We caught up with Common Ground volunteer Joan Ruskamp at her farm near Dodge to learn how producers put care for their animals first.
"We just have to think, what to cattle want?" Ruskamp said. "They want to eat, drink, sleep, socialize, and to be able to lie down. We provide all of that here. We provide a feed that is scientifically put together with a nutritionist's help. We use different ingredients that are right around us. The cows are able to lie down, we maintain the pens, there's plenty of room to socialize, and we make sure there's clean water all of the time. Our goal is to keep the animals healthy and content."
Ruskamp notes there's been a big interest in animal welfare over the last few years, because more and more people are not connected to a family farm. "In addition to that, we started having discussions about how we were using antibiotics and added hormones," Ruskamp said. "There was fear message that went out that somehow people perceived that we were over-using antibiotics. We are now trying to share the accurate story of what we are doing on the farm."
Animals can get sick, and producers say they do use antibiotics, but only when necessary. "Our goal is to keep them healthy in the first place with a good health care program," Ruskamp said. "But we have weather in Nebraska that can stress an animal. Once in a while, we will get a sick animal. What we can do then, is work with our veterinarians, and use the antibiotics available, and the one best for the specific problem. Most cattle face respiratory diseases, and so we have several good antibiotics that we can use for them." Producers say the goal is to get the cattle well, and get them back with their pen mates.
Ruskamp also points out that if an antibiotic is used, it never enters the food supply. "When you give an antibiotic, there is a certain amount of time before the antibiotic is completely out of the animal. That goes for us as people, too. We have rules to go by. We track it, we record things. We make sure that no animal enters the food supply until it has met a withdrawl period."
Common Ground volunteers like Joan Ruskamp are hoping more people will choose to talk directly with farmers to get their food production questions answered. Common Ground is a group of farm women who want to be a resource for people on how food is grown.