NOBULL: HSUS on the ranch — There were some big surprises on a gorgeous Colorado fall day…

Western Livestock Journal

October 14, 2013

HSUS on the ranch

There were some big surprises on a gorgeous Colorado fall day. Not only was Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), on a beef ranch for the first time, he also voiced support for animal agriculture. There was, of course, a catch.

There were roughly two dozen attendees to the HSUShosted media event held at a northeastern Colorado ranch last Wednesday. It is safe to describe the group as an overwhelmingly friendly audience for HSUS.

While the discussion of the success of the small, nichemarket, six-year-old ranch was impressive (more on that below), most interesting were the statements of Pacelle, who spoke at the event.

“One of the things we’d like to do is have more people get into farming because that means more custodians and more caretakers of the animals who are undoubtedly going to be raised for us. So what are we going to choose? What is the future course?” Pacelle unsurprisingly characterized the choice being either the “respectful” form of agriculture demonstrated on the ranch where the event was held or what he called “industrial farming.” He also blamed the “industrial model” of animal agriculture with the loss of one million farmers in the last several decades and the degradation of rural communities.

But the fact he actively called for more animal ag farmers stood out, regardless of the qualifications he later placed on it.

When asked one-on-one by WLJ how he squared his personal beliefs as a 26-year vegan with his stated desire for more animal agriculturalists, Pacelle said he is a realist.

“Ninety-seven percent of the population eats meat. That’s a common way people get their food. …And the farmers are the ones who have the animals. If you’re not talking to the people who have the animals, you’re omitting from the conversation, arguably, the most important group in terms of the custodianship and stewardship of animals.”

During the discussion preceding the ranch tour, Pacelle admitted HSUS “hasn’t had a tradition of talking about these issues [farming and ranching]. But we’re changing our culture the best way. We’re not kicking out the vegetarians and the vegans—we love the vegetarians and the vegans—but we also want the farmers.”

He spoke at length about the need to engage ranchers in conversation and change their messages to include agriculture more. When asked whether that meant one of HSUS’ primary message systems—TV commercials exclusively featuring kittens and puppies to elicit donations— would become more representative of HSUS’ ag-focused actions, the answer was vague. Pacelle pointed out they did have one donation commercial featuring the downer cow footage from the California slaughter plant, but did not comment on whether future commercials would feature more livestock.

HSUS has been heavily criticized by members of the agricultural community and watchdog groups like HumaneWatch for misleading donors with their solicitation commercials. The Humane- Watch’s most recent edition of its annual poll of self-identified HSUS donors found that 66 percent of respondents thought their donations to HSUS went to support animals at their local shelter.

A later question in the survey, following information that HSUS gives only 1 percent of its budget to shelters, asked if donors felt misled by the commercials. Eighty-four percent said yes. Additionally, 87 percent said commercials should disclose that budgetary detail, and 88 percent of respondents said the commercials should run with a disclaimer that the group is not associated with local shelters.

The ranch

The event was held at the Flying B Bar Ranch of Strasburg, CO, owned and operated by Brad and Margaret Buchanan. They run Angus cows bred to Waygu bulls. The operation is small, but they hope to increase to 100 cows in the near future.

The operation is relatively new, with the Buchanans having bought the property in 2006 with no prior cattle experience. Brad Buchanan called their newcomer nature a good thing, however.

“We’ve been making it up as we go and that’s a really good thing, because we can look at every single step of the way and say, ‘what’s important to us?’ … It has dramatically impacted our operation relative to other operations that just do it the way they’ve always done it.”

The operation is American Grassfed-certified and one of three Animal Welfare Approved cattle operations in the state. Animals are raised to about 1,200 pounds on grass then slaughtered and processed on-site. Buchanan said calves are born in February and usually slaughtered in November of the following year. Dry-aged beef is then sold direct to consumers in eighths, quarters, halves or wholes via the ranch website and sells out well before animals are ready for slaughter.

“My demand exceeds what I can produce right now in terms of grassfed. I could sell three times, four times what I’m selling right now. And we’re making good money doing it.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor