During my junior and senior year of high school I worked evenings, weekends and summer breaks as a certified nursing assistant at our local nursing home. It was hard work — feeding, bathing and dressing patients, changing their bedding, taking their vital signs and lifting them into beds and wheelchairs — but the pay was decent for a young high school student saving up for college and I enjoyed getting to know the residents while I worked. I even found myself spending time there after hours, writing letters for a patient with Parkinson’s.
I’ve been thinking a lot about those formative years as a CNA ever since the animal activist video from Fair Oaks Farms was released. Why? I will get to that in a moment.
In case you haven’t followed the story, earlier this month Mike and Sue McCloskey, founders of Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, became aware of an animal abuse video that the group Animal Recovery Mission produced and released to the public and the press. Most of the footage for the video was captured on one of the dairies that belongs to Fair Oaks Farms and while the McCloskeys were previously aware that ARM had gone undercover at their farm, they had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what — if any — abuse had occurred.
Of the five individuals captured on video, four were Fair Oaks employees and one was a third-party truck driver who was picking up calves. Of the four who were employees, three had already been terminated after being reported by their co-workers as being abusive to animals. The fourth was immediately fired after the video came out and the transportation company was also notified that the truck driver was no longer allowed on any Fair Oaks Farms again.
Since then authorities have one former Fair Oaks Farms employee under arrest and two others are wanted on charges tied to the abuse seen in the video. This week the Newton County prosecutor said a witness has come forward, saying the ARM employee who made the video coerced the other workers to engage in that behavior. Time will tell how this all shakes out.
While the employee animal abuse allegations happened on the dairy side, not Pig Adventure or the pork production side of Fair Oaks Farms, this type of event could happen in any aspect of livestock production. After spending time trying to hire and train the right individuals and giving them the tools and support they need to do the job, you put your trust in them to take care of your animals. But then a few bad apples get in and all those good intentions get thrown out the window.
As Marti Farms, a dairy in Wisconsin, points out there are bad apples, or as they refer to them “sucky people,” in every industry.
“There are bad people working in daycares. There are bad teachers working in our schools. There are bad people working in nursing homes. There are bad priests and bad doctors and bad mechanics. But just like we wouldn’t condemn an entire hospital for the actions of a bad doctor on staff, or an entire school for the bad decisions of a teacher, we can’t condemn an entire dairy industry (or even an entire farm) for the actions of bad employees.”
I couldn’t agree more. Any kind of abuse in unacceptable, but the actions of these bad employees isn’t representative of the entire dairy, or livestock, industry. There are many, many good apples out there.
Looking back on my time as a CNA, I can’t say I witnessed any abuse, but I knew a few employees were just there to get a paycheck and were not cut out to take care of elders. They just didn’t have that caregiving sixth sense. But for every one of those unsavory apples, I witnessed 10 good apples who just glowed around the residents, were patient and kind, and enjoyed coming to work every day.
Since coming to work for National Hog Farmer, I have had the privilege of writing about so many good apples in our industry as well as covering innovative ways to improve the hiring process and to train and support our human capital in today’s production systems. Finding and retaining good labor is difficult in livestock production, and it’s important to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. While this month’s attack centered on dairy, tomorrow it could be pork production. Now is the time to break out those SOPs, review training materials, have a third-party audit and get your caretakers PQA Plus certified.