Communicating matters of life and death

Judy Kennedy

Judy Kennedy

How to communicate the facts of life and death on a farm to a consuming public far removed from the production cycle is a question that constantly challenges rural leaders. Cox Inall senior consultant Judy Kennedy believes the best way to start is by telling the truth.

We live on a dirt road 40 kilometres from the CBD of Melbourne, with flaky internet connection and black spots where mobiles drop out in the midst of (usually important) conversations. Our chocolate Lab is allowed inside the house.

I grew up on a sheep property 800km west of Brisbane, on a dirt road with a party line phone service which meant that everyone on the line could eavesdrop on your conversation. Our dogs were working kelpies, never allowed inside the garden, let alone the house.

My husband and I now have two boys aged 10 and 8 and my dilemma as a former country girl living in the urban fringe is – how do I teach them to have a practical attitude about life and death as it pertains to where their food comes from? I worry about the proliferation of people who make judgements about the welfare of animals without any experience of the food production cycle.

Growing up, we killed a sheep every fortnight. I remember putting the ‘killers’ into the yards – usually any Merinos with the shadow of  some black fibres on them – for Dad to catch one and hoist it up to me on the back of the old Land Rover. We would hold it there while we drove to the block where the wether would be humanely butchered.

It was a part of life, and while it was a bit sad to hold the poor old sheep in his last minutes, there was always the delicacy of liver and crumbed brains for brekkie the next day.

It’s in every farmers interest to have rigorous animal welfare standards in place, but any dogs that didn’t perform were sent packing, and it would have been cruel to keep alive lambs that weren’t mothered up.

The most exciting thing we did as kids was to go pig shooting, where the big old black boars with mud pads on their shoulders and big curving tusks were fair game for Dad’s .303.

Our boys know nothing of this world. Occasionally on the way to school we pass a bloated dead wombat on his back with a big red cross painted on him that reminds the Council to come and pick him up. Or perhaps it’s a possum that’s been splattered by one of the local hoons driving too fast.

Last year we were late shutting the chooks into their small fox-proof roost. We got home at 9pm to find the local fox had bitten a hole in the wire netting and killed all six. He was in the process of dragging the last three away when we disturbed him.

I kept the three dead and headless (why do they always eat the heads first?) chooks to show the boys. They were mildly horrified at first: “Is there blood Mum?” But they came with me to look at the chooks and were pretty much unmoved, before helping me throw them in the rubbish bin.

We need to make sure our children grow up with a practical understanding of life and death in this increasingly urbanised world. In the past, plenty of people had relatives involved in agriculture and like our uncle, a Brisbane dentist, would come out on the holidays with the family, to experience the drama of farming first hand.

A more proactive approach would be to follow the lead of the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which has set up the Food Dialogues where farmers answer questions from the public about how food is grown and raised. There’s a ‘Meet the Farmer’ space, where a roster of young proactive farmers step up to educate the masses about what they do.

Or maybe industry could find the funding needed to reinstate Farm Day? It offered city families the opportunity to spend time with a family and see first how a working farm in operation.

Former NFF president, Jock Laurie, took part in Farm Day and said his ‘townies’ were “blown away by some of the things we just take for granted – the landscape and wide open spaces, the way we look after our farm animals, the technology and machinery we use, and our farming lifestyle.”

“After spending a day on our farm, they left with a better understanding of what life is all about for farming families.”

That’s what transparency is all about – a better understanding.


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