Valentine’s Day on the farm: what it means to love your animals

The sweet Jamie and Zoe

The sweet Jamie and Zoe

Meet my new love, Jamie. A “leopard Appaloosa”, he’s not the prettiest horse on the planet but he may well be the sweetest. At the ripe old age of just eight, he was the embodiment of freedom for some of our most vulnerable Australians as a Riding for the Disabled (RDA) mount.

Certainly, he has the calm, unflappable nature required but he got bored of walking gently around and around an arena. For Jamie is quite a character, smart enough to drink Coke from a can or juice from a box.

Farm life suits this inquisitive fellow down to the ground. There are always people coming and going, cows on the move and Jamie loves nothing better than a ride in the bush. We feed him carrots, brush his silky spotty coat until it gleams, take care of his health, smother him with affection and, in return, Jamie keeps me sane and more alive than I’ve felt in years. It’s a contract written in love.

Jamie wears his heart on his hide

Jamie wears his heart on his hide

I’ve always considered myself a horse rider even during the last seven years of being horseless. When Zoe was just a toddler and the grief from my father’s death was still raw, I had to put down my best friend, Mistral. No matter what the vet tried, she was in debilitating pain with arthritis.

Mistral

Mistral

Over the 22 years we were together, Mistral and I came to trust each other implicitly; we could face anything together. Her loss was devastating. But I owed it to her.

Anyone who cares for animals has to be courageous and selfless enough to put their well-being first. That’s what we aim for every day here on the farm when we are making decisions that affect their lives. And, let’s face it, nearly everything we do has an impact on the animals who share our home.

Farmers are accused of not talking about animal welfare enough. It’s difficult, just as raising the topic of child welfare would be, err, unpopular at a kindergarten barbeque. Nobody wants to have their parenting or animal care standards questioned – it’s insulting. But maybe it’s something we need to face with the same selflessness and courage we animal lovers expect of ourselves when it counts.

Animal welfare is not just about dairy farmers doing the right thing

“If not appropriately handled, animal welfare concerns could threaten the long-term viability of several livestock industries. Even though the industries operate within their legislated requirements, there is a real risk they could lose public acceptance.”

This excerpt reportedly from a brief by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Department for the incoming Minister Ludwig makes sense. Farmers don’t have a monopoly on caring about animals and everyone has a right to feel comfortable that the food they’re eating is ethical. At the moment, much of that is based on trust that we farmers will do the right thing but when that trust is sufficiently shaken, Aussies will understandably demand that we are made to do the right thing.

In the wake of the Indonesian cruelty revelations, who could blame urban Australians for asking more questions about animal welfare, whether at the abattoir on the farm? Rather than being defensive about farming practices, I think it’s time to open the “farm gates” and show everyone what really goes on so they can judge how we are doing for themselves.

Do you trust farmers? What with?

A Reader’s Digest poll has proclaimed farmers to be one of Australia’s most trusted professions. We come in at number 7, ahead of GPs and even our friends, the vets. Weather forecasters got their just desserts ;), ranking a miserable 26.

It’s a pleasant surprise, particularly given the much-discussed growing urban-rural divide.

In fact, we climbed two spots in the last year but I wonder whether this year’s poll was conducted before or after those shocking episodes of animal abuse at Indonesian abbattoirs were screened and whether this has changed the way Aussies feel about farmers.

I hope not. The farmers I know are sickened by the cruelty. Fortunately, I can sleep well knowing that none of our cows have been subjected to that treatment. Dairy heifers are sometimes exported to countries desperate to build their own herds with Australia’s world-leading breeding stock but are handled very carefully on the journey to ensure they arrive in peak condition.

I’d love to hear from you about all this. Why do you think farmers are so highly trusted?