I have had a certain subject on my mind for the past few days. I don't know if anyone even reads this blog, and if they do, it's probably not the best subject to bring up, but here we go anyway.
As a vet student, I am frequently faced with issues of animal welfare. Growing up in the agricultural industry, this is not a new subject for me, but I feel that I'm moving into a new role in the debate. As a veterinarian, I will be expected to be something of an "expert" by some, just as friends and family expected me to be able to do magical phone and e-mail diagnoses of the ailments of their various species of pets after my first week of school. I have a cousin who is a vegan and seems to spend a lot of time and money promoting various animal sanctuaries, as well as exorting everyone within virtual earshot about the supposed benefits of a "cruelty-free" lifestyle. I love her, and I respect her drive and opinions, but at my core I believe anyone who chooses a vegan lifestyle is tragically misinformed. Really, my problem isn't with my vegan cousin, it's with the organizations that are supported by the people who share her beliefs. I couldn't care less if she never touches a piece of meat in her life. It's up to her to decide what she puts in her mouth. I do, however, have a huge problem with the lobbyists who are fronting the animal rights movement and the fact that they are attacking an industry and a way of life that I will always love.
Agriculture is not a typical industry. Sure, there are some large corporations involved, but at the base level ag is driven by families just like mine, who work our asses into the ground to produce something in which we take pride. I have been accused of taking the animal rights debate too personally, but I don't see how I could be expected to do otherwise. Animal agriculture is something that I am attached to on a deeply personal level. I have waded through snow drifts to drag calves back to the barn in sub-zero weather; I have strained to pull a calf I knew was dead in order to save his mother's life; and I have helped kill a foal who was supposed to be the pride of a rancher's horse breeding program but was born with an unmanageable, unrepairable congenital defect that would have caused it immense pain. Once you've done these things, you cannot separate yourself from the emotion. The fact that animal rights organizations believe what I do every day is cruel to animals is offensive.
For years, I have put forth an argument that is very convincing in my mind. Healthy, happy animals are more productive, thus giving ranching families a better chance of not going bankrupt. Abusing animals is logically counterproductive to what we do. Recently, I was informed that this argument is not persuasive to the average non-agricultural citizen, as it makes us sound like money-hungry capitalists. At the end of the day, we are trying to make a living, but if these people knew how thin that living could be at times, they would know that we are not in this for the money. Making a living in agriculture requires the mind of an animal scientist, the discipline of an accountant, and the luck of a gilded leprechaun. There is little room for error, and sometimes one lean year is all it takes. We depend on the mercy of the weather...let it rain, make that rain after the fertilizer is out, don't let it rain too much, hope the snow melts before we run out of hay, pray that fire season leaves our grass untouched, pray that the government doesn't shut us out of half our grazing land because they found a bone or an endangered weasel.
What we are up against is an image. For too many years, we have assumed that the general public will know that we are good people, we assumed that common sense, our version of common sense, would carry the day. This was naive. The ironic thing is that animal rights groups are painting us with an image that I'm sure could equally apply to them. They say that "big agriculture" is harming innocent animals in order to line our pockets. I say that HSUS is preying on the compassion that nearly everyone has for all things cute and furry to line their pockets. Seeing as they brought in over $99 million in 2008 and I'm struggling to make my rent from month to month, I think my point of view has some merit. I'm not a very tactful person by nature, and I'm working on that. If I'm going to be a positive ambassador for animal agriculture, I need to improve. I think a part of me will always be offended by the insinuation that I am a cruel person for the way I choose to make my living. The best I can do right now is turn to Bernice, Randi, Leroy, Cinch, and River to ask their opinions, since they are, after all, the animals that I abuse on a regular basis.