I wrote this reminder on my blog earlier this month, but figured it was worth repeating in print. It is actually three reminders: 1. Make sure you are feeding your cattle properly this winter; 2. If you can’t handle it and feel stressed, there are places to call that can provide help; and 3. If you suspect there is a legitimate case of animal abuse or neglect in your community, the same applies there are numbers you can call to anonymously report it. (see contacts at the end.)
This all stems from an email I received New Year’s Eve from a retired farmer, who in turn had been talking to another producer and the other producer was disgusted with a neighbour who apparently had 100 head of Angus cows that had been on the same pasture since September “no hay, no bedding, and he cuts a hole in the ice once a day so they can drink.” That’s it. That, apparently, was this person’s winter-feeding program. My contact called it “unconscionable.”
Unfortunately these two producers who were discussing this perceived case of animal abuse had also thrown up their hands in hopelessness about reporting the situation — “what’s the point, no one does anything about it anyway.” And that thinking isn’t right either.
Anytime I hear or read about animal neglect cases my first thought is what the heck is wrong with people? There is no excuse. In the best case perhaps the cattle are owned by an elderly or disabled farmer who doesn’t have the ability to feed them, and in the worst case they may be owned by some idiot who is too lazy, or too cheap to supply feed. Maybe it is not even an idiot — it could be a well-meaning producer under a cash crunch, but too proud to ask for help.
Whatever the reason, situations like this need to be checked out and dealt with. There are no good excuses in any aspect of this issue. People need to properly care for their livestock, and people suspecting there may be a problem, have at least a moral obligation to report it. This needs to be addressed, first and foremost, for the sake of the animals, and also for the sake of the livestock industry. A valid or even a perceived abuse case that isn’t checked, but comes to public attention, is just handing animal-welfare critics another nail for the livestock industry coffin.
This situation drew a few initial responses. I talked with Heini Hehli, a dairy producer from the west-central Alberta community of Rimbey. He is chair of the Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC), a producer-run animal-care organization concerned about the proper care and welfare all classes of livestock.
AFAC has what is known as the ALERT line for producers to call if they are overwhelmed or are unable to feed their livestock; and it is also a line people can call to report suspected cases of neglect.
Hehli says many of the “suspected” cases are unfounded, but nevertheless should be investigated. All calls to the ALERT line are investigated and usually the first person to approach a producer is a local veterinarian.
Meanwhile, I also had an email from Edmonton-area beef producer Dale Greig, who also urged producers to call if there is suspicion of livestock neglect.
“I have been involved as an Alberta Beef Producer delegate and as an investigator for AFAC for many years. I have investigated many reported abuses and if the situations require help or more severe involvement such as police or SPCA they have been brought into the problem.
“Sometimes the complaint is real and sometimes the complaint is frivolous. They all get checked and if the animals and farmer need help it is provided. The bottom line is if you suspect a problem get it reported so the issue can get corrected before the animals become in such poor condition they are either dying on the place or need to be put down.
“Tell your farmer friends not to be afraid of reporting potential animal abuse. It will be investigated and corrected if needed.”
Dale Greig – Barrhead, Alta.
And I also had a comment from another beef producer, David, who makes the point that proper winter grazing practices don’t necessarily mean cattle are suffering.
“I hope some of those retired farmers read your articles and read my comments. Cutting a hole in the ice for water is common practice and nothing wrong with that.
“Some ranchers use to let their cows eat snow, this I don’t agree with and is not recommended as they have to eat too much snow to make up volume of water. It is a lot easier on a person to let those cows drink out of a water bowl especially when it is -25 or colder and the ice gets thick.
“As far as cows out in the fields since September, this is their winter pasture. Some ranchers keep some land set aside for this as winter grazing or swath grazing. These are new practices that they even recommend for various environmental and economic reasons. Some of these retired farmers are used to the old methods where you fed cows in the yard from November to June. And what they see from passing by on the highway is not necessarily the whole story. I have seen cases where you could report seeing the animals out in the fields and wonder what they are eating. What you don’t see is that the rancher has taken feed out to different areas of the fields usually in the shelter of some bush. The exercise that the animals get from walking is healthy for them also and can help at calving time.”
Each western province has an anonymous, confidential reporting system. No one, other than the person answering the phone, will know who called and you have done your part.
It is bad enough that someone might have poor management that allows animals to suffer, but at the same time there is that old saying, that anyone who sees an injustice but does nothing about it is equally guilty.
Here’s where you call:
In British Columbia — call the B.C. Farm Animal Care Line at 1-877-828-5486.
In Alberta — call the Alberta Farm Animal Care ALERT line at 1-800-506-2273.
In Saskatchewan — For producers recognizing they need help call the Farm Stress Line at 1-800-667-4442; to report concerns call the Saskatchewan SPCA 1-877-382-7722; and for a wide range of information on proper livestock care, the Farm Animal Care Saskatchewan office at (306) 249-3227.
In Manitoba — call the Manitoba Agriculture Animal Care Line at (204) 945-8000 or toll free 1-888 945-8001.
She had been a lovely woman in many respects, but over the last 15 or 20 years patience and tolerance between she and her husband had been greatly strained. She passed away suddenly, and at the end of the funeral service, the pallbearers are carrying the casket out when they accidentally bump into a wall, jarring the casket.
They hear a faint moan. They open the casket and find that the woman is actually alive! She lives for 10 more years, and then dies.
Once again, a ceremony is held, and at the end of it, the pallbearers are again carrying out the casket. As they carry the casket towards the door, the husband cries out, “Watch that wall!” †