L i v e s t o c k // L i t e r a c y

Teaching Farming Animal Science Through Ag Communications

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Transparency + Truth = Transformation (Personal Thoughts)


Photo by Emilia Tjernström on Flickr

Paul McCartney is often quoted, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” Of course, he is suggesting that consumers don’t know what happens to meat before they spend their money on it. McCartney is proposing that if all consumers saw the practices of livestock harvesting facilities, they would be too disgusted to continue consuming meat.

Hence, the “glass walls” metaphor.

Many charities practice a donation method that tells you exactly where your money goes. Twenty dollars will provide a desk for a child in school, fifty dollars will feed a shelter dog for a year, etc. It is crystal clear what is happening behind the scenes, and donors are able to feel directly connected to the recipients of their gifts. Although I was familiar with this process, I never knew the word that specifically defined it: transparency.

I often wonder if adding more transparency to our industry would be beneficial or harmful. It seems that lately everyone has their own idea of how farming works, much thanks to animal rights activist groups. However, their misleading portrayal of our industry has given us the opportunity to address our transparency problem. Why has it taken this long, until after the release of misleading media, to explain livestock production methods? Now, behind every advocation for commercial ag there seems to hide an ulterior motive. Rather than being solely educational, these infographics, tweets, and Facebook posts seem to also be an attempt to prove ourselves.

The truth is that most people don’t want to know about the the processes of livestock production. Not everyone cares to see how broiler chickens are harvested, how sows are artificially insemenated, how calves are pulled. They mostly want to be able to trust they are making a moral, dependable decision when they buy their food.

Trust is a key emotion to which everyone can relate. And even more triggering of an emotion than trust itself: the betrayal of trust. Animal rights activists know they can get considerable action from people if they feel their trust in agriculture is betrayed.

Animal rights activist groups target well-intentioned people with high morals. These organizations portray abuse videos as the industry standard, and that is how many consumers’ twisted views of commercial farms are born. We need to take responsibility and connect with the average consumer on an identifiable level before animal rights activists do.


Photo by StripeyAnne on Flickr

This is why transparency is important, but should be used in a relatable way. Communicate with people in ways they can understand, and show the less-talked-about side of agriculture: emotion.

Take for example one struggle of the next generation: keeping the business in the family. As a high school senior, most kids can’t wait to break free. Typically, their parents are unconditionally supportive, but is there a bitterness that exists when the family business isn’t carried on? The pressure is also evident on their children; there is a desire to explore their own individuality, but a guilt that comes with leaving the farm.

Pet owners experience much grief when their companions die. However, this is not often talked about in the livestock world. Farmers realize that their livestock serve an economic purpose, but that doesn’t mean they don’t form bonds with their animals. This sense of stewardship and caring for livestock should be portrayed in a true, raw form.

Rural living is truly a culture, and farm workers are a minority. The farmer stereotype is someone who is uneducated, poor, and stubborn. When urbanites criticize rural people, it is prejudice. The intolerance that agriculturalists experience is not often discussed, but certainly rampant.

Agriculture is one of the most quickly-advancing industries on the planet. How we are portrayed is not nearly as progressive. When people see farmers, they should see clearly their own sense of passion and humanity reflected back at them.



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Previews for the 2014 ASAS-ADSA-CSAS Joint Annual Meeting

These were meant to better explain some the featured symposia at JAM.

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Compassion for commodities: The human-farm animal bond

The following was a feature of ASAS’ magazine, Animal Frontiers.

— — —

Some animals are raised for human companionship (for example, pets and service animals) whereas others are raised to provide food, fiber, and labor (livestock, or farm animals). This classification leads some consumers to believe that farmers and ranchers do not bond with their livestock and therefore feel less obligated to care for their welfare.

comodities-copy-175x150In an article appearing in July’s issue of Animal Frontiers, Dr. Candace Croney, Director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, examines the mutually beneficial relationships between people and farm animals. Treating farm animals with care and respect has been convincingly shown to correlate with better productivity and economic returns. Yet, the term “human-animal bond” is not often used in reference to farm animals. As a result, some audiences are concerned that livestock are seen solely as ‘commodities’ to farmers.

“The bonds many people have with the animals with whom they routinely engage as companions may provide a fundamental basis for such concerns,” Croney wrote. People whom own dogs, cats, and other companion animals may “… feel a greater sense of moral obligations to all animals.” Thus they tend to worry about farm animal well-being.

There are various reasons why consumers may believe farmers do not share emotional connections with their animals. For example, there is not much literature that describes farmers experiencing sadness when they lose livestock. The attention given to farm animal’s behavioral and physical needs also is perceived as lessened due to their classification as “commodities.” In addition, the use of terms such as Animal Science instead of the older Animal Husbandry, or terms such as ‘food animal industry’ and ‘producers,’ “…relay a reluctance to articular significant emotional connections with livestock animals that contributes to public concern about their treatment,” argues Croney.

However, other observations suggest that farmers do care and have compassion for their animals.

“The catastrophic loss of tens of thousands of cattle in South Dakota in 2013 due to an early blizzard has…been reported to have wreaked emotional havoc on impacted ranchers,” said Croney.

CommoditiesMoreover, a specific definition of “acceptable” welfare for livestock has not been agreed upon. This lack of agreement promotes tension between those who raise farm animals and those who do not. In addition, people who are disconnected from agriculture may not understand what is realistic and feasible in terms of raising farm animals.

It is important for everyone to realize, however, that it is in a farmer’s best economic interest to treat his or her animals responsibly. “In particular, caretaker or stockperson behavior toward animals appears to be highly correlated with the quality of human animal interactions occurring on farms and has major implications for both animal welfare and farm productivity,” states Croney in the article. For example, cattle that experience negative interactions with humans exhibit reduced milk production and can cause increased labor costs. As another example, pigs that experience negative human-animal interactions have reduced growth and reproduction rates, reducing farm profitability.

Still, the quality human-animal interaction varies widely from farm to farm.

Croney suggests that farmers should be more transparent about their emotional connection with their livestock. Establishing that there is a human-farm animal bond extending beyond economics will “… facilitate positive interactions with livestock animals as well as consumers.”

Animal Frontiers is a joint venture between four globally active professional animal science societies:American Society of Animal Science (ASAS), Canadian Society of Animal Science (CSAS), theEuropean Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), and the American Meat Science Association(AMSA). Each issue of Animal Frontiers consists of a series of invited, peer-reviewed articles that present several international perspectives on the status of a high-impact, global issue in animal agriculture today.

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Archaic canines: deciphering the domestication and early roles of dogs

The following was a feature on an article in ASAS’ magazine, Animal Frontiers. 

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Theories of canine domestication are as diverse as today’s vast array of dog breeds. The bones of canine ancestors and ancient writings are all archaeologists have to put together the species’ legacy, and many pieces of the story are still missing.Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 5.49.40 PM

The domestication and use of dogs in ancient western European civilizations are explored in an article in the July issue of Animal Frontiers. Marie-Pierre Horard-Herbin of Université François-Rabelais, Tours, France, and Anne Tresset and Jean-Denis Vigne of the Département Ecologie et Gestion de la Biodiversité, in Paris, France comprise the team of researchers who have used archaeozoology to analyze the history of canines from the Upper Paleolithic to the Iron Age (approximately 20,000 to 2,000 years ago).

The domestication of wolves, the dogs’ sole ancestor, “… remains difficult to understand, in terms of chronology, geographic origin, and recurrence of the phenomenon.” Despite this, “The wide area over which wolves were dispersed and the scattering of the places where late glacial dogs have been observed, suggest that multiple independent domestication events took place across much of the Old World,” state the authors.

Archaeological observations also suggest that the first dogs appeared between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic. They were the first animals domesticated by hunter-gatherers of this period. Prehistoric canines are believed to primarily have assisted people in hunting. During the Mesolithic period (approximately 6,000 to 10,000 years ago), the archeological evidence indicates the emergence of diverse dog types, with the appearance of much smaller animals as well as previously unknown coat colors.

Archaic caninesThe switch from hunting to farming occurred at around 8,500 years ago, and dogs’ roles might have changed during this time as hunting was no longer the sole means of survival. Archeological evidence and ancient writings indicate various non-hunting roles for dogs, including waste disposal, protection, heating, companionship, and use as pack or draft animals. In addition, there is solid evidence suggesting that small dogs were commonly consumed during this time period.

“…The beginning of selection for certain morphotypes …” occurred during the Iron Age (beginning around 1,200 B.C.). Celtic Europeans selectively bred dogs for roles like hunting, fighting, guarding or pets. However, the value of each animal differed. “Some [dogs] were incinerated with their ‘master’ in a funeral context, while others were simply eaten,” explain the authors.

Still, joint human-dog burial has been observed frequently throughout history throughout a wide geographic area. Dogs were even laid on funeral pyres with people. Including dogs in these ceremonies may have been symbolic of a postmortem guardianship.

“…[This] clearly indicate[s] a great closeness between the two [humans and dogs], with a status close to that given to our modern-day pets,” wrote the authors.

As the technology of genetic analysis continues to advance, understanding the complex history of the domestication and use of man’s best friend will surely continue to improve.


Animal Frontiers is a joint venture between four globally active professional animal science societies:American Society of Animal Science (ASAS), Canadian Society of Animal Science (CSAS), theEuropean Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), and the American Meat Science Association(AMSA). Each issue of Animal Frontiers consists of a series of invited, peer-reviewed articles that present several international perspectives on the status of a high-impact, global issue in animal agriculture today.

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The Challenges of Meeting Nutrient Requirements for Rangeland Livestock

lone-cattle-109061294762047stjThis was my first interpretive summary for ASAS. It was the first time I have ever conducted phone interviews, so I was pretty nervous. However, it was about a subject with which I am comfortable, so talking to them became easy with time. They were also very helpful and informative, so I really enjoyed talking to them!

I talked to  Dr. Michael Galyean, the Dean of the College of Agricultural Science at Texas Tech University, Dr. Travis Whitney, Associate Professor of Livestock Nutrition at Texas A & M San Angelo, and Dr. Bret Taylor, Animal Scientist at the USDA. Here is the text for the article, as well as the link to it on Taking Stock.

The challenges of meeting nutrient requirements for rangeland livestock

by Jacquelyn Prestegaard

Written by: Jacquelyn Prestegaard

Approximately 60 percent of U.S. beef cattle are raised within the Pacific West, the Southern Plains and the Northern Plains (statistic taken from the Journal of Animal Science). This land is typically dry, barren and devoid of quality forage.

When this land is used for extensive grazing systems, it is a challenge for beef producers to ensure cattle are meeting their nutrient requirements.

Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, commonly referred to as the Beef NRC, serves as a nutrient requirement guide for cattle researchers and producers. It provides guidelines and equations to help predict the most effective diet for their livestock at the most reasonable cost. It is flexible for cattle at different weights, stages of production and weather conditions. Dr. Michael Galyean, the Dean of the College of Agricultural Science at Texas Tech University, said that use of the Beef NRC is very important to researchers.

“The guidelines in the Beef NRC are critical for formulating diets,” said Galyean, chairperson of the NRC committee. “We need to make sure cattle are avoiding any outstanding nutrient deficiencies.”

These equations prove to be accurate in confinement situations where nutrient intake is easily measured. However, nutrient intake is difficult to estimate in the vast expanses of rangeland. As a result, the current NRC model is not always practical for extensive grazing systems.

This concern was the subject of the Beef Species Symposium last year at the 2013 ASAS – ADSA Joint Annual Meeting. Beef nutrition experts suggested the NRC model be updated to account for the wide variation of environmental conditions, dietary characteristics and metabolic demands of beef cattle.

“Some of the biggest gaps in the NRC relate to extensive grazing systems.” Galyean said. “However, finding a way to modify the current NRC model for grazing cattle will be very challenging.”

He also said the current NRC works well for producers in terms of being straightforward, but it is not realistic for a producer to know the body weight and feed intake of each individual animal. Still, he said the NRC should feature an array of models.

“Scientists would benefit from the addition of variables like milk production and calf weight,” he said. “Factors like these can help us better understand the biology of grazing cattle.”

Many sheep and goats are also raised on rangelands where they experience extreme weather and land conditions. Dr. Travis Whitney, Associate Professor of Livestock Nutrition at Texas A & M San Angelo, said estimating nutrient intake is also difficult for small ruminant researchers.

“There isn’t as much literature on sheep and goat nutrition as there is with beef cattle,” he said. “So estimating nutrient intake on rangelands is even more difficult for people researching small ruminants.”

Dr. Bret Taylor, Animal Scientist at the USDA, said the Small Ruminant NRC is rarely used to predict nutrient intake for sheep grazing rangeland.

“Most of our use of the NRC is when sheep are on feedlots,” Taylor said. “We monitor nutrient intake most closely during stages like pre-breeding, near lambing, and early lactation.”

He also said the equations in the current edition of the Small Ruminant NRC provide an excellent baseline for nutrient requirements, but that it would be very difficult to predict those over a variety of rangeland environments.

The eighth revised edition of the Beef NRC will highlight research meant to better evaluate nutrient intake of rangeland cattle. For more information about NRC updates, view the Statement of Task issued by the revision committee.

Related articles published in the Journal of Animal Science:

“An assessment of the 1996 Beef NRC: Metabolizable protein supply and demand and effectiveness of model performance prediction of beef females within extensive grazing systems”

“Potential limitations of NRC in predicting energetic requirements of beef females within western U.S. grazing systems”

“Difficulties associated with predicting forage intake by grazing beef cows”

“Beef Species Symposium: Nutrient Requirements of the Beef Female in Extensive Grazing Systems – Considerations for Revising the Beef NRC”


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Here are the videos I spend most of July creating.

This one took the longest; it’s an informational video about Winter Wheat. I wrote the script, compiled the footage and pictures, and interviewed Tracey Jones, the farmer.

These are bios of local famers, which I complied and narrated. I helped interview and take photos of the last farmer, Mark Yaeger.

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June 22nd, 2012

Here is an article I wrote about the Summer Ag Institute that will be featured in July’s edition of the Point of View! (The text is at the bottom, I couldn’t figure out how to share the PDF online.)

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 7.02.59 PM

 POINT OF VIEW July 2012 Page 7

– Agricultural Literacy – 

Summer Ag Institute: “Teaching about Food: Production, Nutrition & Safety” 

DeKalb County teachers continued their pursuit of agricultural knowledge while completing this year’s Summer Ag Institute (SAI).

The June sessions of SAI continued to reinforce this year’s theme, “Teaching about Food: Production, Nutrition and Safety”. Over four consecutive days, participants had the opportunity to tour different agribusinesses and farms around northern Illinois. SAI gave the teachers new knowledge that can be utilized not only in their classrooms, but also in their personal lives.

To start off the intensive week, teachers were introduced to a variety of resources—many of which they could use as foundations for lesson plans or for instant classroom use. Then, many of their food misconceptions were debunked by a presentation about food myths and facts given by Tamara Nelsen, Senior Director of Commodities at Illinois Farm Bureau.

Food Company Tours – On the first day of field trips, the group boarded a bus to The Suter Company’s processing facility in Sycamore where they witnessed firsthand the production of chicken salad that is distributed throughout the Midwest under a variety of different labels. They then toured Suter’s packaging facility where products are boxed, labeled, and shipped. The last stop of the day was at Tate and Lyle Custom Ingredients where a variety of ingredient mixes are produced and sold to be blended into various dairy products.

Grain & Hog Farm Visits – The following day, the teachers heard a presentation about the soybean industry given by Julie Blunier of Illinois Soybean Association. Afterwards, they traveled to Paul and Aaron Butler’s organic farm near DeKalb. There they listened to the Butler’s perspective on the challenges and rewards of organic farming. Next, they toured Jamie Walter’s commercial corn operation. Participants learned about the many different types of equipment involved in field corn production. They also discussed the use of biotechnology such as Roundup-Ready and Bt corn. Finally, the group traveled to Carl Heide’s hog operation on the north side of DeKalb. There, teachers witnessed various stages of swine growth, interacted with young pigs, and learned the ins and outs of modern pork production.

Poultry, Soybean, Dairy Farm Tours – Northwestern Illinois was the destination for Wednesday’s field trips. The first stop of the day was Pearl Valley Eggs, a laying hen operation with well over a million birds. The teachers first witnessed Pearl Valley Eggs’ compost business which stemmed directly from the manure of their laying hens. They then saw the laying hen barns where tens of thousands of eggs are laid each day. Teachers also visited the facility where the eggs are cleaned, graded and put into cartons. Next, they traveled to Willowbrook Farms owned and operated by Karl Lawfer. The group learned about different farm-related tools, and listened to Karl’s take on his soybean operation and family farming. Karl’s sister, Peggy Harmston, also gave a presentation on her local business, Massbach Ridge Winery, and provided samples of her award-winning wine. Participants then boarded the bus to travel to the final tour site, Hunter Haven Farms. They saw Doug Block’s herd of Holstein cows whose milk goes entirely toward making Swiss cheese. The teachers viewed such farm features as the calving barn, milking parlor, bulk tank, and methane digester which converts all of the operation’s manure into electricity.

The last class session of SAI took place at the Farm Bureau. Teachers reported on articles chosen from agricultural magazines, and gained more information and ideas for lesson plans. Summer interns Jacquelyn Prestegaard and Kelsey Faivre also gave presentations on the beef industry and the importance of ag literacy, respectively. Also, three panelists – Mark Tuttle, Somonauk farmer and president of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, Justin Martz, a local beef farmer and Cattlemen’s Association president, and Sarah Muirhead, editor and publisher of Feedstuffs Magazine – came in for an interesting discussion on current ag issues. At the end of the day, teachers reflected on what they learned during their 40 hours in SAI, as well as discussed their opinions and new views on food and the agricultural industry.

To date, nearly 200 teachers have participated in DeKalb County’s Summer Ag Institute. It is a graduate-level course offered each year by DeKalb County Farm Bureau in partnership with Northern Illinois University. Through the Institute, the educators hope to develop informed, responsible citizens by teaching their students the importance of agriculture.

Aaron Butler of Butler Farms discusses the challenges and rewards of his organic farming operation. 

Carl Heide, a local hog farmer, was one of many tour hosts for this year’s SAI. 

SAI participants pose at Willowbrook Farms in northwestern Illinois. Eighteen local teachers completed this year’s Institute.