Friday, November 23, 2012

How to piss a farmer off: Animal control

First, this isn't going to go the way you think.  I'm actually a fan of animal control officers and the role of animal control in the area.  They do a thankless job that often involves conflict and at times, they are responsible for doing considerable good.  Like when they run across a situation were animals are neglected -- often they're the only ones who can step in and get proper care for the animals. 
picture courtesy of

I do sometimes disagree with their management, but what I'm really disagreeing with is the laws or rules that they are saddled with, not with their intention.  This is particularly true when I look at the horse rescue situation that consumes a considerable part of the budget of animal control around here. 

So the individuals involved in animal control, and the management of the shelters, and the volunteers who care for the animals -- hats off to you guys.  Really.  This is not sarcasm.

Here's a post that I ran across on, in the goats livestock forum

"apparently we are irresponsible and neglect our animals. for the second time since we've had our goats, i guess animal control is being called. this time because out goats apparently dont have shelter. just cause you cant see it from the road... the first time was before we had fencing and we were tethering (we were home). from the road you couldnt see each goat's water bucket. animal control showed up that time and was very impressed with how happy our herd was, no problems. i'm sure they'll say the same again. i mean, we have 4 goats on 10 acres, with fresh spring-fed creeks, and their choice between 2 sheds. i'm pretty sure they are content. not to forget, two weeks ago, as fern lay dying, the mentally retarded neighbor asks us " well, who hasn't been taking care of her?" people assume because we're young that we are just terrible people..

what do we need to do? offer tours of our farm? post signs at the road? "btw, our goats have food, water, shelter, and love." i am so ticked off right now its not funny... sorry about all the bad grammar, my hands are shaking.

The author of this post has a blog, and you can see pictures of her goats and setup; and she recently had a baby.  First, congrats on the child, and second, sympathy for your issue.  You are not alone. 

Lets talk a little about her questions, because I think she raises some interesting points. 

do we need to offer tours of our farm? 
People complain to government agencies, not just animal control, for a variety of reasons.  In my case they have complained to the army corps of engineers, the county planning/development department, the department of ecology, animal control, the surface water management department and the department of fish and wildlife for the state over the years. 
The first thing that you have to realize is that not everyone cares about the animals.  Some folks will complain because they don't like the animals being there.  Or they don't like you.  Or they don't like seeing the animals as they drive by.  Or they think that your particular kind of animal shouldn't be around -- the horse owners in my area complain about my pigs, for instance.  Their horses shy away when they ride by on the county road, and they don't like that. 

A tour isn't going to solve that problem, or stop those folks from complaining.  The people who come on the tour will tend to be people who agree with you already.  It's actually pretty nice to find folks who agree with you, and your blog, with lots of pictures and discussion of your animal care, will do much more for your public image than anything you might achieve with a tour. 

Do we need to post signs on the road? 
Michelle, who writes about sheep and dogs on her blog, has had an issue in the past with people writing her nasty notes and leaving them on her fenceline.   She has dogs, and writes about her dogs now and then, and they look like they're having a good time.  The complainer was making signs and posting them on Michelle's fence.

In Michelle's case, this person repeatedly did this.   Remember that complainers may not have your best interest at heart, or care for your animals.  What they're after is to harass you, and if you post defensive signs it just brings more attention to it.  I'd say no signs -- don't encourage them. 

Even farmer neighbors will sometimes complain
Matronofhusbandry (her choice of names) writes a very popular blog, and has had issues with neighbors making judgements about how she manages her pastures and when her greenhouses got flattened by snow, they complained about her greenhouses, too.  She does what I think is wise; just stay the course.  Of course you'll make mistakes as a new (and old!) farmer - I still do, and every farmer I know does.  Just stay the course.  What you're doing by making sure your animals are well cared for is all the reassurance you need. 

Here's what I suggest
First, work very hard to be polite and maintain good relations with whatever regulatory agency is called.  It is very difficult to not be defensive, and in cases where there is an honest disagreement -- where you think you're right, and they're wrong -- it's worth it to stand up for yourself, because they won't go away unless you do

But in the case of things like animal control, being on a first-name basis with the local animal control officers, and having them know you and your practices, is your first and best defense.  My farm is next to an elevated highway, and 55,000 cars pass by every day and look down into my farm.  There are traffic jams that slow the cars down to 3mph, and 70,000 people look at my farm every day.  For me, daily visits by animal control happened for months on end.  They'd come to my driveway, I'd say hi, and ask what they wanted to look at, and I'd take them there.  Dead pig on the compost pile?  Naw, they like sleeping there.  Lets go look.  Sheep don't have water?  Lets go look.  Pigs sleeping in mud?  Yep.  They do that.  Want to see?

Personally?  It was INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING.  I'd grit my teeth and just endure it, but it does get better.   I hated being second-guessed about every single thing I did on my own farm.   But it's important to note that your issue is with the complainers, not the agency.  That's a clear distinction to make. 

After 2 years of that they rarely come to the farm any more.  They're required by law to respond to every complaint, but they all know me, and they've all been all over my farm, and they've seen every single piece of it.   So now if it's a novel complaint, they meet me on my driveway or call me and it's no big deal.

I'm super-visible and I'm also the biggest pig farmer in this county.  So for a lot of the agencies this was the first time they'd ever been to a pig farm, so I had a bigger education issue than most.  I think you'll do fine with your goats; keep your resolve and ignore the haters. 



Éirinn Mac Giolla Phádraig said...

Delurking to say that I've really enjoyed reading your articles over the last few weeks since I've discovered your blog--I'm a lawyer in northern Ontario and would really love to have a few pigs on pasture one day!

I'm also on the board of our local Humane Society (which also covers the animal control in our jurisdiction). We so rarely get calls about farm animals that this type of repeated intervention was surprising to read about, but then again I suppose there are a lot less farms in my neck of the woods. These complaining busy bodies really need to turn their attention towards huge factory farms and mega slaughterhouses if they really cared about the welfare of animals.

Looking forward to more good blogging :)

Kristin said...

I live in the suburbs, but five minutes in any direction are farms. I love Sunday drives on the old country roads and the day the sheep get moved from the North field to the South field across the street is my favorite. It's why we moved here. So it drives me nuts to no end that people do this - and it happens often. Beef with the neighbor? Never seen a real, working farm before? Think all animals are your personal fur babies? Call animal control. If that doesn't work, call the health department. If that doesn't work, call city's endless. The city is rezoning too, turning many former farm areas into residential/ag. So when farmers (or more often, their children) sell, neighborhoods with oversized houses and postage stamp yards go up next to farms that have been there a century. Then the new neighbors complain about the smell, the noise, etc. News flash, you bought a house next to a farm! Farms have animals. Animals smell. And make noise. And they were there first! Don't get me started on the grass laws.

That rant out of the way: I've kept chickens for seven years in a neighborhood (we can legally have 6). When I brought my first set home, the guy a few doors down told me if he heard them once he'd have the cops at my door. It never happened. I've found the best way to keep the neighbors from pitching a fit is to share eggs and zucchini and let their kids come fall in love with the ladies. Now half the block keeps hens and the last rain storm, a roo and duck were seen wandering the neighborhood together looking for worms on the sidewalk. Of course, that doesn't stop passers by and wouldn't work five minutes from here. But it works for us.

PS Just found your site. Love it.