I bet you didn’t know that: When our beasts are on edge, we try to soothe them with sounds.
One of the reasons you may not have heard about this fascinating practice is because a number of organizations would like you to believe that farmers and ranchers are relentlessly cruel to animals.
The Humane Society of the United States is a primary culprit. Its current agenda involves trying to make livestock producers look like sadistic freaks. It’s a smear campaign–and consumers must see it for the slander that it is.
The vast majority of livestock producers care deeply about their animals. We follow the laws and the regulations governing our industry–and believe me, there are a lot of them. We also abide by a series of best business practices, most of them voluntary and informal.
In the cattle industry, that involves playing music. For ages, ranchers have observed that cattle have a sixth sense about the weather. They seem to know when storms are brewing, sometimes better than human meteorologists. It’s probably because they’re more in tune with barometric pressure. Whatever the cause, oncoming storms can make these animals nervous. In certain situations, they’ll even stampede, endangering themselves and the people around them.
Yet music seems to have a calming influence. So we play it. We used to hang a few transistor radios in cattle pens. Nowadays, a lot of barns have sophisticated sound systems.
This leads to an obvious question: What kind of music do cattle like best? I haven’t studied the question extensively, but we play gospel. It seems to work well enough.
But I digress.
Here’s the thing: Nobody tells us to play music to our cattle. It isn’t a law or a guideline. It just makes sense. That’s true for both the animal, which receives an obvious benefit, as well as the producer, who has an economic stake in keeping cattle happy and healthy.
I could supply more examples, all rooted in a commitment to sustainability on environment, economic, and social levels. Lots of dairies have on-site labs to monitor the well-being of their cows and the safety of the milk. My brother’s pork operation enforces employees to shower before entering swine houses to protect his pigs’ health and welfare.
Press releases from HSUS never promote these stories, however. Instead, they try to force-feed the public a steady diet of fear and misinformation. HSUS would like to eliminate animal agriculture. Shame on them!
The latest political campaign of HSUS involves animal-handling standards in Ohio. Last fall, voters supported the creation of an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a new body created through negotiations between officials in government and industry, then approved by the public via ballot initiative.
Even though the board hasn’t had a chance to get up and running yet, HSUS insists that it doesn’t go far enough–and so the group is now agitating for a brand-new ballot initiative that seeks to micromanage livestock production. Its many parts pander to the emotions. One section, for instance, explicitly prohibits letting sick “downer” cows enter the human food chain.
This restriction sounds utterly reasonable–which is why it’s already covered in federal regulation. Moreover, conscientious livestock producers don’t harvest sick cattle that pose a threat to human health.
So why does the HSUS push it? Because it hopes the public latches onto this non-issue and ignores the rest of the HSUS agenda, which will serve only to raise prices for consumers and destroy jobs for workers in the livestock industry.
The question of animal welfare is an important one. Animals may not have the power to reason, but they have the capacity to suffer–and livestock producers have a moral obligation to make sure they receive humane treatment.
Readers who want to know more about this subject should consult a new book by Wesley J. Smith, A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy. It’s a profound meditation on this important question–as well as an analysis of the negative consequences of animal-rights extremism.
I take this matter seriously–and so do the vast majority of livestock producers. I wish the HSUS and its ilk would join us in telling positive stories, rather than trying to gin up controversy over negative ones.
Maybe HSUS should install a sound system at its headquarters. After all, it works for the cattle.
Carol Keiser owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Illinois. Mrs. Keiser is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member. (www.truthabouttrade.org)