Which side of the story

Posted: 9/27/2011

In South Dakota, we're all too familiar with extreme weather conditions.  From blizzards to heat waves and floods to drought, we all take special precautions to protect our families, pets and property against the worst that Mother Nature sends our way.  South Dakota's livestock producers do the same for the animals in their care.  

The brutal heat and drought across a number of midwestern and southern states this summer was difficult for people and animals alike.  Despite efforts by livestock producers to provide relief to animals in their care, livestock died from heat-related stress and issues this summer.  

An article in the Kansas City Star focused on the deaths and a commentary by Greg Henderson, editor of Drovers Magazine provides another perspective.  Overall, the original article was balanced, but the headline and first quote were focused on the negative.  The online article headline read "Experts split whether factory farming led to livestock heat deaths," and the first quote was from Paul Shapiro of HSUS.  

South Dakota's state veterinarian, Dustin Oedekoven, was interviewed for the story and told the reporter how feedlot employees worked to provide cattle some relief in the face of the heat. 

Oedekoven told the reporter that feedlot employees put straw in the pens to try to create some insulation between the hot ground and the cattle. They put up temporary shade. Windbreaks and wind barriers were taken down so that any breeze might get to the cattle. Sprinklers were used and even firetrucks were brought in to wet the cattle down in the pens. "...people were trying anything," Oedekoven said. 

Henderson pointed out that "Several news reports about livestock deaths due to the heat were reported last summer, although none claimed that animal abuse was to blame. Which begs the question; why is this story relevant now, weeks after the scorching weather has abated? The answer, of course, is that a vocal minority believe that raising food animals is abuse, regardless whether the animals suffer in the heat or the cold." 

So, while the story included quotes from both sides of the argument, the sensational headline won out instead of one that focused on the efforts of livestock producers to care for their animals in difficult circumstances.   

And, the reporter also repeatedly referred to livestock operations as "factory farms."  I don't know the specifics of the cases she listed in the article, but the vast majority of American farms and ranches are family owned.  Farm and ranch families strive to provide the best possible care for their livestock, regardless of whether they are raised in modern indoor facilities, in outdoor pens, or in pastures.  Watch a video of Doug VanDuyn, Colton beef producer, talk about his family's "corporate farm" during a Mom's Day Out Tour this summer.


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