with a Personal Story – Leverage your Experience

I could tell you all kinds of amazing benefits gained, in general, when youth are involved in livestock projects. They gain grit and resiliency through the completion of difficult goals, creative problem solving and management skills through the process of caring for and showing animals, and are better prepared for college and careers because of the experiences and connections made in their 4-H clubs. This is all true and sounds great, but without the personal story it just doesn’t stick.

Instead I might tell you about myself, a young boy, who took part in the catch-a-lamb project. Not having sheep of his own, a local farmer provided the boy with an opportunity to raise, train, and then show a lamb at the county fair. (At this point you would see the twinkle in my eye as I think back to the pride I had in my catch-a-lamb project). The fact that someone else believed I could be successful and take care of and train a lamb was exactly what I needed to build confidence in my abilities.

As the story unfolds a picture should start to form in your mind. The triumphs and challenges the boy had in the project seem more tangible. You can understand how he gained problem solving skills when his lamb ate wood chips and bloated and he had to figure out what to do. The story attaches your main points to tangible anchors people can more easily remember.

Know Your Facts – Science is our Friend, Use It1280_0E6YI9l8MRFt

Not only are youth livestock producers and exhibitors gaining important Life and Soft skills, they are also mastering vast amounts of animal science knowledge. Through 4-H livestock projects youth become experts on animal care including things like nutritional needs of their livestock, facility needs and maintenance, and health care.

A personal story is excellent, but don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. If someone asks you about docking a tail be ready to explain the how it helps reduce parasite infestation. I usually tell 4-Hers – This is your chance to shine and show a bit of what you have learned. It is also OK to not know everything. That is one of the great things about showing livestock, it is supposed to be a learning experience.

Model the Behavior You Describe in Your Story – Be Confident and Kind

Above all – regardless if you agree with the person you are talking to or how they are acting, be gracious and kind. Anyone who has ever worked with livestock knows they have a mind of their own and may not do what you want them to do. This is excellent training for keeping your cool when talking with someone who you may not agree with.

As a final thought, I again go back to my story about the boy and his lamb project. I remember how the project was just the spark needed to develop a passion and drive to improve and work hard to accomplish his goals. This is true for thousands of youth each year who raise and show livestock.


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4-H got me started, FFA got me hooked

Jackson

Jackson

When I was in first grade I did enough nagging to convince my mom I should start taking horseback riding lessons. I was so excited for my first lesson that I wanted to wear my best outfit (little did I know it would end up completely covered in horse hair). Jackson was my horse for the hour and Mary was my teacher. I didn’t even ride at that first lesson. I had to learn all about care and safety before I could ride. Mary taught me how to care for Jackson by brushing him and cleaning his hooves. I learned how to safely lead Jackson so I would know how to be safe when working around horses. I don’t really remember my first time actually riding a horse, but I do remember what Mary taught me about care, safety and respect.

Mary, my parents and my 4-H leaders took me to horse shows and got me involved in public speaking competitions. When I got to middle school, I joined FFA. I experienced what peer pressure was. But instead of pressuring me to do something bad, I was being encouraged to run for officer positions and participate in speaking competitions. I judged horses, dairy cows, livestock and poultry. I became a State FFA Officer and gave speeches in front of hundreds. I traveled the country and eventually the world.

In FFA we wore OD and did CDEs and SAEs and went to WLC. Reflecting on my time in FFA, it’s no longer important what all of those letters mean, but what they taught me is everything. They taught me respect, determination and confidence. They gave me role models and allowed me to be a role model for others. They gave me direction and helped me learn that my skills and talents can make a positive difference in this world. They taught me to care for myself, others, animals and the land.

FFA Officer Team

2006-2007 New York State FFA Officer Team

Through these after school activities, I was developing premiere leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. I think that’s a pretty great way for kids to spend their time. I have seen so many individuals grow and develop through these amazing youth organizations and have a positive impact on this world. My fellow state FFA officers are researching dairy cattle nutrition, researching improvements in vegetable production in drought conditions, analyzing economic conditions to help provide protein to a hungry world and teaching the next generation. What an amazing group of people making a positive difference in our world!

My grandfather recently told me he is proud of me, but he was worried about me at first. When I was so involved in 4-H and FFA, he was concerned that agriculture would be a dead end for me. He now sees it as a world of endless opportunity. Agriculture is different today than when he was growing up. It’s better; we’ve made progress and we will continue to make advances that allow us to nourish the world. 4-H got me started in agriculture and FFA got me hooked, and I hope they keep doing that to prepare students to tackle the challenges of the future.