Virginia beef cattle producer C.W. Pratt says most people give little thought to where their food comes from "or what it takes to raise it."
If they did, Pratt adds, consumers might have more respect for farmers.
Pratt raises 250 head of registered Angus on Echo Ridge Farm in Smyth County and travels across southwest Virginia as a livestock grader for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
"I’d say at least 95 percent of the farmers treat their cattle very well," Pratt says. "They should, because they depend on the animals for their livelihood."
Pratt currently owns 900 acres on which his herd grazes. The land is steep and hilly, but it provides natural wind breaks for the cattle. Pratt has installed numerous automatic waterers, having fenced the animals out of natural streams to protect the water quality.
He believes it’s best to raise cattle in the great outdoors rather than keep them in barns. "They’re range animals and are intended to survive on their own," he says.
However, when his cattle are calving, he pays close attention. If the ground is dry, the calves do fine, but when the ground is wet, cold and snowy like it was in January and February, they can get chilled. Pratt said he usually puts them in a barn with their mothers and some warm straw bedding.
This winter, two newborns got so chilled Pratt rushed them into his house and put them in the bathtub. Running warm water on the calves raises their body temperature to a normal level.
"We rub on them and talk to them while we’re running the water on them," Pratt said. "Once they start moving around, you know they’re okay."
Steve Jenkins, a senior district field services director for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and a former cattle producer himself, noted that most farmers who have livestock can share stories of going the extra mile as it relates to the care and well-being of animals.
"Many a newborn or sick calf has been warmed in the seat of a pickup truck or even in the farmer’s own home. Most any livestock producer can also share stories of routinely spending sleepless nights attending to an animal giving birth, nursing a sick animal or helping a newborn animal get acclimated to its new world," Jenkins said. "These types of actions are just as much a part of livestock farming as feeding hay, fixing fences or any other routine chores conducted around the farm."