Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't think this can't happen to you - West Wind Acres

Has everyone been following the story of West Wind Acres? They are a farm in New York who sell pasture raised meat products. Or at least they did. The owner was arrested and now they are facing charges in court - for having farm animals outside and for having frozen water buckets. Think that sounds crazy? So do I.

Nibbles believes she is being abused. She wants someone to rescue her. Not going to happen.

I don't know those folks and I've never been to their farm.  But I saw the news footage and I looked at the pictures and I have to tell you - this seems ridiculous. I also know folks who are friends with the farmer and say this is totally uncalled for.  You can read more about the situation on their blog and also here, and here, and here is a newspaper article, and here (scroll down to the March 19th post called Something Wicked West Wind Comes).

The other bloggers listed above laid out the situation and why the charges of abuse are ridiculous. Do I think that having farm animals outside is abuse? Nope. Even if it's really cold? Nope. Honestly, if he has a pasture operation and the worst thing that has happened over this brutal winter is a little frostbite, I think he is doing OK. Winters are hard. Farming is hard. Not everything is ideal.

Conventional farmers get criticized for raising animals inside. This guy has been arrested for having his animals outside. What on earth is happening?

What concerns me is the basis for these charges - that they had frozen waterers, there was poop in the water, and the animals were outside. Friend, I have news for you - we ALL have had frozen waterers. It wouldn't matter if I hung the buckets two inches from the ceiling, I guarantee that the goats would poop in in. And yes, farm animals live outside just fine.

They didn't have a heated barn? Who the hell has a heated barn? That is insane. The very last thing you want to do is heat a barn. Livestock bedding is entirely flammable, animals create dust, an enclosed space without fresh air causes respiratory problems. Why on earth would you heat your barn?

Lest this spiral into an argument about what is and is not abuse let's instead focus on why this matters to you. 

Don't think for a second this can't happen to you.

Go thru and read the comments on West Wind's blog, check out their facebook page, and see the comments on the other blog sites. Everyone has some ridiculous story about a busy body who calls the cops on their farm.

My favorite one was the gal who had the cops come out because her ducks were outside. In the rain.

Are you shaking your head? You should be.

As far as I can tell this started with an anonymous tip. Some busy body got a bee in their bonnet about these guys and I can pretty much bet it's someone who doesn't know about farming. There's one in every crowd and that crowd is getting bigger. Not every do-gooder is doing good.

Everyone who has animals has a story.

My favorite story of "abuse" that I personally witnessed was when I was in town one day. One of my Amish neighbors was also there and I was watching him park his buggy behind one of the businesses. About the same time this guy walks up with his family - I guarantee you he'd never been to a farm nor had he ever done a day's hard work in his life.

"What's THAT!" He exclaimed to no one in particular, least of all me. He was pointing to the horse and buggy.

"Well, that's a horse, Fred." Said someone else.

"THAT'S a horse?" Said Fred scratching his head and looking amazed. Then he stood there for a second.

"That horse doesn't have any water! That's abuse!" Said Fred.

I had to walk away. If that guy could not even identify an animal as a horse then he certainly is not qualified to determine if it is abused or not.

You hear about this all the time. I knew a cattle guy in B.C who had the cops called on him every summer because the city folks would go out driving around and see his dairy cows. They'd panic because these newly-appointed-experts didn't know that seeing the hip bones on dairy cows is normal.

Or the uproar I saw online one time about some baby cows who were penned in a barn and they didn't even have any water!!!! Lean in friend, imma put some learning on you.... baby cows drink milk. Maybe these horrified onlookers thought that the calves were older then they were because a newborn calf can weigh up to 100lbs...but that "little" baby needs milk not an open bucket of water.

There was a case a while ago about some folks who had all their small livestock seized. Their crime was that they had an ugly property. One of the charges was that they didn't have enough feed on hand. How much feed are you supposed to have one hand? Do you know where we store our feed? At the feed store. It's three miles away and open 6 out of 7 days of the week. They are much better equipped to store feed than we are so we only keep about a weeks worth at a time. Is that a crime?

As for that guy's livestock guardian dogs being outside, I can't speak to why they didn't have their dog tags but that does not seem like a hanging offense - that sounds like a ticket and a fine. Dogs outside in the winter? Talk to someone who actually has LGDs (Livestock Guardian Dogs) and just see if they can keep the dogs inside and away from their flocks. As odd as it may seem to you not every dog is a pampered pet. Some of them are working dogs and some of them live outside just fine.

There is a world of difference between a heavy bodied, double coated Nordic-style dog like Kai who loves to be out in the snow and doesn't want to come inside....and the no-good-nick neighbor who puts his 30 pounds or less short coated poodley mix outside for the day when he goes to work in the winter.

The worst part about this story was that the farmer had his own vet come out and check the condition on the animals. She said they were fine but not even her assessment could keep the sheriff from coming back and seizing some of the animals. It's pretty frightening to think your own vet can't protect you. I tell you the truth, there is a world of difference between a vet who works primarily with small companion animals and one who has experience with livestock.

So what can you do?

Be careful who you trust. This poor farmer honestly thought he was doing the right thing by inviting anyone who wanted to come out to see his farm. He allowed the police to walk around his property to check things out.

To tell you the truth, I don't believe in transparency in all matters. Most people are so far removed from farming, farms, and food production they don't have any concept of what animals do and do not need. There was an article in one of those online newspapers not too long ago about a commercial butchering operation. The comments were filled with gasps and horrified folks...and I was all, "Wow! Look at their great tools! Check out their set up!"

City mouse, country mouse both looking at the same thing and seeing it entirely with different eyes.

I know a goat guy who's barn is nicer than some people's homes. But every year... every stinkin' year here come the rescue people to come and buy up his goat babies and take them away for the horror that is the best barn in 3 counties. Rescue them from what? Every day Nibbles asks me if she can go and live with that guy's herd.

Be careful about who you let on your property.

You may not just show up at our place. I've had folks who don't even know me by name want to come out and look around. Nope. You never know what someone' intentions are or why they are really there.

As it is it took us 3 years, a locking gate, and 4 dogs each over 100 lbs to keep people from just driving up on our property. There was a business here before we bought this place and it was very tough to keep the lookyloos from just making themselves at home.

Get a gate and lock it.

Keep your animals in the back of the property.

You might also want to find an attorney who is experienced in agricultural issues - just to have in your back pocket in case you need it.

You might want to get a game cam set up to keep an eye on the coming's and going's at your place. Just in case. 

Know your rights. What if the authorities show up and want to look around? You don't have to let them on your property without a warrant. What does the warrant do? Well, for one it makes sure that someone else (the judge) provide some oversight...but more than that it gives you time to call your Ag experienced attorney and have them get over to your place to be present if the situation arises.

As West Wind found out the hard way - most people talk to much and are too helpful when the authorities show up. There is a fine line between cooperating and talking your self into being arrested.

This family now has to defend themselves in court. Justice is expensive, as they are finding out. You can check out their gofundme page here.

Now before anyone starts hopping around. Yes, animal abuse exists. There are bad people everywhere. There are hard working folks doing rescue work that really matters. But there is a world of difference between a dog fighting ring and pigs on pasture. Robust Livestock Guardian Dogs living out with their herds are a world away from some poor dog tied to a tree and being left to starve to death.

You know how I feel about argumentative comments so let's not finger point or "oh yeah" each other on this - let's focus on why this case is important to all of us. Don't think for a minute that this can't happen to you.

Happy Monday everyone. There is a lot to think about.


IanH said...

Great post! I had a lot of fun showing the grandkids where their meat came from (mainly chickens). Some of their friends did nothad no idea about killing, scalding plucking or eviscerating. I think now the whole bunch of them are better for it. Oh, yeah, they all got involved in the activities.
My Border collie would NOT come into the house even at -40C. He had his unheated dog house and did just fine.
Horses that are not blanketed, do just fine, they grow hair . Lots of it!

I don't know what the world is coming too now adays. By the way, the dog ate snow, and the horses did too when the heater went off in the trough.

Onevikinggirl said...

Shocking abuse of the legal instruments by the police primarily. Now, where is my picture of Nicholas? ;)

Ohiofarmgirl said...

You said it, Onevikinggirl, it's MUCH worse if you check out the vids they posted on their fb page. They have a terrific hog hut set up - the pigs have a great shelter. That guy had tons of hay (literally) so I dont know why this is happening at all.
ps Nicholas says hi!

David said...

freaking bureaucracy. Stay out of my biz-nay.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

It's just nuts, Dave. If you have a chance check out the vids on their fb page. He has a great set up - one that I would want if we over wintered pigz again. Just unbelievable.

Vera said...

Oh well said, OFG, well said. Fortunately we are relatively 'safe' here in France but still are subjected to lots of paperwork, etc, but you are so right when you say 'There's one in every crowd and that crowd is getting bigger' because even we are finding that there are less and less people who understand why we do what we do. Vx

Ohiofarmgirl said...

You said it, Vera. Fortunately we dont have any paperwork... yet. Bu the folks who sell their products are under a lot of scrutiny - which is why we never will.

Diana said...

This is just sickening. How can such ignorance force an honest farmer, doing things the *right* way, to face so much cost and worry? The animal rights advocates ought to be supporting him, but ignorance seems to get more weight than tolerance... I donated, and shared where I could.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks Diana, this really does seem totally over the top. I imagine this is a very tough day for them. This could be any of us.

Ngo Family Farm said...

It really could be any of us, and I just can't shake that deeply disturbing feeling about the "authorities" way over-stepping their bounds. There was a story here in Colorado a couple years back, I think, about a woman getting all of her rabbits confiscated. She had been breeding/selling/showing her animals for a very long time, and basically lost everything because a potential buyer she let on her property found rabbit droppings in the barn. These stories are just so appalling. Don't see the government banging down the doors of Tyson's filthy, cruel, disease infested chicken houses....

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Exactly, NgoFF, everyone has a story or knows someone who has had sometime similar happen. It is very disturbing. We need to support each other. Thanks for coming by with your thoughts.

TwoBlueJays said...

We lost our chicken flock due to an 'anonymous concerned neighbor'. There was nothing the local inspector found but just the complaint was enough. A year later I am still bitter. Small but growing livelihood destroyed because of some ignorant person who had a grudge.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

I hear you TwoBlueJays. I'm very sorry for your loss and I can totally understand your frustration. Most of us just want to be able to do for ourselves... it's extremely hard to have some success and then have it taken away by someone who is bitter.

Anonymous said...

It's terrible our farmers live like this now.People have gone crazy.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

thanks Anon, this could happen to any of us.

Melanie said...

We had a guy who bought some land next to us (city guy)- no house, just land, he has nothing better to do than drive down every odd weekend and mow it. He reported us to the RSPCA (animal protection)for an injured goat. Did not bother to knock on the door and say 'hey neighbor, were you aware your goat is hurt?', he called the authorities. When they called to see my partner, they did not even bother to check the goat, because after a sensible discussion with the man - yes the goat is hurt, yes we've been keeping an eye on it, yes it's nearly better now - he wandered off knowing nothing to see here! Neighbor is now known as 'bad neighbor Barry' and he gets the stink eye from me whenever he comes to mow his stupid lawn.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

i'm so sorry, Melanie.. that is just terrible. and yeah, stink eye is right. hopefully he will just go away. in the meantime, i hope you can plant a lot of trees between his place and yours!

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