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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Three-foot Tall Cattle

The average American today is two generations removed from the farm. We’ve all heard the statistic, but what does it really mean? In my mind, it’s a critical junction. If you’re two generations removed from the farm, you share my experience of visiting your Grandparents’ farm growing up. This two-generations-removed group remembers the passion their grandparents had for the land and animals of which they were stewards.

The generation coming up will be three generations removed from the farm. They won’t have the same memories of spending time with grandparents in pastures, fields, and barns. Besides being end users of our products, many of them will lack any personal connection with production agriculture.

The Emporia Gazette, a Kansas newspaper, last week featured an article that provided an example of just what this removal from agriculture can look like. Hope you enjoy hearing about the three-feet tall cattle.

- Chelsea Good 

By The Emporia Gazette

Animal rightist’s hissy fit over State Fair regulations is only their latest attempt to invade Kansas. Like our Great Plains neighbors to the north, Kansas is a state where many citizens are only a relative or two away from someone who works on a ranch, transports cattle, or processes beef.

This is a state where rodeo is an important sport. Where a significant number of farm kids learn to take care of their animals. And where 4-H kids sign an intent-to-sell form when they show their sheep at the county fairs in August.

Animal rightists occasionally come to Kansas to picket the entrances of our big meat processing plants. The truckers carefully maneuver around them and give a friendly wave or nod. After a few days of polite Kansas hospitality and absolutely nothing to make newspaper headlines, they usually pack up and go back home.

Unfortunately, times are changing. That sign about one Kansas farmer feeds a hundred and some people will have to be changed upward. Fewer kids are living on farms as our western counties are depopulating. That means that over the long term, fewer future citizens of Kansas will have their views of animal care grounded in the realities of a rural experience.

Our grandparents knew what butcher knives were used for. This first stage of food preparation was a visible and natural process. The children of China (outside of their urban areas) still witness meat processing in the street markets on their way home from school everyday. You can be sure that animal rights organizations would get little traction in your grandparent’s day, or in countries like China today.

But in America, meat processing has moved to local lockers and large assembly line plants where the process is no longer visible. Generations are growing up with little connection between the farm animal, the processing plant, and the meat on the table.

Children are particularly isolated on the coasts, where new city ordinances outlaw the sale of furs and egg farmers must uncage their chickens. Well, Kansas is not California and we are proud of that.

Kansas benefits from a citizenry that understands the role of animals. After agriculture and aircraft and military, animals are another major industry.

Stretching from Manhattan to Kansas City is a major animal bio-research corridor. Medical and pharmaceutical companies from around the world conduct required animal tests on their products right here in Kansas. The ultra-secure animal bioterrorism test facility (NBAF) was a natural for K-State since a similar small facility was already here. And one Kansas town probably is the dog food capital of the world.

Why Kansas? We know where our hamburger comes from.

Every Kansas child of the 1800s knew animals. Today, far fewer have the opportunity. If education was designed so that every child spent a summer on a farm or ranch where they could work with animals up close, there would be very few animal rightists.

One day I ended the nutrition section of my biology class by mentioning that some city folks do not know that milk comes from cows. After class, a student from a wealthy suburb came up to object: “I know milk comes from cows!”

“And where have you seen cows?” I asked.

“While I was driving down the superhighway,” he replied. “Cows are all over the grasslands.”

“And how tall is a cow?” I asked.

“About this high, I guess,” and he held his hand out at about three feet, the size of a big dog!

He may have known — in an abstract way — that milk came from cows.

But he didn’t really “know” a cow.

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