Realizing Stockmanship and Animal Husbandry
Are concepts like “stockmanship” and “animal husbandry” more related to scale or management?
As I researched the term stockmanship, I tried to find differing definitions from multiple perspectives. I will only list two. Here is the first one I found:
Stockmanship is "a term more common in the beef cattle industry and can be defined as the art and science of handling cattle, or any other farm animal, properly." This is a generic definition that I found online. It had no reference or source listed.
I then stumbled upon a publication entitled Stockmanship Journal and visited it to see how the writers defined stockmanship (Hibbard 2014). The editor, Whit Hibbard, gives a personal experience of how he came to define the term. He is a fourth generation rancher of Montana cattle and sheep and he is a former mounted ranger. Hibbard points out that the term means many things to many people but that the journal felt a need to define it for themselves so that readers could understand the perspective of future publications.
He illustrates his definition by referring to a roundup of trespass livestock along the Rio Grande River. Two low-stress handling experts were hired to come in and train riders and handlers. The effect was a synergistic relationship between horse handlers with natural horsemanship, ranch roping, facility design, low-stress livestock handling. Hibbard came to a realization that this combination of effort is what led to a 100% successful roundup...no human injuries, no animal panic or injury, and all of the livestock was safely transported out of the area with half of the typical personnel. Hibbard coined the term "low-stress livestock management" and from this experience produced an 88-page operations manual so that other ranchers could adopt the techniques in order to better manage their own herds.
He goes on to state that there are other elements that play into a holistic-management approach including dog handling, environmental factors and veterinary care. The premise that the journal takes is that true stockmanship requires a knowledge and the active practice of all the various aspects. This article is so in depth, I would definitely recommend as a great read because in some of the side columns he goes into detail about how his wranglers found their weaknesses and were able to learn better techniques and implement them in a short time with great success (there is a great social element to this portion). These guys really seem to care about their work and the animals they handle. The tenets of true stockmanship or husbandry speak to the three legs of sustainability...economic, environmental, and equity.
This example can translate into any type of livestock operation, poultry, swine, fish, sheep, etc. This leads me to believe that ultimately the terms husbandry or stockmanship relate to management, not size. These techniques should belong to all operations regardless of size. They are just good stewardship and I believe good stewardship leads to sustainability.
How does your perspective in this regard relate to how you begin defining “industrial livestock agriculture”?
Descriptions of 'industrial livestock agriculture' use the terms consolidation, high input, intensive production, capital intensive, profit, labor-saving, machinery, technology...the descriptions also note discrepancies in the areas of environment, animal welfare, and consumer/community neglect (GRACE 2014).
When operations are considered CAFOs it is hard for me to apply the term stockmanship. For example, my neighbors' (to whom I refer to often) care for their birds entails reading a list of schedule requirements, feeding, walking the floor for ill, dead, or injured and adding meds/vitamins to the water supply, equipment maintenance and gathering and cleaning eggs. Crews come to round up the chickens at the end of their laying period and new young chickens are brought in. There is not really much husbandry involved, the company, Tyson, dictates how the poultry are to be fed, watered, medicated, and monitored. It is very regimented and sterile. Sometimes the owners lament when they witness the effects of some of the supplements on their chickens. They have no choice whether or not to use these supplements, but follow requirements. Granted, there is a level of husbandry there, but its use is limited. If they were allowed to use true stockmanship or husbandry I am sure they would have things that they would change in order to afford the animals more comfort. These are nice folks, but their operation belongs to a corporation and they are merely babysitters. Listed next is what I see to be the difference between stockmanship and industrial livestock agriculture.
The following elements further characterize CAFOs:
-physical separation from an animal raising operation,
-yet, wholly in charge of living creatures
-total reliance upon industry standards to run operations and not personal knowledge/experience.
Obviously, the science behind these contract operations is intact. This is evident in the high production numbers that come out of such intensive operations. However, stockmanship takes in more than just animal and profit count at the end of a cycle. It takes in the welfare of livestock and handler alike with great attention given to all aspects...social, environmental, and economic. It takes into consideration the needs of the future as well as the needs of the present.
Hibbard, Whit. 2014. "Defining Stockmanship". Stockmanship Journal. http://stockmanshipjournal.com/the-editor/. Accessed June 13, 2014.
GRACE. 2014. Industrial Livestock Production. http://www.sustainabletable.org/859/industrial-livestock-production. Accessed June 13, 2014.