Local ranchers work on their image
Feeling misunderstood, cattlemen come together to educate the public
Jolene Moxon grew up in a ranching family. Her grandparents ran cattle in Trinity County, and her father worked in the dairy industry in Arcata. She remembers showing cattle at the Humboldt County Fair, proudly sporting her blue-and-gold Future Farmers of America jacket as she led her steer around the woodchip-filled ring.
Her family and other ranchers and dairy farmers she knew all treated their animals humanely, so she was dismayed last year when a now-infamous video, surreptitiously filmed by animal-rights activists, showed horrific animal cruelty at a Chino slaughterhouse. Images of an injured cow being relentlessly pushed by a forklift were seared into her mind—as well as the minds of millions of Americans who saw them.
Moxon is now part of a new generation of ranchers who are working to overcome the animal-cruelty charges lobbed at the industry since the video appeared.
“People need to realize that was one example, not the entire group. Now the entire business is suffering for it,” she said, shaking her head solemnly.
At first glance, Moxon is a typical college student. On the day the CN&R interviewed her on the Chico State University campus, the 21-year-old animal-science major wore a turquoise necklace and her short brown hair in a ponytail. Only her cowboy boots reflected her background.
The vehicle she’s using to speak out on behalf of ranchers is the Young Cattlemen’s Association at Chico State, of which she is president. The group has 30 members from various agriculture backgrounds and meets monthly to plan outreach activities.
On Feb. 20, YCA helped facilitate a meeting of experienced cattlemen from around the state, in the annual “Beef Day” at the university farm. As the conference showed, the Chino video has led not only to dismay at the bad rap beef producers have got in its wake, but also to a certain amount of self-reflection among older ranchers about their practices.
“The sad part is that the public thinks that this is how we treat our animals, but you and I know that this is not true.”
Speaking was Dr. Dave Daley, a professor of agriculture at Chico State. He looked out over a crowd of folks, young and old, wearing cowboy hats and weathered Carhartt jackets as he presented his portion of the program, titled “Animal Welfare and Animal Rights—Where do we go from here?”
Dairy cattle grazed nearby on this sunny Saturday morning at the farm. The event brought together producers and students to discuss pressing issues facing the industry—marketing, consumer trends, environmental concerns and, of course, animal rights.
A gray-muzzled Jack Russell terrier trotted among scuffed boots, and the smell of grilling tri-tip wafted through the dusty farm pavilion, signaling that lunch was on its way, but the conference attendees remained attentive to Daley’s words.
Daley began by administering a short survey to 50 cattlemen, testing their attitudes toward animal rights and using electronic answering devices to tally the results.
Members of the audience nodded in agreement when they were asked if ranchers should engage in productive conversations with animal-activist groups; 96 percent thought it would be beneficial.
Most participants—80 percent—said they’d be willing to look to alternative methods of castration and branding of calves, two practices that animal-rights groups criticize. And 95 percent of respondents believed that animals have the right to be raised humanely.
“The notion of ‘animal rights’ scares some people in the industry because of the way it has been used politically against us,” Daley said. “The wake-up call was Prop 2 [on the November ballot]. If we can’t engage people in conversation, then we can’t accomplish anything.”
His message was clear. With fewer than 2 percent of the general population involved in farming, agriculture groups need to be more hands-on about educating the public about where their food comes from.
“Students are very proactive,” Daley said. “They are 100 percent ready to move forward.”
That’s Moxon. She believes farming and ranching are valuable contributions to society, not just businesses for making money, and she has already spent time lobbying for the beef industry in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Despite the many challenges the industry is facing, Moxon could not see herself doing anything else with her life. She could never leave something that is so honest, she said.
“Farmers realize that what they do is special,” she said. “It is a great feeling to look out over a field and see something that you have grown and that you can call your own.”