Livestock producers have many daily responsibilities when it comes to caring for and protecting their animals. One responsibility is to remain vigilant regarding individuals that oppose the use of animals for food or other purposes. Animal rights activists have tried many tactics over time to eliminate any use of animals for food, fiber, or entertainment. Some of these tactics include initiating stronger local and state animal abuse legislation, releasing or stealing animals from private property, becoming farm employees to create undercover videos, protesting and billboards or media campaigns. Many of these tactics are still being used, but activists' tactics are advancing as new technologies, such as mapping and artificial intelligence from satellite images or drones to identify properties with animal production, become available.
Here are some tips and reminders of how to prepare for or respond to opposition and keep your family, employees and animals safe.
Know what farm information is available electronically on public platforms and monitor social media pages for potential threats. Remember, the goal is to remain transparent about the high-quality care animals receive while being raised for food. Not everyone with interest in where their food comes from can physically visit your farm or ranch, and those platforms can provide that information.
Practice good hiring practices. Review applicant materials thoroughly and briefly research individuals through Internet searches and calling references. Ask existing employees for recommendations on people to hire. Implement strict supervision or on-the-job training with a partner for a set number of days or weeks after hiring. Meet with new employees regularly within the first days/weeks and use an employee evaluation form to discuss strengths and weaknesses in job performance. This is especially important for employees with intensive animal care responsibilities.
Discuss visitor policies with all family members and employees. Communicate the importance of having visitors check in at an office or central location to ensure everyone’s safety and to practice good biosecurity. Empower each employee or family member to greet and escort all visitors respectfully and to ask a few questions about the purpose of their visit. Ensure that all employees and family members have the direct phone number of the supervisor or owner designated to assist visitors or unwelcome guests. Visitor logs can be a simple way to track visitors and gives you time to have a conversation with people to learn more about their intentions for visiting.
Ensure security and biosecurity policies are followed. Posting signs at property entrances or pastures communicates your biosecurity and no-trespass expectations. These signs can communicate that animals are on the property and provide a phone number for people to call if they have questions or concerns. Identify restricted areas and post them. Lock offices and cabinets. Maintain or increase lighting around facilities.
Create a phone, camera, or other technology use policy and enforce it. Employees need ways to communicate around the farm or ranch but ensure expectations are verbalized and agreed upon by all. If your farm or ranch welcomes tours and visitors, create a waiver, or use agreement, and have all visitors sign it when they arrive. At a minimum, verbally discuss photo use expectations during introductions. Another strategy to allow pictures is to determine one or two locations around the operation that are the “photo-op stops” (Figure 1). When you get to these locations, announce to visitors that they may take pictures.
During tours, watch for individuals wandering away from groups without permission or continually focusing on other areas not being discussed or highlighted during tours. It is reasonable to give polite verbal reminders to tour participants and guests to stay with the group.
Use cameras (i.e., security cameras and game cams) strategically. Many producers already incorporate camera technologies to assist with the observation of animals, but also consider placement of cameras around perimeters of barns, fence lines, or ranch entrances. Another strategy may be to move cameras around to various entrances or areas of the facilities periodically if you have a limited number of cameras. On days when intense animal movements occur (i.e., weaning, branding, transporting, breeding, processing), consider placing cameras closer to the areas being used or along entrance/exit roads to the location(s).
Keep detailed records. Detailed records include, but are not limited to:
- video footage or pictures,
- annual employee animal care agreements,
- annual employee training documents,
- animal welfare audits or evaluation reports,
- environmental/natural resource compliance records,
- other certificates or awards demonstrating proactive participation in livestock well-being programs.
Pay attention to unfamiliar vehicles or out-of-state license plates. Be polite if you choose to engage people. After all, sometimes people make wrong turns or want to view nature.
If protests occur at your farm, ranch, or event you are attending, do not engage people. Immediately call local authorities and remain calm.
Maintain positive community and neighbor relationships to ensure local support is established before a crisis. Notify neighbors if you observe unfamiliar vehicles or suspicious activities around their property.
Get to know your local law enforcement and emergency responders. Share the concerns you have and ask for advice or protocol suggestions. Share a copy of facility maps and animal locations with them and consider inviting them out for a tour to become familiar with the location and layout of barns, pens and pastures.
Be aware of suspicious activity (i.e., a dishonest person looking to be hired, people trespassing, or drones flying over the property) and immediately report incidents to local authorities. Notify state commodity associations and the state veterinarian; consider notifying the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
Identify a crisis response team and create a crisis communication action plan. This team should consider responses and actions to take in the event undercover videos are released, food safety emergencies occur, a manure spill happens, or if protests or other potential threats develop. Many livestock commodity associations provide training and resources to prepare people for a crisis.
Understand where activists may be gathering information. There are many publicly available ways to gather addresses or contact information, yet farmers and ranchers should realize that additional strategies exist. To learn more about a tool released for identifying animal facilities in the U.S., view this article. Reach out to state commodity associations and Animal Agriculture Alliance with questions or concerns.
In summary, people’s perceptions of animal care practices and where food comes from continue to change. People are curious and seek honest information. Remain vigilant and proactive in preparing for potential emergencies or incidents involving livestock. Make the time to create a crisis response team and plan. Thoroughly discuss it with all family members and employees to ensure both people’s safety and animal wellbeing are protected.
Source: Heidi Carroll, SDSU, are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.