Farming community sticks together

There are plenty of unwritten rules among those who live in farming communities, and one involves what neighbors do when livestock end up somewhere other than their home farm. Perhaps a tree fell on a fence, a gate was left unlatched or lightning hit the fence charger. Animals find their way out, the farmer knows animals are missing, neighbors help collect them and safely return the animals to their owner. It’s that simple.

But in Newfane, NY, a case involving missing farm animals hasn’t been simple. Farmer Scott Gregson said a few weeks ago all of his animals were where they should have been when they were last checked one night.

“The next day, I checked the animals and two were missing,” said Gregson. “I checked the fence line for any holes where they could have gotten out. The power was on, the fence is in good shape – there are no holes and no fence posts down, and all the gates were locked and secured. I can’t figure out how they got out of the pasture.”

How the two beef animals got out remains a mystery, but somehow they ended up at Asha’s Farm Sanctuary, just a short distance from Gregson’s farm. In several news reports, Tracy Murphy, the owner of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary, claims the animals “wandered onto her farm.”

Murphy operates the farm as a sanctuary and “safe haven,” and referred to Gregson as the “alleged owner” of the steer and heifer that were obviously well-fed and cared for. While a true farmer would do everything possible to help retrieve and return wayward animals to their rightful owner, Murphy refused to do so, claiming that Gregson must provide proof the animals were his.

Farming community sticks together

The two beef cattle in question. Photo courtesy of New York State Police

As soon as the incident became public, Gregson’s neighbors rallied in his support, demanding that Murphy return Gregson’s two beeves. Many of Gregson’s supporters protested outside Murphy’s farm, and a series of signs posted throughout the area clearly indicated his neighbors were in full support of Gregson’s request to have his cattle returned.

“We’re an ag community,” said Gregson. “We’ve had an outpouring of support from the community and have gotten phone calls from all over the country from farmers, ranchers and others in agriculture.”

Although it’s been incredibly stressful for both the Gregson family and the community, the news the morning of Aug. 2 was good: According to media outlets, Murphy had been arrested and charged with third degree grand larceny and Gregson’s animals had been returned to him.

While Murphy and Asha’s Farm Sanctuary don’t outrightly claim to be animal rights activists, they acted much like activists in their refusal to return Gregson’s animals. The fact that Murphy renamed the animals and posted information about them on social media hints at the potential intent to keep them.

This case is proof that animal activists don’t always target what they often refer to as “industrial farms.” Activists’ main goal (and most will proudly say so) is to end the use of animals for human use. They believe farmed animals are “abused” and should not be raised for meat.

In some cases, activists infiltrate farms through what seems like legitimate employment. After becoming familiar with the operation, they’ll take video clips of everyday activities and alter the clips with dark lighting and other effects to make it appear that animals are being mistreated. The next step is turning the altered footage over to media outlets. The general public sees only a snippet of the farm on television and usually never learns the whole story. Unfortunately, many stories are slanted in activists’ favor.

Although many activist groups have gained notoriety for extreme tactics such as showing up in large numbers on farms to create a very public scene, a scene they hope will go viral, some remain more secluded and “rescue” one or two animals at a time.

It’s important for everyone who owns any animals – pets and livestock (including horses) – to understand that some people don’t believe animals should be kept or raised for the benefit of humans. These people may not claim to be animal rights activists, but they often align with the beliefs of activist groups.

Farmers should be aware of any activist activity in their region, even if it’s in the form of what they might refer to as “crazy people chaining themselves to the meat case.” It’s also useful to know the whereabouts of so-called “animal sanctuaries” or “rescues” that are often funded by animal rights proponents.

Game cameras placed around the farm, especially in any areas close to the road, can help reveal illicit activity. Good lighting around barns and other livestock housing areas helps deter those who may try to come onto the property illegally. Although ear tags can identify animals and may help to confirm ownership, they can be easily removed. Photographs of animals that clearly show the farm’s ear tags may help clarify who owns the animals if proving ownership becomes an issue.

Employee training, cameras and vigilance can go a long way in helping to prevent activist threats, but many small farms have no employees simply because the family can easily care for livestock themselves. Such farms may not be concerned about potential activist threats, but Gregson’s experience shows otherwise.

While it’s still unclear how Gregson’s animals ended up at Asha’s Farm, the investigation will continue. Gregson said the arrest of Murphy is the end of the first chapter of the story, and that the events over the past few weeks have spurred motivation within his family and his community to support agriculture against activist groups that threaten farmers.

by Sally Colby

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