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Yes, most in the livestock industry are 'doing it right'

Jenny Schlecht's daughter, Reanna, feeds Barbara Ann. The time and money it takes to care for an animal in need doesn't always make financial sense, but ranchers do it anyway. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)1 / 2
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"It's really, really a small percentage that are doing it right."

I saw that quote while perusing Twitter. The speaker, apparently, was actress Natalie Portman on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, talking about animal agriculture in June.

It's disheartening, of course, for those of us involved in raising livestock to see people believe we aren't "doing it right." It's more disheartening when it seems unlikely that either of the people involved in the conversation has ever spent the night doctoring a sick calf or rushed an old cow to the veterinarian.

To be fair, I know there are people who will never think raising animals for human consumption is "doing it right." That's their opinion, and nothing I say is going to sway that. And that's fine, so long as they realize that I don't have to share their opinion.

But there are others who feel conflicted when they hear things like that. They like their hamburgers, but they don't believe those of us in the cattle industry are taking proper care of our cattle. That makes them feel guilty.

I would encourage any of them to talk to a local rancher. Ask about their operation. Maybe visit one. Here's what you might see:

On our place, we had some older cows who calved late. They went out to pasture soon after they calved. But, in checking them in recent weeks, my husband discovered a couple of cows looking rough. One still was raising a healthy calf. The other must have dried up, leaving a calf that may not have gotten milk in a few days.

The two pairs came home. Now, if we didn't care about our animals, why would he have bothered? The cows, even with proper care, may not live. Having them around the yard means more animals to watch and more costs to treat them. Should they recover sufficiently to be sold, they will have little monetary value.

The healthy calf is doing well, but only will so long as its mother can keep milking. The other calf required intensive care. She was so weak that she couldn't suck a bottle and had to be drenched (which means milk had to be tubed down her throat and directly into her stomach) a couple of times a day for a few days.

Now that she can drink, she has fallen under the care of me and my daughters. Twice a day, we bottle feed her and give her a healthy portion of grain and fresh-picked grass. Neither the milk replacer nor the grain are cheap. It takes us at least 45 minutes, morning and night, to feed our three bottle calves, which does not always fit easily into my work day.

But the calf is looking healthy again and enthusiastically meets us at the fence when we come to feed her. She will be worth something when she grows up, so long as she stays healthy. Whether she'll be worth enough to cover all the extra time and care and feed that went into her this summer remains to be seen.

So, why do we do it? Why do we pour our time and our money into sick animals, when it may not be worth it to the bottom line?

Quite simply, we do it because we, like the majority of livestock producers, are "doing it right." We care about the animals. And we care about them far more than anyone who spends all their time in the city theorizing about the proper care of animals could possibly understand.

Your meat likely comes from a place just like ours. A place where people care about raising animals humanely. A place where people are "doing it right."