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I am 7th Generation in the Australian Cattle Industry. I grew up on a cattle station in North Queensland. My husband and I run a Livestock Agency (hence the reference to mobile phones)as well as a small hobby farm with our two young children.

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Friday, 8 June 2012

Our Beef With Untruths

 So I'm sitting here on a cool winter morning, procrastinating on Facebook as usual, when a friend posted this video:


For those of you who don't know (and I didn't know until this morning either) that The Gentle Barn is a sanctuary farm on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. They have over 160 animals on just six acres.  They "rescue" farm animals (claiming most of them are starved, tortured, abandoned or from "backyard butchers").  They then ask for donations to help with the feeding, medical expenses and upkeep of animals.  I must admit they seem to do fantastic work with disadvantaged and special needs children.  I take my hat off to them for doing such outstanding community service for the children AND animals.

But why does this have to come at the expense of accuracy?  Why do they feel the need to blatantly condemn other professions such as farming?  Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

This is what they say on the Website (http://www.gentlebarn.org/index.php) about this cow Karma:  Karma was rescued from a cruelty case where she had no food, water, or shelter, and enormous stress. We were able to save her two sons as well, and she is an excellent mom. Now their every need will be taken care of. 

So a group of rural men and women who live and breathe cattle watched this video expecting to have our hearts broken about this poor tiny baby calf, starving cow and magical reunion.  Instead we sat there in disbelief, indignant that a cause as great as The Gentle Barn could blatantly make up the story for their own purposes.  

We put together a few of these points:

·       The website claims she had no food/water and was under incredible stress where she came from.  She’s looking like she’s in fantastic condition for a cow that hasn’t been fed or watered as well as feeding a large calf.  She looks to us like she’s had ample food.  Also Karma was rescued in November 2008 and Governor Schwarzenegger declared a drought state of emergency in February 2009.  She was only removed from the “cruelty case” the night before.  She’s obviously been well fed in a state that’s been drought declared. 
·       If cows are under considerable stress, they will not continue to produce milk.  Karma had plenty of milk.  If she didn’t she wouldn’t have had leaky udders and would have weaned her calf long before this video was taken.
·       It astounds me that people who take in these animals can’t read the easiest signs about them.  The narrator of the video claims that they had no idea the cow had a calf. To anyone that has half a clue about cattle it would have been obvious that she was lactating.  Even if her udder had recently been sucked out, it would have been obvious by the shape and texture of her teats.
·       Speaking of reading obvious signs, it turns out 8mths after her rescue; the owners of The Gentle Barn went to lock her up one evening to find a hoof protruding from her.  Yes, Karma was calving and they had no idea she was even pregnant, something which should have been very noticeable.  Karma would have had to get in calf before she was “rescued” (cattle have a nine month gestation period), something she wouldn’t have done if starved, dehydrated and stressed.  Karma would have found it quite hard to sustain milk for Mr Rojas (older calf) and carry Surprise (new calf) without extra care (which she wouldn’t have received as they did not know she was pregnant).
·       Our guess is judging by the size of the calf shown that it was being weaned by the previous owner.  Something that is done by all farmers for good animal welfare.  If the calf is not separated from its mother by a certain time the mother will wean the calf naturally by kicking it in the head every time it tries to suck.  I would have thought people at The Gentle Barn were going to have to separate the calf in the not too distant future to stop this happening.  By re-introducing the calf to the mother it’s just drawn out the process. Under the clip, a comment asks why the man didn’t carry the calf.  The Gentle Barn replies that the calf weighs around 300lbs (approx. 126kg) so is too heavy.  A calf that size and in that condition would be most capable to survive without its mother’s milk.  After further reading it turns out that Mr Rojas was never weaned by the Gentle Barn, putting him at risk of injury and putting undue physical strain on Karma.  Also in several blogs written by The Gentle Barn, they say Karma and her “tiny” baby Mr Rojas. The  Mr Rojas in the rescue video is beyond tiny.
·       Karma has just been moved to a strange environment and put in with strange cattle.  She will be bellowing as much for familiarity as for her calf
·       The video claims that Karma tries to break down the pasture fence.  She’s not in a pasture; she’s in a pen with hard dirt ground and artificial shelter.  From what we can see Karma and the other cow don’t even have a bale of hay to graze on as is a cow’s natural behaviour.  Looking at other animals, they are in the same sort of environment.  160+ animals on 6acres is quite intensive.  I’m wondering if they have any vet checks or at least someone well practiced in dealing with animal health on board?  Probably not if they didn’t realise Karma was in calf.  If that was a working farm and had animals at that density there would no doubt be an uproar.
·       The calf is obviously not halter broken.  You can’t just put a calf on a lead and expect it to follow.  You’re better off pushing it than pulling it.  Another thing that I’m astounded by these people not doing.  Pulling on that calf would have been unbelievably stressful for it.  I know their hearts are in the right place, but honestly? Calves are no different to foals or puppies when being taught to lead.
·       The calf is in great condition.  He has ample fat around his brisket or dewlap (the fold of skin under its neck.  If it was starving, it would not be so full looking).  It’s not falling over because he’s weak.  He’s throwing himself down just like a reluctant toddler, simply because he’s sick of being dragged around.  Being away from his mother for one day would not have caused such weakness. Also if cattle collapse from weakness, their front legs buckle and they go nose first.  Not flip themselves on their sides like in the video.
·       If he was that weak, he would have been easy enough to carry with two people, he would not have put up much of a fight.
·       Why not back the trailer into the yards, so they could let the calf walk out by itself and not go through the stress of being dragged around?
·       This wasn’t said on the video but I’m sure a lot of people look at the end bit and say “oh look, the poor little baby is crying because of what’s happened”.  Newsflash: cattle don’t cry with emotion.  They can’t wipe their eyes out with their hooves like we can with our fingers.  So their eye watering mechanism is really touchy.  Poor calf probably had heaps of dust it his eyes from throwing itself down in the dirt so his eyes were watering to clean out.
·       Another comment under the clip on YouTube asks about dairy to which The Gentle Barn answers “have you tried soy”.  No mention of the huge environmental and health problems with soy. But according to any Animal Rights groups, dairy calves are taken from their mothers from birth and slaughtered very young.  To us, Karma doesn’t even look like a dairy cow.

You’re probably wondering what a beef farmer from North Queensland is doing writing about a sanctuary in California.  It’s because this type of farming misinformation is so common these days that someone has to stand up and say “hey, that’s not right”.  Before the world thinks that whatever is written by animal rights groups is gospel.

As I said before, The Gentle Barn does some great work, but why portray something so inaccurately? Is it because they simply don’t know any better (one would hope not though, if they have so many animals in their care surely the above is obvious) or is something far more sinister….. Like never let the truth get in the way of story which will raise you money.

About an hour after I wrote this, some further information about the Gentle Barn came to my attention.  Seems my gut instincts may be right.  This is an extract from one of many comments (mostly negative) about the running of The Gentle Barn (you can view them all here) : Further, while many of the animals came from neglected and abused backgrounds, many others have not. However, they use all of the animals in their campaigns to gain sympathy and more donation dollars with "rescue" or "neglect" stories that are simply untrue; deceiving the public further.

I also found a photo of Karma and Mr Rojas after rescue:  

To my mind this is a different Karma to the one in the video, she seems in worse condition in this photo than what she is in the video.  She was rescued in November 2008 the video not uploaded until April the next year.  So did they take this photo when they first rescued her and take the video later, causing stress on mother and calf for their own purposes?  Or did they take the video straight away and this photo later showing Karma in worse condition for being at the Gentle Barn?

I find it very disappointing that organisations that have the capacity to do so much good find the need to “expand on the truth” to simply get the public’s heartstrings going and wallets open.

Our endeavour is one of awareness, while many organisations are certainly genuine and worthy of our support, services and our money, there are some, even in Australia, that initially portray themselves to have sound moral ethics but upon closer inspection choose to manipulate the truth to serve their own purpose and often hidden agenda