This past weekend my kids showed their sheep at the Kansas State Fair. It is one of my favorite weekends of the year. After all, where else can you combine fried foods, people watching, livestock shows, an Ag trade show and the home shopping network? The Kansas State Fair has it all, including controversy.
In case you hadn’t heard, PETA paid for a booth and planned on showing a graphic video. Social media was abuzz with news from the ensuing court battle. When we arrived in the barns the talk was about PETA’s presence. No one seemed to know what to expect but most had thought about what they would do if confronted by activists bent on destroying our way of life.
We arrived Friday morning and when the sheep were settled into their temporary home (as with all livestock producers we put the well-being of our livestock first) I ventured out on my big adventure. I was going to find the PETA booth and see the enemy with my own eyes. I walked and walked and walked and never saw a hint of them. Later, I heard the rain and wind earlier in the day had kept them from setting up. Funny, those of us who farm and ranch never let a little rain and wind stop us from our chores.
Saturday brought news of the booth, the opposition had been sighted. After getting direction, I set off again in search of the misguided. About mid-day I made contact. The booth was a cheap Wal-Mart pop-up, complete with an ancient TV and two timid college kids handing out propaganda including recipes for meatless Mondays and a video. I watched as the two approached those walking past. Most people simply walked on past.
I approached the young fellow handing out the video. He looked at me quite apprehensively as I walked up (but a lot of people look at me that way). I am sure the way I was dressed gave my occupation away and if it didn’t the Brush Creek Cattle Company on my head made it obvious. I smiled at him and said “Can I have one of those videos?” and “Thank you” after he hesitantly handed me one. I walked off leaving him a bit bewildered.
I plan to read the brochure and watch the video. I am sure it is pain-stakingly edited to make processing of meat seem as brutal and cruel as possible. I am equally as sure it took many, many years of gathering footage to make this short video, but it is important for those of us who farm and ranch to know what kind of propaganda groups like PETA are putting out.
So what should we do? Well, when it comes to dealing with the activists themselves, we should do nothing. Yes, you heard me right, nothing. Confronting the activists directly is exactly what they want you to do. You will never change their minds and they want you to cause a scene. It is impossible to when a debate with someone who does not care about the truth and is willing to do and say anything to win. Am I saying we should do nothing, absolutely not; we need to make sure the general public knows the truth about how their meat was raised.
We need to take the time to answer questions and talk about what we are doing. For instance, Saturday afternoon we were getting ready for the show, things were getting hectic. The sheep were washed, blanketed and muzzled. That was the time that a family of four came walking down our aisle. They stopped in front of our pens and looked at our sheep.
The family cautiously approached our pen, looking kind of skeptically at the kid’s lambs. Finally, the father asked about the muzzles the lambs were wearing. “Are they mean?” he asked as he pointed at the muzzles. Tatum told him no, and explained that we muzzle our lambs to keep them from eating the wood chips they are bedded on. She went on to say that she suspected the lambs must think they looked like food. She then showed them that the lambs could breathe easily and even drink through the mesh. Relieved by her explanation the kids crowded around the lambs and gave them a good petting.
They thanked us for letting them pet the lambs and walked away better informed and knowing that we cared about our animals. It was a simple interaction and one that only took five minutes at the most, but that simple action could have easily counter-acted any propaganda handed out at the cheap tent across the fairgrounds. If each of us would take every opportunity we get to inform and educate the people around us, groups like PETA would drift off silently into anonymity and that would be their worst nightmare.