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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Still No Excuse: Owner of E6 Ranch Steps Up

Yesterday, I posted about the recent release of an undercover video by Mercy For Animals of E6 Ranch in Hart, Texas.  Not much has changed since then - the video is still horrific, I'm still outraged that anyone would treat animals that way and unfortunately the video is still receiving views. However, what has changed is that the ranch's owner, Kirt Espenson, is stepping up and taking the heat for the events that have taken place on his ranch- he isn't passing the buck or blaming the undercover videographer.

Trent Loos, agriculture advocate, public speaker and radio personality, states that it's not fair to condemn someone without knowing the full breadth of the situation. That is also a part of responsible journalism. I agree with that statement and admit that I, like others in the media, may have jumped to conclusions about the integrity of the owner and management of E6.  Loos interviewed Mr. Espenson to get the truth on how he feels about the release of the video and how he plans to remedy the situation. In the interview, which you can listen to here, Mr. Espenson openly takes responsibility for the actions of his employees and states that new employee training is going to be put into place so that every last person is well trained in animal handling and euthanasia in order to ensure that this type of incident never happens again. I don't know Mr. Espenson, but after listening to the interview I truly believe that he is sorry for how the animals were treated and that he will work his butt off to make sure that it never happens again.

As an animal wellbeing scientist, I have little no tolerance for poor animal handling - especially in the euthanasia arena. That goes for the undercover videographer (who is seen in the video using a hammer to euthanize calves) and especially the employees. Euthanasia of the calves in the video was necessary as they had suffered from frostbite which was causing them to lose their limbs however, a hammer does not meet the criteria for humane euthanasia: quick and as painfree as possible.
I truly hope that you will listen to the entire interview because Mr. Espenson also addresses antibiotic use on the ranch, which was brought up in the video.

So - take away from the past two days, the video, the interview and my posts:
-- The treatment in the videos was bad and inexcusable. I truly hope that the employees (and the videographer) are punished. If that means jail, so be it. Like I said, inexcusable.
-- The owner, Espenson, is fully aware of his responsibility on the ranch and to animal wellbeing standards and plans to put new animal care training programs in place.
-- The treatment in the video is not the norm - it is the minority and as such should not be used as a descriptor of an entire industry.
-- If you want to know more about animal care, ranching or farming - let me know and I'll hook you up with a producer near you who would love to show you around the farm.

One last thing -- this is a fact sheet about humane euthanasia of cattle and calves from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners. This is something about which all farmers and ranchers should be well educated.  Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be.


I hope that I have been helpful in reporting the news about the video, interview and facts of animal wellbeing and euthanasia. As always, if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me.

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~

14 comments:

  1. Well thought out and expressed Brandi! I feel exactly the same way.

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  2. Thanks TX! I try to represent all the facts - it's tough to wade between the truths and op-eds sometimes. That's when I truly appreciate things like Loos' interview with the owner! Thanks for reading!

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  3. "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be." Exactly, we need not breed and artificially inseminate female cows to make more "victims". Since all of it is unnecessary, I honestly don't know what you'd define "cruelty" as?

    But so much for the abstract thought that milk is "humane". Obviously nothing could be more of a lie.

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  4. Bea,

    Thanks for reading, I'm interested in your thought process. Why do you think milk is inhumane?

    My definition of cruelty is that of Dictionary.com's - 'cruel' means willfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others. I don't condone the events at the E6 Ranch, nor does the rest of the agriculture industry. It's an abomination, however that doesn't quantify ignoring the testimony of the owner. Other than those events, what cruelty are you referencing? Artificial insemination isn't painful or cruel. Neither is milking a cow.

    Cheers,
    Brandi

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  5. Hi Brandi - I too am interested in your thought process...

    Mine is based on the understanding of the whole being- Complete with not only physical needs of water, food and safety but emotional wants and desires. All animals have an instinctual need to nourish their young. Likewise, infants long for the protection and nurturing of their mothers. To remove a young animal at birth from his mother... In order to confiscate that milk instead, is wrong for both mother and baby. I consider this "cruel" because aside from monetary gain, there is nothing that substantiates a human necessity to do such.

    And I do think your wrong that AI is not a painful process... If not why is it that the favored cow to "practice" on are the ones destined to for "culling"? Indeed I've read enough literature from animal ag universities to see that this is a process that must be learned to make it least damaging. Furthermore, I do believe it's a violation of the female reproductive system. That's why the term "husbandry" has negative connotations, and none of them when closely examined resemble anything "romantic".

    Finally, the video (and fact) supports the whole doctrine of animal use in agriculture as profit motivated. The worker states that these bull calves are not "worth" the effort/medicine to care for. Questions arise as to why while under the "protection" of a "producer" they were allowed to get frost-bite in the first place? Or is this like the thousands of cattle that die every year in the midwest due to drought/heat?

    Here's the deal: You can't put a dog into a burning building then claim you're "saving" or providing "good care" for the dog if you put the fire out... It is the breeding of these animals initially that puts them in a compromised position of requiring care. Deliberately putting animals on this earth just to "harvest" (without NEED) is hardly a compassionate (antonym of cruel) activity.

    I don't think you or most in animal ag are "knowingly" cruel... I just think because of indoctrinations and circumstances these issues have not been thought out objectively.

    Thank you for this exchange - I'm anxious to hear your POV.

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  6. Bea,
    First, I’d like to thank you for a civil and respectful interchange but want to lay out the fact that you and I will not agree on animal production methods but I do appreciate your open-minded attitude to my thoughts. I hope you can appreciate mine as well.

    On the subject of antibiotic use – if you listen to the interview of the ranch owner (http://www.rodeoattitude.com/facesofag/2011/04/20/special-report-e6-calf-ranch-hart-tx/) you can hear him explain that those calves, due to USDA standards for veal and antibiotic withdrawal safety, cannot be administered antibiotics. It’s not because the owner is cruel, it’s a human safety standard, one that I hope you can appreciate.

    I could reply to the rest of the info in your comments, but as I stated earlier these are differences in our views of animal production. Although I will state that AI’ing is not painful as it is endorsed and practiced by licensed veterinarians all over the United States and helps prevent the spread of venereal diseases between cattle herds.

    As always, thanks for reading and commenting. If you feel so inclined, please share my blog and info with your peers. I would appreciate and welcome feedback.

    Thanks
    Brandi

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  7. Hi Brandi - I too am thankful for civil discourse.

    I must say though that I am as confused now as before regarding medical care to these calves that suffered frostbite. I'm well aware of the USDA's anti-biotic withdrawal requirements... In fact I'm signed up for the notifications of violators. I know you'll agree that there are more than "a few" that exceed these limits. But my real question is this... Am I to understand that treatment was withheld from these calves so that they would enter the food chain in acceptable condition? And if that's the case... Doesn't that compromise their health/wellbeing in the interim? Indeed so much to the extent that these calves at E6 had to be killed anyway. I'm certain though that cost had something to do with this decision. I've seen dairy calves in my neighborhood sell for $20/ea. Seems the medication would have exceeded that many times over...

    My second point is this... Granted you say that veterinarians and experts oversee treatment of animals. But aren't many conditions that food animals are being raised in, that are contention points with many vets as well? Wouldn't you agree that as "employees" of farms they are under certain "obligations" to go along with what is profitable for their boss? If one speaks out and against certain practices - odds are they'll be replaced with another vet that sees things more to the liking of the producer and not necessarily for the "welfare" of the animal.

    Finally, with all the systems in place that instruct food-animal-growers such as "humane care guidelines", the National Dairy Farm Program Management Assurance, On-Farm Euthanasia protocols, and all the other many university and county extension offices that have recommended standards for raising (and killing) animals --- What is the consequence if a farmer fails to follow these "rules"? I don't see that there is any punishment or reprimand when these "rules" aren't followed. It appears that these well thought out "welfare" guidelines, that have no "teeth", and are put there just to placate concerned consumers. I'm sure that it was against "good practice" to allow these calves to get frost bite in the first place... But what was the consequence to the rancher for not adhering to "safety recommendations" owed to these calves?

    It is very easy to site "standards of welfare" - But if these standards could be ignored/violated at every turn, without the industry's disciplinary action (or knowledge), these volumes of "best practices" are all for naught. If there is any wrong-doing it is left for the legal system's due process, and we all know that farmed animals are exempt from any kind of protection in that venue. So what's the solution and remedy to ensure "just" treatment to these animals and honesty to the consumer?

    Thank's for your time in a response.

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  8. Bea,

    I cannot speak for exactly why antibiotics were not being administered (withheld is not necessarily true) – I can only speak for what the owner said on the video which is that he was adhering to USDA standards.

    People in animal production have a conscience just like the rest of the human population and when something is wrong we say “It’s wrong” – especially when dealing with animal health. Any veterinarian that violates that code of ethics or doesn’t obey laws/standards can have their license pulled permanently, thereby reducing the chance they would want to do something wrongful that would endanger their career in the first place.

    You are right about there not being many teeth in many animal welfare guidelines – however, states like Ohio and Indiana have instituted animal care boards that DO have consequences for those who violate the standards.

    As I stated before, I believe that the owner and employees and videographer who engaged in the cruel acts should be punished to the full extent of the law – if that means jail time then so be it.

    Just for your personal knowledge – farmers and ranchers don’t raise livestock to get rich. We do it because we love the land, animals and the lifestyle.
    In 2007, average net farm income (includes sale of ag products, subsidies and farm-related income) was $33,827. I can name 10 careers, immediately, that double that figure in net income every year. As I said, we don’t do it to get rich. Additionally, many farmers have ‘town’ jobs to supplement farm income. My in-laws have a cattle and crop farm in Ohio and they also both have in-town jobs. They’re working twice as hard to produce food for the world.

    Thank you for the interchange – it has helped me realize what areas agriculturalists need to work harder in so that we can clear up all the misconceptions floating around about us.

    Cheers,
    Brandi

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  9. Hello Brandi, I deliberately took some time with this response as I wanted to thoroughly consider your last comments. I want you to know that I'm sincerely listening and intend to approach your views objectively.

    That said-Won't you also agree that in most instances the practicality of administering medicines is determined by monetary gain/loss? Of course this has to be so because these animals are raised for profit. I watched the video too and I'm inclined to believe the worker who said the calves "Weren't worth the medicine", meaning they were past financial value. Do you have any idea what sanctuaries and rescue facilities invest in saving lives?

    I'm not doubting that people in animal production have a conscience. However I do believe that their conscience is not guided by their own questioning inner voice- But rather whatever "laws/standard practice/norms" dictate. I think it's easy to do something thoughtless when everyone else around you is doing it too. Social acceptance skews reality. And I don't know that vets are exempt from this kind of persuasion and influence. Would you at least acknowledge that there are some "standard practices" that many vets don't agree with? Like gestation crates? Tail Docking? Castration & teeth pulling without anesthetics? Aren't there countries that have banned these practices? What makes these vets more sympathetic to animal "welfare" than the ones in the US? Certainly the animals here and there all suffer equally.

    "Ohio and Indiana have instituted animal care boards that DO have consequences for those who violate the standards." I would be very interested in knowing what they are. Can you cite or point me in that direction? (thanks)

    If you want the videographer to be punished- can I assume that in drug stings or identity fraud cases where undercover agents have to participate in order to build a case, that they should be made to atone too? As I'm sure you know all wars have spies- Should these persons also be criminalized for their activities?
    Of course you wouldn't say this.Then why do you for the one who exposed cruelty and ILLEGAL practices on a farm? (continued)

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  10. (continued from previous post)

    I didn't really want to dispute what is or isn't an adequate income for farmers. But according to this release from the USDA Family Farm Income: In 2004, the most recent year for which comprable data exist, the average farm household had an annual net income of $81,480, while the average U.S. household netted $60,528.
    http://tinyurl.com/43gnxuu
    Now granted some of this income might be from second jobs or from the earnings of a spouse... But I don't know many who aren't working a second job, or many households where both people don't work to make ends meet. I'd say $81,000 is a lot of beans.

    Finally, I'm sure you enjoy the lifestyle... It is your "tradition" and it is all that you know... But I wouldn't agree that it's beneficial or wise to accept past occupations that are no longer necessary and that also cause needless harm. Just as there are restaurants and food suppliers that are changing and expanding their goods to include "plant based" menus and options - Isn't it possible to maintain a farming "lifestyle" without the animals? I happen to truly admire farmers - They provide the food that I live on... But none required the intentional breeding of life just to be killed. There is a viewpoint or rather a saying: that there are "harmers" and "farmers"... The latter providing the foods I described that nourish me and a growing many others. Sorry, to me - they are the good guys.

    After all, doesn't it make more sense for farmers who truly are interested in producing "food for the world" to make as much go around to as many as possible? Certainly growing crops and vegetables that can yield 6 times more protein than raising animals for meat can, would be the most efficient course. I think that fattening animals first to filter our nutrition is wasteful. I really dislike competing with farmed animals for my food... And water... And land, etc.

    I understand loving the land... I've lived on acreage and still thoroughly enjoy getting my hands (and spirit) in the soil. I understand you love your heritage and the pride that comes from hard work. But please, when you say you "love" the animals I can't help but wince at the false notion that one can kill those they profess to "love".

    My home has all sorts of refugees - cats, dogs and a flock of rescued "egg" hens. The thought of deliberately harming one hair or feather on their bodies is alien to me - If I did it for money, it would be even more repulsive. It would be a total nightmare and betrayal... You see - I do "love" them.

    Again, thank you for the exchange and allowing me to have my say as well.

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  11. Bea,

    No, I'm sorry but I do not agree with your mindset that antibiotics are administered with profitability in mind. Agriculturalists do not relish the idea of raising or seeing sick animals and antibiotics are expensive but they are given because when animals are sick they deserve to be treated.

    I am offended at your comment that you “believe that their conscience is not guided by their own questioning inner voice- But rather whatever 'laws/standard practice/norms' dictate." I think it's easy to do something thoughtless when everyone else around you is doing it too.” A conscience is just that, a guiding voice todo the right thing. Yes, it is easy to do something thoughtless but as I have said before E6 is not representative of the entire industry. They are an isolated incident that unfortunately garners much more interest than the other 209,999 farms that are doing the right thing in this nation. Additionally, farming and ranching is very hard – that’s why not everyone does it. If it were easy everyone would do it, instead of a mere 2 % of the population.

    This is the link to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board http://ohiolivestockcarestandardsboard.gov/ I hope you will give it an extensive and open-minded review.

    Spies and police officers in drug stings and wars are government officials and agents who are exempt from the laws that deal with their specific operations and assignments. They are not in the same category of MFA, HSUS or PETA undercover videographers who are not government appointed, employed or exempt from laws. Therefore, the videographer should be punished to the same extent of the owner and other employees who engaged in these heinous activities.

    Your income facts state total household net income – as I stated in my previous comment, the figure I provided was the summation of sales of ag products, subsidies and farm-related income, which didn’t include second jobs or off-farm work.

    In terms of feeding the world, cattle utilize land that cannot be used for crop production. In the Flint Hills of Kansas, there are far too many large hills and limestone rocks to use that acreage for crop production. However, it’s very suitable for beef production. Additionally, meat provides far more protein, per ounce, than any non-meat food product. Look at these facts
    • It would take 6x as much peanut butter to get the same amount of protein as you would from one 3 oz piece of beef.
    • Half the daily protein you need in your diet comes from only 3 oz of beef
    • You'd have to eat 8 stalks of celery to get the same amount of iron from 1 - 3 oz portion of brown sugar cured ham.
    • One baked chicken drumstick as 2.5x less sodium than one serving (1.5 cups) of spinach
    • Beef and chicken have almost no carbohydrates. Of the few cuts of pork that do contain carbs, each cut has less than 3 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
    • There are 5 cuts of chicken that have fewer calories from fat than 1 ear of sweet corn.
    • One sweet potato contains more calories than one 3 oz serving of roasted pork tenderloin.
    Calorie comparisons for 25 grams of protein in different foods:
    Peanut Butter - 7 tbsp – 670 calories
    Black Beans 3- ½ cup servings – 374 calories
    Raw Soy Tofu – 1 ¼ cups – 236 calories
    Cubes Lean Beef – 3 ounces – 180 calories

    I’m also offended at your insinuation that I don’t love my animals. I do love them but I realize that farm animals are not pets, they were put here for human consumption and to serve man. Yes, we should treat them humanely and provide them with the utmost care possible but when it comes down to it, they’re on this planet to provide nourishment.

    Thanks
    Brandi

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  12. Hi Brandi - Yes! We agree! When animals are sick "they deserve to be treated". BUT this only is so IF they aren't soon destined for slaughter... Then the sickness (in relation to "marketability") becomes secondary.

    Sorry that you were offended by my truthful assessment of how some vets may not follow their conscience in lieu of maintaining a job. I've seen a bit of how the "real world" operates... And many high minded thoughts give way to the "practicality" of economics.

    Of course I'm not saying that this is unique to "animal production". Nor am I saying that "all" animal producers violate "accepted practices". I'm just being realistic that the very nature of raising of "meat animals" includes many variables that encourage incredible suffering. Of course there's corruption everywhere... But when lives are at stake, it becomes very serious business to monitor, regulate, reform and replace.

    That link you provided of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board has proposed civil penalties of $1 - $5,000 per first "offense" and up to $10,000 for each subsequent "offense". I've researched Ohio Administrative Code 901:12 http://codes.ohio.gov/oac/901%3A12-2-01
    As far as I can see these boards include "experts in animal care, food production, farm management and food safety" - These as you know all deal with "product" not with the interests of the animal's "wellbeing". There are also "notices" of violations... and time given for "correction" of these violations. And that is all assuming that wrong doing is reported... But Brandi - I must ask you - WHO would do this reporting? The employee whose job would be at risk? That's not a probable scenario, now is it?

    Yes, I agree that this videographer was not a government agent... But my contention is that there are whistle blowers in homes for the elderly, mental institutions and day care centers too that witness/document wrong doing... Take the journalists who uncovered Watergate - They weren't government agents either. Would you have these investigators punished too? Or just the ones that expose abuse to animals? And why would that be so?
    (continued below)

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  13. Now about Flint Hills Kansas... From what I'm learning the elk have all but disappeared due to livestock grazing as well as 24.3% habitat loss to other species... This area is "the last vestige" of intact tallgrass prairie... And it only covers an unprotected area of 70,000 sq mi - You certainly can't "feed the world" on Kansas "beef". And too... Don't these cows travel somewhere to be "finished" at one of the many feedlots? How does this transportation factor into the efficiency of it all? And water needs? Doesn't Kansas suffer major droughts causing high livestock mortality rates? Aren't there communities who are up in arms that their water is being diverted for cattle? So perhaps Kansas is not only not suited for crops but isn't suitable for cattle either. (?) I’m sure with all the ingenious minds a more sustainable and land/citizen/animal-friendly resource could be discovered.

    And meat may provides far more protein, per ounce, than any non-meat food product, but we don't need half the "protein" that we are consuming! In fact excess protein may even increase the risks of osteoporosis and kidney disease. Without copying a whole page of alternatives to meat there's a handy chart here:
    http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm#table1
    Or at the USDA site:
    http://www.mypyramid.gov/tips_resources/vegetarian_diets.html

    Believe it... If a plant based diet were that unsound - We'd be hearing a lot more news stories about people dying on a vegan diet than people dying of strokes and heart disease due to high cholesterol- Of which none is found in plant foods. And just as an aside on the health issue: Bill Clinton probably has the best medical care in the world - His doctors are in full support of his plant based diet... And from all appearances, it's doing him wonders as well.

    Finally, you're farmed animals: "I do love them but..." And that "but" is what I based my opinion on. I don't think love has any "if's, and's or but's" - Love is whole and complete without conditions... Or limits - Especially not those that negotiate or plot killing healthy life.

    "...farm animals are not pets, they were put here for human consumption and to serve man." Put here by whom? And what about the "pet animals" in Asia? And Europe eats squirrels and horses... So "whoever" put these animals "here" has certainly confused the issues in the geography of what type of “purpose” animals have - Yes? So perhaps the most consistent truth might be that each being was "put here" for their own purpose and not for the ones we make them have. At least that seems to be the most authentically "humane" idea to embrace.

    No offense meant at any view - But you did request honesty... And this is the only response that would oblige.

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  14. Bea,

    Third party auditors can and do report animal cruelty, negligence and abuse. Check out Global Animal Partnership.

    Thanks
    Brandi

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