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Sale Barns Are A Place Of Industry Vulnerability

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Exploring areas of vulnerability in the beef industry, public access in livestock auction markets could lead to negative media attention.

It’s every livestock producer’s worst nightmare -- a hidden video camera revealing a bad day. Even if it’s not animal abuse as producers define it, the right lighting and angle of the camera catching that moment when frustrations turn to impatience can suddenly make your employee look like the Grim Reaper. The result of the video clip is millions of dollars lost in the industry and a similar amount flowing to the coffers of animal rights organizations.

Nevil Speer, professor of animal science at Western Kentucky University (WKU), tells BEEF Daily that beef producers need to be aware of their vulnerability in certain aspects of beef production.

“Social issues like sustainability, antibiotics, animal welfare and the environment – these issues continue to ratchet up and up, and if anything, the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is kind of emboldened by these issues,” he says.

While HSUS has focused largely on the poultry, pork and veal industries, Speer says it’s only a matter of time before cattle ranchers become the target. “We probably need to be careful because our turn is coming,” he warns.

One of the areas in which the industry is most vulnerable is the sale barn, which is completely accessible to the public and often employs workers who might not be as well trained and supervised in proper animal handling techniques as we’d like.

Speer says, “We need to be better at self-regulating and do things better in the industry. I don’t want to see a 700-lb. bull getting castrated on a YouTube video. We need to do a better job of creating standards, providing training, continuing education and assessment. We must close the loop. This requires cost and leadership.”

Speer says the industry gets entrenched in saying everything it does is great. “My personal opinion is we can differentiate between standard industry practices and animal abuse. I think consumers would give us a pass on castration and dehorning. But when we get into abuse at a sale barn, then all of a sudden everything we do becomes vulnerable to discussion on those practices,” he says.

Perhaps,the sale barn is a good place to concentrate on in the beef industry. While certainly most employees are there because they love working with cattle, I think too often there are folks who don’t have much interest or stock in the beef industry. We need to ensure these individuals are well trained on the best animal handling practices, and the use of low-stress methods.

Because so many cattle are marketed through this traditional venue, this should be a top priority. In fact, I think every sale barn employee should be Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified.

Auction yards are a critical juncture in the beef production chain, and they realize the importance of marketing livestock and presenting a good impression for livestock production. In fact, the 2012-14 president of the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) is Tim Stark, a DVM and auction market owner from Cherokee, OK. Coming at his new volunteer duties with a unique animal health perspective, Starks says he wants LMA to be the "gold standard" in animal handling and care. That's good news to everyone within and outside the industry. You can read about Starks here.

What are your thoughts on the scenarios and issues in which the beef industry is most vulnerable to misrepresentation or criticism by activists? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 9

Mark Mulhall (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2012

Oh boy, we are at it again, Amanda. HSUS!

The 9/11 Commission reviewed tapes to attempt to establish who the hijackers were who took over commercial airliners over American skies. Spy satellites and other peek-a-boo technology is used to protect citizens from robbers, murderers, rapists etc. Home security companies built businesses with electronic gear used to keep folks safe. "And there you go, again."

Does one think drones and the like are free of cameras used to record data? If a person or company is doing nothing improper, what's the big deal?

Want Big Gu'ment out of my life? What about Google or Direct TV? Google started my computer this morning to check on software upgrades they think need added. Direct TV knows what room and what wall houses my TV. They even ask, "What happened to the TV in the main bedroom?"

How about the livestock guy or large animal hospital employing cameras to watch sick animals 24/7? Are you so naive as to think Penn U. didn't have cameras on race horse champion, Barbaro, after his horrific and life ending accident?

Is a sale barn responsible if a guy gets drunk, falls down and gets hurt and the barn may possibly be sued by the drunk? What if the tape acquits the sale barn owner? Should he/she not be able to be protected from would be cons?

C'mon 'manda! It's the 21st century. Why be fearful of strutting yourself on the screen?

on Jul 11, 2012

Dear Mark,
I'm glad you are willing to live your life on a reality tv show. I certainly am not. Happily going through life watching your personal freedoms erode by big government programs was not the way the founders of our country intended.

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories."

"When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty."

- Thomas Jefferson

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. "

- Benjamin Franklin

Mark Mulhall (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2012

I appreciate and have the utmost respect for what you say. I too wish things were different. However, studies show people would rather be safe than sorry. It's known that TSAs and the airplane boarding system, brought to us by Osama bin Laden, are a pain in the neck at best. However, most folks tolerate the harassment in order to be safe.

I too am a freedom and liberty guy. We are not at opposite ends of the debate. The U.S. Government did not take away anybody's freedom to enjoy a hassle free boarding of commercial airplanes. bin Laden took our freedom, helped by our government, who did not pay attention as is explained in Chapters, "The Attack Looms" and "The System was Blinking Red," The 9/11 Commission Report.

I'm happy I'm not the guy who had to present Mr. Franklin's quote to the Jersey Girls or other families of deceased who were unprotected and not warned about that awful day.

Thank you for your comments.

Mark (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2012

Amanda, the salebarn picture looks like our Norfolk barn, is it?

Tim Starks (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2012

The 800 local livestock auction markets and dealer businesses that are members of Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) recognized several years ago that the auctions are vulnerable to the actions of animal rights activists and misinformation and as the owner of Cherokee Sales Company in Cherokee, Oklahoma and President of Livestock Marketing Association there are a lot of exciting and proactive things happening in the auctions that I would like to share.

In 2008 the men and women who operate the local LMA member auctions in communities across the country came together to create a set of guidelines for handling livestock in an auction market setting. At that time there were several tools that focused on low stress animal handling in a farm, ranch or feedlot setting but none focused on the unique challenges that livestock auction markets face. The Livestock Marketing Association Guide to Animal Handling in Livestock Marketing Businesses utilizes the low stress animal handling and movement theories as promoted in Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), Stockmanship and Stewardship and other programs but tailors the message to auction employees.

In 2009 the same proactive members of LMA chose to require that all members of the association undergo an onsite evaluation of their employee's handling practices, followed up by employee training and education in the proper way to handle and care for animals. The LMA member auction markets wanted to know what they could be doing better and opened the door for input and more training.

Right now, in an unprecedented move, the members of LMA are being asked to approve a ballot initiative from the Association that would require all members to adhere to LMA's Animal Handling Guidelines or face expulsion from the Association. My fellow members of LMA are making the statement that they are committed to doing the right thing when it comes to handling the livestock which their customers entrust to their care and that they will not stand for someone failing to abide by those same standards.

Yes, the auctions are public businesses with the unique vulnerabilities that go with being easily accessible. But the local markets that are members of Livestock Marketing Association understand and embrace their responsibility to be transparent while providing quality care and handling. Our members want the world to see the tremendous service they offer to the industry and especially the thousands of farm families that depend on them. We are going to do the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do for our auction customers, consumers and most certainly, the animals entrusted to our care.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 16, 2012

THIS IS WONDERFUL!!!! i work in animal welfare, grew up with ranchers and farmers and have eaten beef and deer and rabbit all of my life. i do not believe livestock abuse is industry wide, but it does exist and shooting the messengers - animal welfare organizations - doesn't resolve the issue. instituting procedures within the industry resolves the issues. the businesses that abuse livestock need to be weeded out. it's not just animal welfare, it's human health. i'll take my steak rare, please, i just don't see the need to torture the animal before it's slaughtered. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

Anna Aja (not verified)
on Jul 12, 2012

Great piece Amanda! I think we need to continue to be on the offense and not allow for extremists to find any areas of concern that can be misconstrued to the general public!

Mark Mulhall (not verified)
on Jul 12, 2012

Wow, Mr.Starks, thank you for the wonderful news you share regarding how your group is handling this issue. You are to be commended for your approach to handling an unwanted problem.
Congratulations.

Derrellt Auxanos (not verified)
on Aug 9, 2012

Now I was so tired, and now this time I have got some relax by viewing this comical YouTube video, thanks, keep it up.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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