Yesterday I had the chance to speak with some students at Salem High School and their teacher, Amy Maxwell. Our conversation started with the ideas of place and identity and wound its way to misconceptions about agriculture and the problems that arise. I walked away amazed once again by the wealth of information the average farm kid has.
We discussed the silly questions they get when at the county fair with their animals or when visitors come to the farm. For instance, the man who refused to believe that a Jersey cow milks plain and not chocolate milk. These sorts of instances make the kids giggle and roll their eyes, but it proves the point that most people – even those who live in a rural community – don’t have a knowledge base when it comes to farming.
I’m not an ag teacher by any stretch, but I can answer some of the basic things that arise and I plan on doing so more and more here. During the talk yesterday, I addressed the Nightline report with the kids. None had seen it and only a few had heard something about it. Over the course of the report they showed a heifer being de-horned. It looked painful. It was painful. The reporter asked the farmer in question about condoning and practicing such cruel treatment of his animals. His response, which I alluded to in an earlier post, was “I don’t see what you see”.
The kids knew what de-horning was and why it’s done. Not one questioned the practice and all of them thought it the right thing to do. I asked them to imagine how outsiders would view the video; people with no experience on or near a farm. What would someone like that see and how do you explain it to them? A great discussion followed.
De-horning is a standard practice on dairy farms. The horn grows like your nails and can get quite large if left to grow. Farmers remove a cow’s horns as a safety precaution. They want to prevent injury to other cows and to the people handling them. If you are milking in a stanchion barn, the farmer is squeezed in between cows, having horns could lead to serious if not deadly outcomes. The horns grow from a root, to de-horn you cauterize the root preventing future growth. De-horning happens when cows are young calves, rarely do you see an older calf like the one shown in the Nightline footage. Some people drug the calves, most people do not. The pain is a once in a lifetime experience. It does not happen on a daily basis, it is not animal abuse nor is it done at the whim of a farmer for entertainment.
If we could harness the knowledge of farm kids, if we could teach them how to relay their knowledge in a clear, accessible way so much of the hard work would be done for us. Fairs, 4-H, FFA are amazing outlets to do this but I’m thinking of something different. I encouraged the kids to travel, explore, talk to people with diverse backgrounds, to learn from them and to teach as well. A conversation with a stranger can have a huge effect on how they view the world.
It always comes down to just talking doesn’t it? Funny that.
Thank you to Amy and her students.