Speak Up is a series of blogs where CommonGround volunteers from all over the U.S. speak up to answer questions from consumers.
By Amanda Folkens, CommonGround South Dakota volunteer
If I had been asked when I was young how to properly care for my farm animals, I would have said it involves holding, snuggling and cuddling them. With every animal on our farm (cattle, pigs, horses, dogs, cats and sheep), I thought I was its veterinarian, nurse and mother!
My thoughts about animals remain the same today. I credit this to the fact that early on, my dad (a farmer) instilled solid principles in me to apply to our beef herd. He said animal care is the top priority and a non-negotiable. If we take care of our cattle, they will take care of us.
In other words, if we care for our food supply in the proper way, we will benefit by having a better product.
Animal handling is critical for production. When farmers need to move cattle, they take care of the animals by inflicting as little “stress” on the animals as possible. In this case, stress can be defined as physical (i.e. injury or hunger) or psychological (i.e. if they’re restrained improperly or when they’re loaded onto a trailer). If the animal endures high stress for too long, the meat quality can be affected. The meat might have a change in color, texture or juiciness.
Another important method in proper animal care is treating the animals when they are sick. Administering an antibiotic is important for many reasons, including keeping the animals healthy. For example, when cattle are sick, they stop eating and occasionally stop drinking. After a dose of the proper antibiotic, they usually feel better and eat and drink again. The sooner they feel well enough to eat, the more they will eat.
Proper nutrition for animals is another necessary animal-care procedure. Like humans, without proper nutrition, cattle would be underweight. Underweight animals won’t be able to adequately supply our protein needs. There are different kinds of feed rations fit for the different stages in a cow’s life. These rations are scientifically formulated to allow the animal to gain weight at the right time as efficiently as possible. Efficient weight gain also allows farmers to provide meat to the consumer at a low cost.
Finally, we take animal housing into consideration when caring for our herds. If you look closely at the feed yards where we keep our cattle herds, you might see what looks like a wall. This wall, or windbreak, protects the cattle from cool winds. When animals have to endure the elements, their bodies use up energy in order to maintain normal body temperature. We’d rather have them use energy to gain weight, which creates more meat for consumers.
The recurring message is that not only are farmers doing the best possible job caring for the animals because it is right for the comfort and health of the animal; they are doing it to provide a wholesome, safe and delicious product for their customers.