Proposition 2, the Standards for Confining Farm Animals initiative statute, is a California ballot proposition that passed in that state's general election on Nov. 4. Passed by a 2-to-1 margin, the proposition will add a chapter to Division 20 of the California Health and Safety Code to prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that doesn't allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.

The measure deals with three types of confinement: veal crates, battery cages, and sow gestation crates; it's due to become operative Jan. 1, 2015. Farming operations would have until that date to implement the new space requirements for their animals, and the measure would prevent animals in California from being confined in these ways in the future.

Testimony last spring on behalf of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) with regard to the welfare of animals in agriculture was submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Ag Committee by NCBA member Paxton Ramsey, Devers, TX. Groups like NCBA, specifically through Beef Quality Assurance training and certification, are trying to stay ahead of Proposition 2-type initiatives.

Some of Ramsey's testimony:

“Taking good care of our livestock is not just about doing the right thing; it also makes good business sense. It is well recognized by our entire industry that it's in everyone's best interest — from producer to packer — to handle animals humanely.

“An animal that was raised without proper management practices will not produce high-quality meat. It is therefore inexplicable for any producer working day in and out to raise a quality animal not to practice good animal care.”

Another industry leader, Temple Grandin, one of the world's most influential advocates of humane livestock treatment, has dedicated her life developing stress-free facility designs and standards of humane management. Grandin stresses the benefits of keeping animals calm through every phase of their lives — benefits that include safer working conditions, higher yields of marketable meat, better-quality meat, and more humane conditions for the animals.

Grandin's book, “Humane Livestock Handling,” reviews the natural behavior and temperament of cattle. Working with the animals' natural instincts, Grandin details low-stress methods for moving cattle under varying conditions. She says slow, controlled movement reduces stress and fear, resulting in calmer, healthier cattle. In addition, they eat better, are less likely to become sick, and do not run into fences and gates, injuring themselves and bruising the meat. Calm cattle are also far less likely to injure the humans working with them.

The book is packed with construction plans, diagrams and detailed designs for putting Grandin's knowledge into practice. It features plans for everything from gate latches to chutes, corrals and sorting pens for full-scale facilities; there are designs that can be used in both large and small operations.

Talking electric prods

Proposition 2 proponents have electric prods on their radar screens. In short, misuse and overuse of these tools should not be tolerated — period — by anyone handling livestock.

During a 1998 study at several large harvest plants, Grandin was able to reduce the use of electric prodding of beef cattle to 17% from 83%. This was accomplished by taking advantage of cattle's flight zone and natural movement patterns.

The example can be transferred to our farms and ranches. The most common error people make when moving cattle, often leading to misuse of electric prods, is attempting to put too many animals into the crowd pen.

Grandin says to fill the crowd pen only half full and to avoid pushing the crowd gate tightly against the cattle. If animals don't move readily into a single file chute from a crowd pen, discover the reason before applying the prod.

Bud Williams is a well-known cattle-handling expert from Alberta, Canada, who for many years has practiced and taught low-stress methods for moving cattle. He teaches a stockmanship school that stresses the need to change our basic attitude toward livestock. He believes that, by trying to control animals in “the old way,” we give up our chance to achieve the control we desire.

Williams advocates the proper positioning of the stockman to apply enough pressure on the animals to move them in any direction they are physically able to go. Using fear and force to move cattle is very stressful for them. He takes the animal's natural behavior into consideration and asks his students to change their behavior instead.

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