Humane Society’s proposed livestock initiatives a concern to Colorado producers

By Eric Brown | The Fence Post

Colorado’s livestock industry and the Humane Society of the United States are butting heads once again this year.

After another failed attempt in 2013 to pass a bill aimed at eliminating “tail docking” on dairies, Colorado HSUS officials this year are stepping up their efforts — pushing six different ballot initiatives, aimed not only at tail docking, but also taking away livestock exemptions from the state’s animal treatment laws, among other things.

And once again, Colorado’s livestock producers are pushing back against the HSUS, stressing that tail docking — the partial amputation of animals’ tails to keep manure, mud and other debris off the animals’ tails — is a rarely used practice, and is already in the midst of being phased out by the industry.

Across the board, they’re opposed to having animal-husbandry and animal-welfare practices on farms and ranches more regulated by the state, producers say.

Additionally, they stress that Colorado is already an animal-friendly state — even by HSUS standards, which ranked Colorado No. 7 in the country in its 2013 Humane State Ranking, a comprehensive report that rates all 50 states on a wide range of animal protection laws.

“By their own measures and rankings, we’re doing the right things here,” said Weld County rancher and Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President Terry Fankhauser. “So why is it coming to this?”

Colorado State Veterinarian Keith Roehr is hosting informational meetings with the state’s livestock producers about the ballot initiatives, including one in Brush on Tuesday.

Roehr said that due to his employment with the state, he can’t take a position on the ballot measures. After listening to producers on Tuesday, though, he relayed that one of the main concerns among the roughly 70 people in attendance was the measure that would take away livestock exemptions from existing animal treatment laws, also known as the “affirmative defense” measure.

Fankhauser is among one of those concerned with that measure.

He and others explained that, as Colorado’s laws are now, anything recognized as “accepted animal husbandry practices” isn’t considered animal cruelty. But taking that exemption out of the state’s statute and constitution could put the state’s producers at risk of violations and penalties for using the practices they use now, even though Colorado’s producers are recognized nationally as humane handlers.

But Jacquelyn Pyun, the director for HSUS’s Colorado office, doesn’t see it that way.

She stressed that there are a number of other top ag-producing states that don’t have the “livestock exemptions,” and that hasn’t caused issues.

And she stressed that — if Colorado livestock producers are indeed cautious of humane animal-handling practices, deserving of their No. 7 rank in the U.S. — then they should be able to find middle ground with HSUS on these issues.

Both sides agree that hasn’t happened in the past.

Since 2008, the HSUS has pushed for a tail-docking ban, livestock producers have fought against it, and Colorado legislators have been unwilling to put in place such a mandate.

So now, the HSUS is going a different route, pushing its six ballot initiatives — three to change the state’s constitution, and three “mirror” initiatives that would change state statute.

The ballot initiatives are numbers 97, 98, 99, 100, 101 and 102.

In addition to eliminating tail docking and the livestock exemption from animal treatment rules, the measures in the six initiatives, some of which overlap, would mandate that, for livestock being tethered, those animals have enough room to turn around and stretch their limbs, and that “downer” livestock, or sick livestock, not be sold into the market.

Pyun said that the language of all six initiatives have been submitted.

Like all other initiatives, if they are approved and can gather the approximately 86,000 needed signatures, the measures will be on a ballot in November, leaving it up to Colorado voters.

When it comes to tail docking, a number of experts like Temple Grandin — a professor at Colorado State University, best-selling author and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior and handling, who’s been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world — are opposed to the practice.

However, dairy experts point out that, even though tail docking isn’t a recommended practice, it can be done humanely.

Despite some benefit, many dairymen have phased tail docking out of their operations because it can cause stress for the animals. Cattle need their tails to keep flies away and to communicate with others, experts say.

In 2009, California became the first U.S. state to ban the tail docking of dairy cows (HSUS ranked California No. 1 on its 2013 State Humane Rankings).

Now, HSUS wants it in writing that tail docking won’t take place in Colorado either, along with its other proposed changes.

As has been the case in previous years, many producers are concerned that the proposed regulations might draw unnecessary attention.

The proposed initiatives could create the perception to others that there’s a problem here, some producers say, and that may hinder growth for Colorado’s ag economy — perhaps even the dairy growth needed in Weld County and northeast Colorado to meet the demands of an expanding Leprino Foods cheese-processing plant in Greeley.

But above all, Colorado’s producers simply don’t think it’s the job of the state to mandate livestock-handling practices, they say. ❖