I firmly believe all farms should have an open door policy. Food production should not be a big secret. If you grow or raise something people will eventually eat, those people should be able to see exactly how you do it. Farms should not have visitors’ days or office hours.(That being said, a farm doesn’t have to be “open for business” all of the time. Wyebrook is always open to the public, but people can only purchase things Friday, Saturday & Sunday. It would be completely unreasonable to expect a farmer to be available to potential customers round the clock.)
While an open door policy is good, it isn’t easy. It can at times be problematic. I’ll use today as an example.
We have a sick calf, number 67. She isn’t doing well. She’s lost a lot of weight in the past week and half and is pretty much skin and bones. She looks like one of those abused animals you see on the SPCA commercials. That’s why I haven’t put up any pictures of her thus far.
Right now we have her in a pen in the barn. The barn is mere yards from the parking lot and market. People are always encouraged to walk around the farm and this includes the barn. All it would take would be for someone to walk up to the barn, take some photos of her and share them on the internet and we could be dealing with animal welfare services. Once we’d explained the situation all would be fine, but it certainly could happen and would result in a lot of bureaucratic hassle for us.
Today I had to treat her. This involves giving her a vitamin and a bottle of electrolytes and water. Obviously she needs these things as she won’t eat or drink on her own. I gave them to her to help make her well. Still, she is a cow. She cannot be reasoned with. I would love to explain things to her, but that’s not how it works. It would be infinitely easier if I could just say “Hi, number 67. I know you aren’t feeling well, but I have this pill I need you to take. It will help you feel better. And if you could drink this bottle, that would be great, too.”
People ask why not grind it up in her food or put it in her water trough. If she were eating and drinking on her own, we wouldn’t have to give her vitamins and fluids at all. Force feeding them to her is the only option.
The first step is to run her into the chute system to get her into the headlock. The headlock doesn’t hurt the cows. It doesn’t even put pressure on their neck. It simply closes around the narrowest part of their neck so they can’t pull their head away from you.
Then I hold her head up while forcing a “pill gun” down her throat. It’s not really a gun. It looks like this:The pill goes in that wider section at the very end. Once it is far enough in, you use the end piece to push the pill out of the end piece and down the throat. It allows you to get the pill far enough down so the cow can’t spit it back out.
Once that is done, we wash it down with a bottle of electrolytes. This is the bottle we use:
It’s not fun for anyone, us or her. It’s very uncomfortable and she naturally tries to resist. Wouldn’t you? She tries to get away, but, of course, her head is stuck so she can’t. It causes quite a commotion. She stomps and snorts and jerks her head away and who can blame her?
It would be easy for an onlooker without farm knowledge to misconstrue the situation. I’m sure I would have been mortified had I witnessed something like it a year ago when I had no idea what was happening. But what we do we do because we care about her and we want to keep her alive.
If you visit a farm and see something that makes you squirm, ask someone about it. If the farm welcomes visitors, it’s because they are proud of what they are doing and want people to be more informed about agriculture. Don’t assume the worst. Remember that healthy animals are how we make our living. It is in our best interest to treat them well.