Last week, I gave an overview of some of the more general misconceptions presented at the FARM Animal Rights National Conference that I attended during my internship here at the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
As I am studying to become a veterinarian, I want to break down some of the over-simplified misconceptions presented at the conference. I hope you’ll see that science and animal husbandry are too complex to describe in the rudimentary—and baseless way—which the animal rights community often does.
Misconception: Calves are ripped from their mothers.
On dairy farms it is often the wiser choice to separate the calf from mom because: 1) The dam (mother cow) could be Johne’s positive, and 2) You have no idea what the dam’s colostrum quality is. So, let’s get scientific. Johne’s disease is a contagious, degenerative bacterial disease that does not present symptoms until later in life. It is contracted from Johne’s-positive manure, mostly as a calf when the immune system is most susceptible. There is no cure, leading to early culling of cows, so to separate the calf early is protecting the herd later. Second, colostrum is the first milk that calves receive that is dense with immunoglobulins (immune-supporting proteins) to build their immune system. There is a threshold for the concentration of immunoglobulins in colostrum where the concentration can be so low it leaves the calf susceptible to illness. The only way to test the quality of colostrum is by collecting it from the dam – a first and second collection – discarding anything less than excellent. Which leads to other misconceptions…
Misconception: Calves are denied their first milk.
What the animal activists fail to acknowledge is an essential practice in the dairy industry: collecting and feeding colostrum. Colostrum quality is measured several ways, one being with a hydrometer to see the density of the colostrum: the denser, the more the hydrometer will float in the milk and therefore the more immunoglobulins present. The best quality colostrum is frozen to be fed to a future calf while the calf of that current dam is fed thawed, high quality colostrum from a previous cow. Formula colostrum is also available for purchase, but that is less recommended. Basically, before jumping to conclusions, ask a farmer or do the research.
Misconception: Sick calves are left to suffer without veterinary care.
At the conference, Taylor Radig, a previous undercover investigator with Compassion Over Killing, was applauded for her story of “jumping the fence” into a sick calf’s hutch because no one was giving it love. Well, Taylor, your ignorance may have cost several calves their lives if you then proceeded to track scours-manure into other hutches. This is a matter of biosecurity, something we have addressed before as a serious danger associated with these undercover investigations.
Scours is an illness in young calves characterized by diarrhea, dehydration, and fever. In most cases, farmers are able to get the calf through this with proper identification protocol and replacing milk feedings with electrolytes. For farmers, it is critical that they have the knowledge to identify and treat an animal, acting promptly. Having the ability to do this means minimizing that animals’ suffering while waiting for a veterinarian.
Misconception: Cats make great vegans.
The term is “obligate carnivore,” and that applies to all cats – felids – both domestic and exotic. I was made aware of this misconception not only by the pictures of emaciated cats on the news, but in the conference session “When is Killing the Lesser Evil?” The dilemma presented was, how owners can feed their animals meat if they themselves don’t agree with it morally? This, my friends, is irrelevant: if you are a responsible pet owner and want your companion to prosper, work with your veterinarian to understand their nutritional requirements. As obligate carnivores, the cat’s metabolic needs are met by the nutrients found in animal-protein, such as the amino acid taurine. And this doesn’t even consider cats’ biochemical physiology, having virtually no means of digesting complex carbohydrates: aka plant starch.
Misconception: Veterinarians today are only motivated by money.
This is news to me because I don’t know many wealthy veterinarians, and yet it was referred to on several occasions. One instance was when LA Councilman Paul Koretz spoke about working to end declawing of domestic and exotic cats in Los Angeles, his efforts being compromised by veterinarians in opposition; he credited this to the fact that “this is where they make a lot of money.” Again, clearly people need to reevaluate their ideas of a veterinarian’s salary. Not only that, it is an issue of medical necessity, not money.
Then, Gene Baur mocked veterinarians when explaining that they only agreed to examine rescued farm animals after being offered some “green stuff” – the audience snickered, the idea being that if you truly loved animals you would help them for free. This is not a new obstacle for veterinarians, who have to be realistic with clients regarding finances, but to have the animal rights activists claiming these medical services should be pro bono is only fueling the misunderstanding. The veterinary community is made up of kind-hearted individuals knee-deep in debt, and whether they are vegan or like chicken is irrelevant.
Misconceptions are a foundation of animal rights
Ultimately, these misconceptions and more are the foundation to the animal rights movement, as exemplified at the FARM Animal Rights National Conference. What I ask is that if you are someone with an undefined opinion of where you stand on the issue, educate yourself. Do not just listen to the first person ready to rant on the subject of animal agriculture. The people in attendance believed that they somehow loved animals more than the people who worked with said animals every day, and that is hard to imagine.
Animal welfare and animal rights are essentially different, the first complementing a utilitarian view that the interests of all living beings should be considered, with the latter providing inalienable rights to animals. Just because I eat meat and love working on a dairy farm does not mean I am going to aim for the next turtle I see in the road, or kick a cat just for the fun of it. On the contrary, I will continue to work to engage others, debunk misconceptions and be the best “agvocate” I can be.
An official report on the conference (with more misconceptions) will be published by the Animal Agriculture Alliance soon! As for me, this blog serves as my farewell, saying a sad to goodbye to DC as I pack up for one more year at the University of Vermont! Thank you all, and as always, have a #dairygood day!
All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.