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Wednesday, September 4 2019 6:00 AM
By Anne Burkholder

Why Do "Ethics" Apply to Farmers?

I recently attended a lecture on Animal Welfare Ethics presented by Dr. Dorothy McKeegan of the University of Glasgow. This is the second time in the last 12 months that I’ve been challenged to think about ethics and what role they play in the realm of animal welfare. I think it’s safe to say that when I began working at a cattle feedyard in 1997, discussions of ethics never entered my mind despite the fact that our team strived to compassionately care for our animals. I have always believed that cattle were sentient beings and that animal welfare was an important “state within an animal”, but my focus tended to be functional and revolve around healthy feed, fresh water, room to play and a comfortable place for the cattle to rest.

As a psychology nerd, I embraced the concept of mental status and ultimately learned to understand how cattle perceived the environment in order to create a place where they could thrive. In all honesty, my decisions regarding animal welfare were based on a combination of science and knowledge gained from perhaps the best teachers of all – my cattle themselves. I never doubted the feedyard system that we used on our farm to prepare animals for slaughter, and I never questioned whether raising cattle for food was ethical. I simply felt driven to offer the best care possible on my farm.

I didn’t think or talk about ethics, but I unknowingly lived them. Ethics aren’t science, but personally defining them can make welfare discussions, decisions, and the actions of human caretakers more harmonious and effective. 


Because our moral philosophy drives our actions. Welfare ethics consider human behavior toward animals and determine the type of relationship that forms. Our “ethics” answer the important question of “Why do I do what I do?” and addresses the reasoning behind daily animal care habits on the farm.

What do we “owe” to our animals in terms of level of care and how should the findings of animal welfare science be applied on the farm?

I’ve never met a farmer who did not think it was morally acceptable to end the life of a food producing animal, so that question does not often arise in an ethical discussion with a farm audience. However, conversations about what defines our moral obligation to our food animals dictates the way that food is grown in the United States. As a farmer, I want to not only be a part of that discussion – I want to proactively drive it.

My ethical views about raising cattle initially drew me to the Progressive Beef program. Today, they continue to drive me to ensure that we offer the best care possible to the animals in our feedyards. These ethics have value not just as they determine my attitude and daily animal care habits, but they also hold value when I share them with my customers who are not able to experience life on a farm. Moral values are things to be proud of – to share – to celebrate. When we take the time to define them, then we can feel confident that we are raising animals with integrity. This not only makes us better animal caretakers, but it also allows us to be better partners for those who nourish their bodies with the food that we grow.


What do we think?

How do we care?

How are they intertwined?

It’s not just semantics -- it is critical thought development that will drive the relationships that we have both with our animals, and our customers and neighbors.



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Innovative Livestock Services, Inc.

Innovative Livestock Services

2006 Broadway Avenue
Great Bend, KS 67530

(620) 793-9200

4805 Vue du Lac
Manhattan, KS 66503

(785) 587-9700

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