Some of farm life’s difficult and unpleasant realities – like death – can be confronting and upsetting to non-rural dwellers, but farmers don’t deserve to be demonised for nurturing livestock which eventually become food.
“You can’t put a happy spin on the fact that animals do die,” says beef producer, Tess Herbert.
“Terrible floods, fires and droughts will happen, too.
“In nature, and farm life, there is no spin.
“People in our jobs accept the cycle of seasons, and life and death for what they are, although it’s not always easy.
“That, also, can be very hard for somebody who has always lived in a city to understand.”
“But we like to focus on providing our animals with a good life on the farm – right to the last couple of seconds.”
We are running a business, but the relationship with our livestock is much more sophisticated than just selling them for money
Mrs Herbert, a Central West NSW sheep and cattle producer and recently retired president of the Australian Lot Feeders Association, would like farmers to be more proactive in promoting the fact their jobs were about looking after animals well, from birth until their inevitable death.
“Yes, we’re running a business, but the relationship with our livestock is much more sophisticated than just selling them for money.
“There’s a huge amount of time and feeling, good husbandry and animal welfare consideration which goes into managing those animals to give them a good life,” she said.
Generations of breeding and managing for traits to best suit the environment and consumer expectations also meant producers developed a close understanding of their herds and flocks which was “more than just business”.
Those sentiments and husbandry priorities should be talked about, she said.
She urged more farmers to open their gates to visitors, or use social media to show the wider world their farm stories.
More could also be done to promote understanding of agriculture via digital reality initiatives.
While some farmers felt increasingly intimidated or wary about vegan vigilante groups attempting to trespass and discredit farming practices, it was important not to be provoked into pulling down the shutters.
Transparency is good farming
“We need to be seen as open and transparent about what we do and discussing why we’re doing it well,” she said.
“I get it that people are becoming more cautious, and many are already really busy, and they certainly don’t want their farms becoming tourist parks.
“But just being aware of the need to talk about the farm story is a good start.”
Mrs Herbert grew up in suburban Canberra, never anticipating she would marry a farmer and eventually become feedlot business boss.
She and husband, Andrew, now have about 12,500 cattle on feed at Eugowra and Wagga Wagga, as well as running 500 breeder cattle and 5000 Merino-cross sheep.
It’s getting easier for people with an agenda, like Chris Delforce and his Aussie Farms website followers, to take advantage of that lack of empathy with farm life
She said because Australia had a fast growing and large urban-based population, many people were naturally less likely to relate to the realities of rural life, or understand the “sense of place” and responsibility which made farmers and rural communities tick.
It also meant agriculture was an increasingly easy target for activist groups who wanted all livestock production closed down.
“I hate to generalise, but it’s getting easier for people with an agenda, like Chris Delforce and his Aussie Farms website followers, to take advantage of that lack of empathy with farm life and promote vigilante behavior against livestock industries,” she said.
The farm sector had to acknowledge a worldwide trend among research institutions and consumers “questioning what we eat and how it is produced”.
That valuable protein source (meat) would be replaced by highly processed foods
But she questioned what the world would be like if humans were convinced to abandon meals currently enriched by “that powerful packet of protein” in a small serving of red meat or other animal products.
“That valuable protein source would be replaced by highly processed foods,” she said.
The rush of activity in developing plant-based meat and milk substitutes appeared in direct conflict with consumers wanting to know more about what they ate, and seeking less processed food.
Addressing a Farm Writers Association of NSW Agribuzz gathering in Sydney, she also acknowledged the role played by people in farm industry support services and supply chains, often working well away from the farm.
“You don’t need to be sitting on a tractor to be involved in agriculture,” Mrs Herbert said.
“What we do on the farm doesn’t happen without a whole lot of people in valued support roles who also relate to the realities of rural life.”
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The story Much more than dollars in a good farm life, and death first appeared on Farm Online.