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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

You assume that we don’t cry for our animals, as you attack us for our way of life, calling us ‘murderers’ ‘rapists’ ‘child snatchers’ ‘abusers’. You don’t see the hours of hard, physical, sweating work we put in to giving our livestock the best life we possibly can. You don’t see the tears when a favourite dairy cow comes to the end of her life, the tears when you lose a lamb that you thought had perked up. You can’t see the sense of pride when you win a rosette at the local show with your best animal, the sense of satisfaction when you see your herd or flock grazing the fields.

The relationship between man and beast is as old as time itself. There is no argument that homosapiens would have developed to the point we are at now without the utilisation of animals. They fed us, clothed us, enabled us to grow other food sources and to travel. And that journey of human development has not happened via the exploitation of animals, it has happened via the relationship we, as humans, can build with animals.

It is often said that humans ‘domesticated’ livestock. I think that suggests that animals are a lot less intelligent than they really are. Certain animals realised they had more to benefit from sticking with the humans and being fed, sheltered, and looked after, than being out in the open with their predators for company. Survival instinct, natural selection, call it what you will, but the suggestion that we ‘conquered’ these wild animals and claimed them through no choice of their own is at best idealistic and, at worst, absurd. We do not exploit animals, we work with them.

There is a reason that only certain people can work in livestock farming. The relationship between a farmer and their livestock is built out of respect. We respect our animals, we respect their strength, we respect their ability to feel pain, we respect their ability to produce offspring to feed a greedy planet, we respect their right to a good, healthy life, and above all – we respect their right to a death that is as quick and pain free as it can possibly be. It is this ability to respect and love an animal, and still be able to end its life that makes those that work with livestock exceptional. And just because you can’t comprehend that relationship, it doesn’t mean that it is ultimately wrong.

And it isn’t wrong if you can’t comprehend that relationship. That is how it came to be that there were farmers, and there were also leather workers, stone masons, ironworkers, and all the other professions that came along as mankind developed with the help of the animal kingdom. But just as we all respect animals, we all need to respect other people a little more too. Just because someone else does something or believes something that you don’t think is right, it doesn’t mean you need to pass opinion in a way that makes that person feel attacked, insulted, sad, scared, or otherwise. Think before you speak (or type).

In the words of the great Arethra Franklin…”R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

My sheep are coming back

This weekend, I will be loading a trailer with my 20 ewes, and bringing them to a field less than 10 minutes walk from where I live. I haven’t had my flock with me since we moved away from Rutland 18 months ago (and massive thanks must go to ‘The Boss’, Wilfred, for looking after them during that time). Moving 2 and a half hours away from the ewes didn’t really seem like a big issue at the time. I didn’t even consider that I’d miss them as much as I have, I was busy at uni and was hardly involved with the house move, but 18 months later, I really am ready to be back with my sheep. I’ve worked so hard to get my flock started that taking an unplanned 18 months break from that was a lot more difficult than I’d ever imagined.
It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve actually cried over the frustration of not having my flock within a reasonable distance. Moving to a new area is hard, moving to a new area when you spend the majority of your time at uni is even harder, and moving to a new area where you know no-one and need grazing for 20 sheep is even harder than that. My sheep are more than just a hobby, but they’re also more than just a business. I’ve cried because at times all you really need in life is to go and sit in the field and watch your ewes chew their cud, but I’ve also cried because I’ve got such big plans and dreams that I want to achieve with my sheep, and it was impossible to even get started with those with 2 and a half hours between us.
So I’m exceptionally excited to finally be able to focus on improving my little flock. Increasing numbers, working on beginning to breed and perhaps show Pedigree Jacobs, focusing on breeding and genetics and the type of lamb I want my ewes to be producing. This is the sort of stuff that excites me (believe it or not!).
My flock will (hopefully) be around long after I’ve graduated uni, and the work and thought and money that I invest now will start to show and come to fruition as I leave uni and get on with life. So it’s always been important to me to make sure I’ve got the beginnings of a really sound flock of sheep for when I finish uni and can hopefully work even harder at growing my ovine empire. Now that my ewes will be close by, I can finally make a start on improving my flock and making it more of a business and less of a hobby. So excitement doesn’t even cover it. I know that I’ll be so much more content when I’ve got my sheep back in my care.

Wool’d you believe it?

Today I saw on Facebook that the programme This Morning were running a poll on whether we should consider wearing wool the same as wearing fur, asking their viewers if wool is ‘cruel’ and whether we should follow PETA’s stance and go wool free.

It was quite refreshing to see that the majority of comments were overwhelmingly positive, berating This Morning for trying to make a story out of nothing, and – quite rightly – quoting welfare as the leading reason behind shearing (it certainly isn’t the profit margin!).

But for me it is just another example of how these massive organisations, with a clear bias, can influence so many people who just don’t even think to consider that what the organisation is saying may not be the truth. Organisations such as PETA and other animal rights groups obviously have one aim: To ‘expose’ cruelty to animals, and that is fine. Of course cruelty to animals is not acceptable under ANY circumstances, and as a member of the agricultural industry, I am just as upset and outraged when I see cases of abuse as any animal rights activist.

My issue is with people that see what these organisations post and believe that what they are portraying is the truth across the industry. It so often is not. I see videos used to attack agriculture and farmers on social media all the time, of animal abuse that hasn’t happened in this country, or cases where the abuser has already been prosecuted. I have no issue with people that choose not to eat meat, or follow a vegan diet, or simply just promote animal rights issues. That is your choice. But people see these videos, these photos, this propaganda, and often believe that this is common practice. Sometimes maybe it is common practice, but not in the UK.

If you are concerned about animal welfare on farms, then the single most helpful thing you can do is buy British produce. We have the highest welfare standards in the world. Standards for things that you may not even have thought needed regulating – but they are – because it is important to farmers in this country that our animals are handled correctly, looked after well, and treated with respect.

I think as humans we’ve become lazy. We no longer seem to want to educate ourselves and form an opinion based on research and unbiased information. The first impression we get of something is taken as gospel, we believe the first thing we read or see about something we have no experience in. People that call dairy farmers ‘abusers’, ‘rapists’ and ‘child snatchers’. Calling dairy farming ‘slavery’ and branding it a ‘slaughter industry’. These people may not have even been on a farm, but they’ve formed their opinion based on biased propaganda that has been funded by organisations with an anti-farming agenda.

If you want to educate yourself on animal welfare and farming practices in the UK, be my guest. There are plenty of opportunities out there to go and see farms and see what farming is really like, not what it is like through the eyes of an organisation whose sole aim is to ‘expose’ the industry. Of course, there are going to be people who abuse farm animals, just as there are people who abuse their pets, and their children. You don’t then start to say that all pet owners are abusers, all parents are cruel. The important point to realise is that other farmers are just as disgusted as you when cases of abuse, neglect and cruelty come out. I think some people believe we support the abuser just because they’re also a farmer.

It always astounds me that people who claim to care so much about animals, can be so utterly hateful towards another human. And I know that animal welfare, and the right to life and the exploitation of animals is a passionate subject, I feel passionately about it too, but that never gives you the right to attack others in the way that I have seen farmers attacked on social media. It’s verbal abuse and targeted harassment of an industry that contributes so much to this country, whether you agree with it or not. Farmers don’t take the time out of their day to individually harass people that choose not to eat meat, calling them disgusting names and trying to shame them for their choices. I’ve seen farmers told that their children should be taken away from them, and raised by people who don’t abuse and rape animals.

I’m not sure what more farmers can do. It’s disheartening to see the constant stream of abuse and negative press we get across all platforms. We’ve got Twitter, we’ve got Instagram, we go to shows and supermarkets and have tv programmes aimed at promoting the industry and all the fantastic work we do for our animals and the industry. But do people want to see a thousand videos of sheep being sheared comfortably and without pain, or do they want to see one video of sheep being cut and stamped on and chucked around? Which is more believable as a true representation of the industry, and which makes better viewing?

Not So Social Media

I’ve been on some kind of social media since I was 11 or 12. I got Facebook before the ‘allowed’ age of 13, with the condition that I had my mum as a friend, and it was actually my mum that suggested I got Twitter too. I currently have; one personal Facebook account, one blog Facebook page, one personal Twitter account and one that I manage (Young Farmers of the UK), one personal Instagram account, one blog Instagram account and one Snapchat account. As part of my job I also work on one Facebook page, four Twitter accounts, and one Instagram account. I wonder how many times a day my phone buzzes with notifications.

The advantages of social media are often clear, and I have certainly benefitted from them. I’ve met some fantastic people, via Twitter especially, and had some brilliant opportunities thanks to my presence on social media. I’ve learnt a lot from people online, and have/am using social media to grow my ‘online profile’ in terms of this blog, other writing, and the Young Farmers of the UK Twitter account.

But I often find myself less than impressed with the way that time on social media leaves me feeling. Sometimes it’s as simple as being annoyed at a comment directed at someone else, and sometimes I’m actually flung into the foulest of moods just through something I’ve seen online. As someone who could go on and on about the benefits of social media, I also see a lot of downsides to it.

One of my main issues with social media at the minute is the constant ‘bad news stream’ that seems to be happening. I’m not saying I want to be cut off from world events, but there’s a consistent layer of negativity constantly when you’re online, which is almost impossible to escape. And that does begin to affect you, or it has certainly affected me in the past. I’d find myself just scrolling aimlessly through social media, reading headline after headline of negative news, finding myself questioning everything I thought was good in the world, it often makes me want to cut myself off and live in a log cabin somewhere.

There’s also the time consumption. Hours and hours of just refreshing, scrolling, maybe reading an article, refreshing, scroll again. Social media never stops, there’s always something to be looking at. It isn’t that I haven’t got better things to be doing, because I have, I have loads of things I could be doing, but it’s so easy to just spend time aimlessly thumb flicking. It provides you with a very good distraction from things that are even remotely more difficult, including actually talking to the people you’re with.

Probably the biggest negative effect of social media I’ve been experiencing recently is the constant comparison to other people’s lives and what they’re doing. I find this especially with Instagram and Snapchat, when you can physically see what other people are doing, documenting their lives, their relationships, their meals (Guilty of this one!), on social media, through an ‘aesthetic’ photo or a funny Snapchat story. Social media is great at letting you show the world what you want them to see, but how often do people want to show the effects of a bad day, an argument with someone, a rubbish mood? 90% of what we see on social media, is people sharing something they know makes their life look good. And it’s so hard to remember that someone’s social media profile isn’t actually their entire life.

I think social media can really bring out some ugly sides to my personality, it’s so easy to get caught up in comparing your life to other peoples, that you forget to be grateful for what you’ve got. I’m really working on catching myself when I feel envious, or angry, or upset by things I see on social media, and trying to remind myself of everything I have. Not letting someone else’s holiday pictures make me ungrateful for the time away I’ve had. Not letting someone else’s night out make me feel lonely for being on my own for a weekend. Not letting someone else’s restaurant meal make me feel like I’ve never had a nice dinner.

So I hope it isn’t just me that sometimes feels that social media is more of a hindrance than a help, but I’m trying to work on how I react to what I see on social media because even though sometimes it makes me feel crap, I don’t think it should, or will, change. Although, I might start putting together a ‘Things I Don’t Post On Social Media’ blog, just to improve the balance.

Just having a whinge

 

Before I start, I’d like to say that I recognize that the potential for twisting the truth in journalism is, whilst not massively honourable, prevalent, and I’d like to give Mr Henson the chance to perhaps develop on the comments he is said to have made in The Daily Telegraph which you can find here.

 

My main issue with what Mr Henson is quoted as saying is mainly that he believes ‘farmers are very good at being the over-worked, underpaid whingeing farmer’. I’m not sure who Mr Henson is meeting whilst presenting Countryfile and managing his Cotswold Farm Park, but I would strongly suggest they are not representative of the wider farming community.

 

‘When I wake up in the morning, I genuinely want to go to work’. How patronising. At risk of sounding ‘whingey’ (god forbid), farmers are hardly in the industry for monetary gain. There is simply no way that farmers would continue to work how they do, the hours they do, through the struggles they do, for their love of money. So why would they bother? Every single farmer I have met gets up, whether that be at 4am, 5am or onwards, and works exceptionally hard. Because they love their work. Perhaps unbelievably, farmers other than Mr Henson wake up and ‘genuinely want to go to work’. Otherwise we’d have a fairly unproductive agricultural workforce.

 

My next issue of contention is the suggestion that young people are being put off the industry because those older and wiser than us don’t feed us some glorified reality of how fantastic farming is. Please do not insult us by suggesting that we can’t handle the reality of farming. Quite honestly, if young people are encouraged to go into the industry thinking they are going to be well paid and live their lives in luxury, there’d be as many leaving the industry within 5 years as there was entering it. The absolute wonder of young farmers is our determination to succeed in an industry that has never promised us anything other than what we can see. All aspects of farming promote facing reality. You see life, and death, and hardship and struggle, but you also see success and the beauty of nature and get to spend your time doing something you are passionate about. If young people are put off entering the industry because a farmer has complained that his milk price has dropped below the cost of production, then maybe that is for the best. The agricultural industry does not suit those that are not willing to work for something other than a wage packet.

 

Saying that farmers should celebrate their lives and the ‘incredible environment we work in’ illustrates to me that Mr Henson appears to be a bit out of touch, and is also hugely insulting to the vast majority of farmers that are proud and hugely appreciative of their jobs and lifestyles. My Twitter timeline is constantly full of farmers sharing their thoughts, stories and photos. (Examples below…)

 

 

 

 Farmers are the most appreciative people I know, because they know of the reality that the good times can just as quickly turn into bad. Yes, agriculture is a fantastic industry with many positive aspects, but it is also tough and unforgiving. So forgive us if we want to have a little whinge that our herd of cows has gone down with TB, or we’ve lost 20 lambs to a dog attack, or an unseasonably dry Spring has stunted our crop, and forgot to look at the beautiful view for 5 minutes.

 

I always believed that Mr Henson was supposed to be a ‘representative’ of agriculture, a real life farmer working hard to feed the nation with a platform from which to promote the reality of farming. I’m not sure how his condemnation of ‘whingy’ farmers, and suggestion that we should be promoting the ideal industry to encourage young people to enter it benefits us in any way. It’s almost embarrassing that someone with his level of influence has chosen to turn against the people he is supposed to be supporting and promoting.

 

Well, thank you Mr Henson, but I think the industry could do without you sharing your opinion of our shortcomings. I, as a young new entrant to the industry, would rather I knew the reality of what I was getting into, and was prepared for what was to come, than fed some idealistic version of what, at times, can be a very un-ideal industry.

 

Stress and Slaughtering

Would there be any public interest in a food assurance scheme solely guaranteeing an exemplary slaughtering process?

We’ve been talking about meat quality in my Farm Animal Production module for the past few weeks, and I’ve been really surprised to learn just how much the slaughter process can affect meat quality.

 I knew that stressed animals produce meat of poorer quality, but the science behind it is actually fascinating. Long term stress prior to slaughter (12-48 hours) = depleted glycogen reserves in the muscle = high pH, darker colouring, drier meat. Short term stress prior to slaughter = breakdown of glycogen in muscle = production of lactic acid = lower pH, lighter colouring, tougher meat. Stress factors such as transit are obviously difficult to avoid, but handling in the abattoir and mixing animals unknown to each other are elements that we can control. There’s also the issue of certain breeds being more susceptible to stress, such as Jersey cows. There’s even pigs that will have inherited a lower threshold for coping with stress, resulting in sudden death.  

It’s a seriously complex process. But done well, with the correct handling facilities, and suitable process for different livestock, the slaughter process should not be an overly stressful or painful experience for animals. Whilst I imagine it isn’t pleasant to watch, and understand that many wouldn’t want to, I am starting to believe that it could be an important and positive experience for both farmers and consumers. Education on the effects of a negative experience during slaughter (other than death!) for livestock and subsequent meat quality should create a conversation that encourages greater respect for the process and rewards those that are getting it right.

However, the abattoirs are in an impossible position. There’s a limited number of people that would be willing to visit an abattoir to see how their meat is slaughtered, but there’s plenty of people who believe that the ‘undercover footage’ collected by animal rights groups and activists is an honest representation of the majority. Of course, not every abattoir undertakes the slaughter process as it should, just as not every business operates as it should in any other sector. There’s bad apples in every bag. This is a thought that causes, or should cause, concern to the vast majority of farmers. As I’ve touched on previously, we invest a lot of time, emotion and money in our livestock. No farmer wants to imagine that their animal is suffering during their final moments. Just as no consumer wants to imagine meat could be below par due to an inadequate slaughtering process.

Personally, I would like to see the slaughter process become much more transparent. In my research for this blog, I Googled various wordings which I hoped would lead me to an abattoir website which openly advertised the ability to visit and watch the slaughter process. Frustratingly, I found none. Although there were plenty of articles (positive and negative) detailing a slaughter house visitor experience. I think abattoirs would be reluctant, understandably, to open up their business, as this also opens them up to attack and abuse.

But if the farmers and the consumers knew what we wanted from the slaughter process, demanded a scheme that allowed us to see with just a glance at the packaging if our meat had been slaughtered with the upmost care, attention and respect deserved by the animal, wouldn’t that be an improvement in our confidence not only in the abattoir industry but in British produce as a whole? Assurance schemes such as Soil Association, Red Tractor and RSPCA do specify slaughtering standards, but if your meat is not marked by their assurance, what sort of abattoir has it come from?

Maybe if we stopped shouting and arguing about those that are shown to be getting it wrong, and started celebrating those that are getting it right, and understanding the process as a whole, everyone would begin to feel more secure in the knowledge that the meat on their plate was free from stress at the time of slaughter.

15 Lies Young Farmers Tell Their Parents

We’ve all been there, the parents are quizzing you about something you should, or maybe shouldn’t, have done. A little white lie never hurt anybody, especially if it keeps you out the dog house!

1.       I’ve never overdone it and passed out in my own chunder

2.      Not once has the farm pickup gone over 40mph with me behind the wheel

3.      Drinking spirits before 12pm is not something I’ve ever indulged in

4.      The same goes for passing out before 9pm

5.      I’ve never lied about how many acres/animals we’ve got to impress either sex at college/uni

6.      I check every field/shed you tell me to with the utmost care and attention

7.      Yes, I ate my 5 a day today

8.      Of course I’ve never flashed anyone whilst drunk

9.      I don’t know how the tail light on the trailer got smashed

10.   I really tried on that assignment, I don’t know why I’ve got such a rubbish mark!

11.    We just had a quiet pint or two

12.   I bought Nix’s pocketbook and that’s why I’m in my overdraft, not buying Jagerbombs for everyone stood at the bar

13.   I haven’t watched Netflix in weeks

14.   I think I might be on track for a 2:1

15.   I haven’t got any lectures today so I can definitely come home and help on the farm