Begin with the end in mind. This is one of the principles Stephen Covey mentions in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” This “habit” can be defined and applied in several different ways, but it basically means that before starting a project, you should determine your ultimate goal and remain focused on that goal.
That sounds simple and logical enough, but what is our ultimate goal as beef producers? Of course, sustainability comes to mind; and in order to be sustainable, we must be profitable. I would submit, though, that these are merely means to the end of our ultimate goal, as our ultimate goal should be a satisfied consumer.
Our consumers have indicated that they desire a deeper understanding of our production system. They want to know about our practices, our feeds, the products we use to keep our cattle healthy and efficient, and the procedures we perform on them. They also want assurances that our cattle are humanely raised.
Though the vast majority of our consumers have a great deal of trust in farmers and ranchers, they still want verification. Sort of like the old ranching rule, “Trust your neighbor, but always brand your calves,” consumers want to trust us — but they want to be sure they can. And we all know there are plenty of groups opposed to animal agriculture doing their best to erode that consumer trust.
In order to provide this deeper understanding and offer the assurances our consumers demand, we must continue to increase our system’s transparency. That means we must be willing to accept changes in how we have traditionally done some things.
Up until about a decade ago, our industry hadn’t experienced a great deal of questions or concerns from consumers. But the pressure to address these concerns is increasing, and we must be willing to accept the changes that come with it.
One of the greatest benefits to being involved in agriculture is the sheer independence we are afforded; as a rule, we hate to give up that level of independence. While we will still enjoy a high level of independence, we’ll have to accept someone looking over our shoulder in order to assure our consumers that we’re doing things the way we say we are. This is a hard pill for some to swallow.
Producer and veterinary organizations alike have been developing uniform principles of animal care and welfare. These principles address the basics of animal care and are generally accepted by all parties involved.
However, the highest levels of concern and dissent center around seeking veterinary guidance on painful procedures, such as castration and dehorning. These procedures have been performed by producers for many years, and many struggle with the concept of obtaining veterinary approval or advice for a procedure they may have done more times than some veterinarians have.
While that point is valid, the reality is that this is the type of concession we may have to make in order to satisfy our consumers. And it’s the type of concession that we should be proactive about, rather than waiting for it to be forced upon us. We can plainly see that other sectors of animal agriculture are being forced to concede on many of their contentious practices through the ballot box, the marketplace and, ultimately, the consumer.
Beginning with the end in mind is a concept we must fully embrace, as our adversaries certainly understand how to use the philosophy. Developing and adopting these principles of animal care and welfare is not only in our cattle’s best interest, but in the best interest of our industry. Plus, it provides an opportunity to get ahead of the issue.
It’s far better to be proactive than reactive on these matters. If our ultimate goal is a satisfied consumer, the choice is clear.
Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire LLC of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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