Monday, June 28, 2010

A Vegan at a Feedlot: A Tale of Conflicting Stories.

Imagine my surprise today when many of the agricultural blogs that I frequent were carrying the headline "Vegan Visits a Feedlot".  I thought to myself "man, this might be interesting".  Also, I was happy to see that the feedlot was in the Eastern Colorado region within an hour of our ranching operation.  I must say, the article was great!  It was fair, honest and open. It confirmed what people that operate in animal agriculture already knew: farmers care for their livestock and do a good job striving for animal welfare in each aspect of their operation. Please read the article here.

However, I was utterly disappointed upon returning to the article to see his list of responses to correspondence that the author had received. Please read the responses here.

In a list of responses to both the meat industry and vegans alike, he begins to revert back to his righteous vegan outlook and takes the opportunity to apologize to his fellow vegan constituency for an honest accounting of a real feed lot. Why apologize for honesty?  In one response directed towards his vegan readers and followers, he even suggests that "It’s thanks to animal advocates and vegans that any type of progression has been made in the animal welfare movement".  This is purely ridiculous to me.  As a cattle owner and producer on a limited budget, I have to carefully leverage my earnings in the urban market to support the thousands of dollars we spend our our small herd for animal nutrition supplements, animal health items and vet bills so that our animals are cared for to the utmost of our abilities and budget. Each management decision that we make is made to advance the health of our cattle so they drive a premium when they are sold. So,  I take serious offense to the insinuation that the only people trying to make a difference in animals lives are vegans and animal rights proponents.  How many times and how loud does American Agriculture have to yell "WE REALLY DO CARE FOR OUR ANIMALS!!!!" before anyone with an anti-animal ANYTHING outlook will listen.

The author even suggests to the meat industry that "I don’t want to be used as a bargaining tool by pro-meat/pro-feedlot organizations".  Is this to say that animal agriculture as an industry cannot celebrate and continue to tell our positive story based on a favorable impression given by an industry opponent?  This presents quite a conundrum in my mind.  From a vegan standpoint, we can't raise animals for human consumption and then even when we are told we are doing a good job, we're not supposed to tell anyone?

In the end, I want to know if the author is afraid of losing readership because of honesty.  He gave an open accounting of a real family operation?  Yes, I said it...a family operation.  In the article, he questions the idea that since the feedlot has 8-13 workers, are they really a family operation? Take a  look at a different scenario.  If I own a restaurant that was started by my family but need employees to make the business viable, am I now a Factory Restaurant?  I didn't think so. 

So, why are American livestock farmers demonized by this demographic of people? Why do they relish their progressive open-mindedness of animal liberation and freedom for animals while in turn absolutely advocating the limitation of freedoms for others to pursue their life in the manner they wish?   In essence, I and most of the livestock community are not telling anyone how to live their lives but are routinely told how to live ours.  The argument is flawed, unfair and highly hypocritical.

I want to thank the author for having an open mind and an honest pen.  However, I am disappointed to have read his responses to pressure from his own constituency. Honesty needs no apology.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Power of Words

By now, if you're up on current events in agriculture or even animal rights, you already know about the massive uproar that Yellow Tail Wines has created with its decision to donate $100,000 to the Humane $ociety of the United $tates.  Over the course of the last week and continuing on into this week, the front lines of the battle have been waged over the internet on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.  Scanning the social media beat on Thursday, I caught wind of the brewing storm YellowTail had created and I decided to weigh in. I promptly asked "I wonder if YellowTail realizes that out of $100,000, only $4,000 will actually help animals".  Who knew that a couple lines on twitter could stumble me on to a new project?

If you're not in the loop about the recent YellowTail news, here are some helpful links for you to catch up on all of the hoopla concerning this issue. [Tails] for Tails, Google News Results. Possibly you're an urban resident like myself and your daily routine operates well outside the battle lines between livestock agriculture and animal rights groups. In fact, you may ask yourself what the big deal is, especially after taking in all the cute and cuddly animals adorning the front page of the H$U$ website, all their cute and cuddly celebrity spokespeople or their widely publicized political campaigns.  Well, the problem is that they simply don't do much to help animals, they continually push their extreme vegetarian views on the American public and basically want to see animal agriculture cease to exist.  The bottom line is that they want you out of business if you're a livestock producer. Furthermore,  they tout their great efforts to stop suffering of animals, yet only contribute a very small portion of their multi-million dollar budget to actually funding shelters or helping in any way.  You can read here to find out more of their deceptive front as an animal welfare organization.

As fate would have it, another fellow agricultural "tweep", Jenny Gambill, caught my comment and called me out on the floor.  Immediately, we started generating ideas about how a simple grass roots idea could make an "equal" contribution to help animals in a meaningful way.  So,  here's our pitch: we simply want you to join our Facebook group called "Going Local" and help us raise an initial $4,000 (hopefully more!) to help local animal charities with a direct donation to your favorite one.  The best part is, we don't want to complicate the issue by processing donations or making some extra bureaucracy, we simply want to make a totally transparent effort to help. To do so, we'd like you to pledge a dollar amount on the Facebook page and provide an accompanying validation picture of you completing an online donation, personally delivering or mailing a check to your animal charity of choice.

By raising $4,000, we can make a simple statement to YellowTail and H$U$ that a couple of everyday people can create the same or even greater direct impact in the lives of local animals without the need of a corporate marketing and publicity stunt like [Tails] for Tails.

Now, how 'bout a little inspiration to get 'er kicked off...

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Power of the Family Farm on an Impressionable Youngster.

Below is a guest post for the Colorado Farm Bureau Blog that can be found here

Howdy there.  I was asked to put up a guest post here on the Colorado Farm Bureau blog and I'd like to introduce myself as Caleb Schultz - the suburbanite city boy extrodinaire who wants to be a rancher.  Yep, you heard me right, a suburban city boy who rather calve out a 2 year old heifer at 2 am than sit at my desk all day watching the time pass on a computer screen.  We'll get back to that later though.

In my post today, I'd like to comment on what a profound impact agriculture and its stories have had on my outlook as an impressionable young man.  I'd also like to paint a picture of why what you and your family do in agriculture is such a worthwhile.  I grew up in Loveland, CO where I passed the days as most kids did, sheltered from the life of agriculture, even while my yard backed on to a wheat field. Then I went to Ft. Collins to attend CSU and boy did my outlook change...for good.

Imagine freshman year rooming with my close friend, whom I'd known since kindergarten, when out of nowhere some small town farm kid appeared in the door to say hello and introduce himself.  My roomate nor I had ever known someone with this background and it seemed as though we hit it off from the get-go, two kids with one common goal: enjoying college life.  Needless to say, our friendship grew steadily and we became very close friends.  Then came Thanksgiving break freshman year, a couple days down on the farm that would change my life path forever.

In retrospect, this one trip changed my outlook forever and opened me to a view of true country and agricultural life that I had never experienced, only driven past on my way to Lincoln, NE.  There we were, surrounded by nothing.  The emptiness, winter wheat and CRP forming the perfect backdrop for getting to know a farm family whose generosity poured out with an unassuming ease. As the excursion began to unfold, so did their family's easily apparent bond and their deep history in the area.  This first introduction to the farm left me smitten for the country, open space and agriculture. After returning to Fort Collins and Loveland, I knew I was hooked.

Fast forward one more year to find me having gained sophomore status in Landscape Architecture at Colorado State. It just so happened that the young lady sitting right across the isle from me in our design studio classes was a rancher's daughter.  She was pretty and reserved, but once she got around to spilling the beans about her upbringing, she was amazed at my interest in what her family did in agriculture.  After becoming close friends, the chemistry began to work, and over 6 years later, we are now engaged to be married.  These past six years have been a whirlwind of exposure and education about farming, cattle and life in general.  Here again, I found the stoic timelessness of a farm family and their friendly values. Unfortunately, I didn't hear the call quite soon enough before graduation and I went out into the world to tackle corporate America. In truth, now comes the hard part of finding the opportunity to move us home and get involved in agriculture, cattle and the family that we long to be involved with. 

So, why does this matter to you and your family in Colorado Agriculture?  Well, quite frankly, my story is evidence that your unique history and agricultural journey has tremendous weight to an urban youngster such as myself.  Your character, values and family strength are a precedent that cannot be ignored.  I have always considered myself a pretty "normal All-American kid" with a strong family background and good leadership in my life.  However, the profound effect that the agricultural ethos has had on me is remarkable.  It is possibly your greatest commodity, your best genetics at the social sale barn. You and your family have generations of substance that people want to know about. Your story needs to be told because it absolutely matters.

As luck would have it, it just so happens that your chance to tell your story is bright on the horizon. Coming up on March 20, 2010 is National Agriculture Day, a spotlight for you and your family's legacy to shine.  If you need some ideas of how you can get involved visit here, there or somewhere that will grow some thoughtful ideas about sharing your unique heritage.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

So What's Going On

It's been some time since I last had the chance to sit down and write something meaningful here on America's Great Divide.  I apologize if some of you out there had given up on me.  Well, not to worry, I'm alive and well and so are some fresh observations from the other side, that is the rural 50% of the nation.

My fiance and I recently took a nice extended hiatus from urban life to return home for the holidays.  We were gone for a total of 11 days, and the break could not have been more welcome. The two of us had a wonderful time back among family and friends and split the time between our respective home towns.

Observing the differences between our two locales for the trip was remarkable.  Although I have experienced this difference for quite some time now, continually analyzing the subtleties of urban vs. rural life has given me a fresh perspective.  First of all, it should be understood that not all rural residents raise livestock as my future in-laws do.  But, on the whole, rural residents are much more closely tied to the land and earth's abundant resources, therefore finding themselves sympathetic with all of the work and effort associated with caring for animals. 

So what's the difference?  Well...let's start at the ranch.

Upon a Christmas eve arrival near lunchtime, we found ourselves smack in the middle of chores for the day.  The family was just getting in to grab a bite and then head back out to the blowing cold to finish haying the various groups and pastures of cattle spread over a good 8 miles.  The afternoon unfolded with some quick home cookin', a thermos full of hot coffee and slipping into the coveralls!  Within an hour, I found myself smack dab in the middle of a corn circle flaking hay to a hungry bunch of cows and calves in 15 degree weather with a 40 mile an hour wind at my back.  Whew, that's a wake up call after sitting in the car and a hotel room for the previous 20 hours of my life.

Yeah, but what about Christmas?  Truly, the site was beautiful; snow falling and the wind howling outside.  A warm cup of coffee, the news on with scrambled eggs, sausage and waffles on the griddle. It's the stuff you see on a CMT Country Christmas special.  For most people I know, including my family, following a scrumptious breakfast such as the one in which I had just indulged, the day would continue to unfold with a beautiful leisurely pace including Christmas music, unwrapping presents and possibly watching the Macy's parade.  Well, out in ranch country the warm fuzzies stop shortly after the last swig of coffee disappears.  Chores still need done, and the cattle still need fed and it turns out that a winter wonderland is dang cold when you actually have to function and tend to living creatures, not just look at how cute and cuddly they are! Christmas had just about came and went before we found the time to gather in the family room to exchange gifts and enjoy the entire family's company.

The following days unfolded similarly for the rest of the weekend until it was time to hit the road. With that, we were off to fight the masses of the Colorado Front Range region to visit my family and take part in our belated Christmas celebration.

Arrival at my home could not contrast more.  While both places offer warm hugs and a truly special family atmosphere, the similarities end right about there.  In the city, my greatest responsibilities included grabbing my dad a beer and teaching him how to play the new Wii that he had given to my mother on Christmas. Mornings found more scrumptious home cookin', but without the urgency of livestock to be cared for.  After all, why hurry?  Following breakfast there was only TV to watch and planning out the day's shopping trips and errands.  At the ranch, there was no need to run into town for anything over the entirety of our stay. However, I find it interesting that the mere proximity to all the urban amenities caused us to seek them out while battling the big crowds of people that had the same idea.

Days and nights passed without event while we gathered in each others company to watch a movie, join in on some Wii bowling and play a couple games of pool.  My brother, his wife and my 3 year old neice also made the short trip home a couple of times to join in the festivities.  All-in-all, a wonderful break from the pressures of even bigger city life in Dallas.  Following our short stay in town, we were back out to the ranch to face the cold and a vigorous bunch of 190 calves that needed preconditioning before they were weaned and sold.

So, what's the lesson?  I'm not sure there is some deep social commentary attached to this post.  Only a couple of heartfelt observations about the rural life and why it is important.  While residing in the urban construct, it is easy to take in the relaxation and bounty of the past year during the holidays.  During that time, we gather to enjoy the company we have missed out on over the year and partake in the spoils of our professions and the long hours spent waging war with computers and clients and the like.  We marvel at the wonderful food and gifts that are predicated upon by our urban careers.  However, unless you are presented with the opprotunity to see the other side of the coin, it is hard to even imagine the hard work and toil that is taking place just outside the city limits out in the rural expanses of our nation, even while most people open their gifts on Christmas morning.  It is truly a special gift that is given by our nations livestock producers and rural residents that enable our urban way of life 24/7.  That's the observation and opportunity that I wish everyone had the chance to enjoy.

Here's what we got up to over the holidays at the ranch in Kirk, CO.  Sorry if some of the images are a little difficult to see, they were taken on my phone while I was working!!!  Enjoy.