One of my favorite classic country western songs is by Aaron Tippin. It is called “You’ve Got To Stand For Something”, and the refrain goes something like this:
You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. You’ve got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string. Never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name. You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything…
I have lost track of the number of times that I have burst out into enthusiastic song with this refrain when my girls ask me why a decision that I have made is important. Perhaps the most entertaining part is the classic “eye roll” that I get from my favorite 12 year old following my serenade—although truthfully the best part is that she knows the refrain by heart and is learning to live it in her own life.
When I started raising cattle 15 years ago, I brought some ideas regarding animal welfare with me that were deeply entrenched in my heart. As much as I believe that it is morally acceptable to raise animals for the production of food, I also believe that offering good care to those animals during their lifetime is my moral duty. I rely on professional scientists (like my veterinarian) to provide the basis for my animal care decisions, but I also lead with my heart.
There are times when my standards for care are unique amongst my peers. I am OK with that because I know that I must always stay true to my beliefs. I know that while physical fitness is imperative for good health and welfare, understanding the mental and emotional needs of my animals is equally important. I believe that limiting the stress that my animals experience is intrinsically tied to the physiological balance and health of them.
To do a good job caring for cattle, I must understand their needs and be able to offer appropriate care on their level. Healthy and content cattle are innately curious in addition to being more efficient convertors of natural resources (feed) as they make beef.
The science and the numbers support what my heart tells me about good animal care. Recently, I shipped a group of steers to harvest. I weaned these animals at the feed yard and cared for them through the winter and into the spring. The animals gained 4.33 pounds of weight per day at the feed yard, and required 5.16 pounds of feed for each pound of animal gain. This is outstanding performance and is the direct result of high quality care. The animals also performed incredibly well at the packing plant and made high quality, well-marbled and tender beef.
As I watched these animals load up onto the truck destined for harvest, I knew in my heart that by standing firm in my beliefs that I had enabled them to be both comfortable during their stay at the feed yard and also successful in their quest to make great tasting beef…