April 1, 2015

West Wind Acres and the Unnecessary Charges of Animal Cruelty

As if the ludicrous allegations against New York's carriage horse industry wasn't bad enough.

Now there was the charges--13 counts--against Joshua Rockwood of West Wind Acres near Glenville, New York that came into the media spotlight for me to shake my head at.

I had to take some time to delve up some thoughts well enough to write a blog post on this issue. I've been following Jon Katz's blog posts on the proceedings and results of Rockwood's plight (which have been great news), and have also visited the Facebook page of West Wind Acres (Friends of West Wind Acres) just to see for myself why these animal cruelty charges were brought to this inexperienced small farmer.

And I haven't seen anything wrong with the animals he has been raising.

How this affects me is that I come from a farm background and know what goes on with raising animals, and the struggle that has to be done to get them through some nasty winters. And these animal cruelty charges are disturbing because they show that someone who complained to the "Orwellian animal police"--the words of Jon Katz--knew worth scat about raising livestock, and was trying to tout some illogical mantra of living conditions that are simply unrealistic.

Basically the charges that Josh faced surrounded primarily of frozen water, no feed and an unheated barn. Absolutely the stupidest charges that can come up to falsely incriminate a rookie farmer of doing the best he could to get his livestock through one of the nastiest, coldest, and snowiest winters that New York state--and many other states--have been forced to face this year. Many farmers' and people's water pipes froze, power went out, and yet they still had to find ways to feed and water their livestock, their pets and themselves.

But an unheated barn?? Who in their right mind would complain of an unheated barn? I think I know, and it's those who just can't make up their minds between wanting farmers to house their animals in a barn all their lives and then turn around and cry and whine about those poor innocent animals kept in confined spaces that are simply unnatural or they can't move around in. Not every farm has their barns hooked up to electricity or can afford to have an expansive system to provide heat in a barn that is barely used even in winter. Many animals prefer to be outdoors in the winter time and would only seek shelter during the worst of it: Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, even pigs. The body heat of the animals, as well as walls that take away the wind and the chill factor it presents, is enough to heat a small barn, just like in the old days. Finally, many barns can't be heated because it's more of a fire hazard and a safety issue. I know because we had (have) such a barn, and it was rarely used by our cattle except in really nasty weather.

Yet the insistence is there, but where does it come from? People with their pampered pooches who hold them indoors most of the time? Or those who have accepted conventional intensive practices as the norm who can afford to have climate controlled heating and cooling systems for the animals they raise? What about those who hold such unrealistically high standards for raising and caring for livestock? Those that think that barns should be pristine and clean, animals out on green, lush pastures all the time, or have clean, clear unfrozen water and constant feed in front of them no matter the weather, or as mentioned, can't make up their minds between having animals outdoors versus indoors.

The frozen water bowls was also considerably dumb. When temperatures drop below zero, water freezes. The colder the temperature, the quicker water freezes to solid ice. Unless heated water buckets or a water heater is applied to a trough, the water is going to freeze within a matter of minutes. Animals have to drink up quickly, as chores are being done, before it freezes over on them. That's how it was done way back before electricity became so popular we've taken it for granted. But today, to the animal police seeing water frozen is warrant enough for animal cruelty charges.

You see, the media doesn't report the whole story. They only tell the side of the story that the animal cops tell them, and not the farmer's side. The blog on West Wind Acres told a story of a inexperienced farmer that liked to keep his farm as transparent as possible, and the cops that showed up showed up at a time when he hadn't even done his chores yet. So he thought it fine to show them around, but that turned out to be a bad idea. Next thing he knows they're coming back again with a warrant to seize some of his animals, and to file several charges against him for what they considered were negligence and animal cruelty.

I was having a lively discussion with a woman from New York City about his charges, and she had claimed that the police were "doing their job" to the same extent that they got after those who were involved in the cock- and dog-fighting rings. Not only that, but she argued that the police had seen the "whole picture" and veterinarian of Rockwood's only part. Neither of those were true. If it's not a direct insult and highly offensive thing to compare a small farmer to someone who deliberately abuses and mistreats animals to get them to fight and kill each other for sport and gambling, it's another to think that these cops saw the "whole story."

What these coppers seen was merely an ephemeral of farm life. A passing stage of time that is only temporary, yet somehow they got it into their heads that the animals were "suffering" like this for some time. If they were using their heads and understood how New York (just like here in Alberta) gets cold in the winter, and even colder at nights, and that Rockwood was going to feed and water his animals quite soon--as he said right before the police first showed up--then the idiot that filed those charges wouldn't have done so, and a miscarriage of justice would've been avoided.

This same woman I was arguing with claimed that Rockwood failed to "meet the basic animal welfare standards" of the animals and claimed he "deserved" it because she believed that the animals should be fed and watered no matter the weather, and implied that they should always come first. She argued about the fact that he "didn't have time" was inexcusable, and also believed that his mentioning on his blog that doing chores was "nasty and difficult" was some sort of sign that he didn't care about his animals. I think any reader that has some farm background would find this definitely would rub them the wrong way!

Anybody who comes from a life of romping, roaming and working on the farm knows that there are far more jobs to be done than to be sitting or standing around all day doing nothing but feeding and watering animals and cleaning up their poop. A farmer cannot get the water pipes unfrozen or an automatic waterer fixed if she has to be constantly making sure all her animals have feed and unfrozen water in front of them 24 hours of the day seven days a week!! A farmer cannot shovel or push snow from the drive way or pay the bills if she has to always shovel every fresh pile of manure or put a new fleck of hay or a handful of grain out for her livestock. It's just not possible. There is a reason why "chores" is a name and why they are only done once or twice a day. Yet city folk like the woman I was in discussions with cannot seem to comprehend this.

The only way that people can really understand the way a farm is run is to work on one for a day or even a month. True understanding comes from experience, not from reading a book or a blog on the Internet. Even I can tell you so much.

Feeding animals is another thing people don't get. Many people have their pets and like to always see lots of feed in front of them all the time. The problem with that is that you can get some fat animals as a result.

But with livestock, it's a different story. You see, animals are messy eaters and can slop and spread their hay around without a care. Feed is wasted, trampled into the ground, crapped on, and laid on to the point that it's not eatable anymore, especially if too much feed is available. It's normal and should be considered perfectly fine for animals to fed a certain amount of feed and for them to clean it up quickly after so that they aren't going to be wasting so much feed. As far as economics are considered, feed costs money, and its money wasted when feed is wasted.

It's these unnecessary charges that question the integrity of these animal cops, even though I know that they're just doing their jobs and doing what they feel is right and in the requirements of the law. But what's the law if it's going to be harming people like Rockwood and making his life hell? The good thing that came out of this is the amazing support he has gotten not just from other farmers, but the general public. A crowdfunding source has helped him pay off his legal fees and help him make some ground to try to get his animals back. It's definitely encouraging news, now that people are starting to wake up and realize that the animal rights movement is not what PeTA and HSUS has made it out to be.

Still, there is controversy, there are arguments surrounding things like having pets versus having animals (as livestock), and there are still things many people have to learn and begin to wake up to. We can only hope that Rockwood's plight has woken the masses up to understand that the way animals are raised on farms are not as bad as the minority group with the biggest loudspeaker has been forcing us all to believe. Not only do we need the small farmer, but the small farmer needs us, and needs our support in more ways than we can fathom.
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