This week’s blog post was a realization I (Tiffany) had on a recent tour we conducted for dietetic interns. We typically tour a large feed yard with the interns and have a fairly set routine of how the tour proceeds. This year, we decided to mix it up and instead of immediately getting off the bus at the office, we stayed aboard and took a driving tour of the cattle pens first. This offered our tour participants an elevated view of the feed yard because we were in a larger tour bus which sets you up much higher than the average vehicle. This was a unique perspective and one I’m glad we were able to show our dietetic interns.
Part of my typical work week with the Arizona Beef Council has traditionally been heading out to Arizona high school classrooms to teach students on topics ranging from how cattle are raised in Arizona to preparing a delicious beef meal. Most teachers request that I share the beef lifecycle whether they are learning about culinary and have no connection to agriculture or are traditional students in an agriculture education setting. People are asking the question more and more, “Where does my food come from?” and these students, and often times the teacher, want to know the answer. So, we talk about the cow-calf ranch, the weaning process, why we give vaccinations and brand in the state of Arizona. We cover the feed yard and then talk about the harvesting plant with the conclusion of that story being a juicy, delicious steak on the consumer’s plate. (For a more detailed account of the entire beef lifecycle click here.)
A presentation slide I always enjoy showing is an overhead view of a feed yard. This photo does a great job of representing an average feed yard set up. I let the students talk me through what they see instead of telling them what I see and what they notice is often very different from the common misconceptions you hear about feed yards. They tell me they see lots of space for the cattle to move around. They also mention that the cattle are bunched together, but not because of the fences, so we have the conversation about herd instincts (cattle are flight animals by nature and prefer to spend their time surrounded by their own kind). They talk about how there are some cattle gathered at the front of the pens. We talk about why that is: that’s where they get fed and have free choice as to when and how much they eat.
Then I show another photo. This was a photo taken of Lauren and me a few years back at one of our Gate to Plate tours. We were excited to see a lot of hard work coming to fruition, and that excitement is written all over our faces. Because of Lauren and I’s personal perspectives earned through many visits to this and other feed yards in our lifetime, we see nothing but happy cattle in the background and happy, productive employees, in the foreground. But to others who may not have had the privilege to visit a large feed yard, this photo might say something else.
The perspective of this photo shows only one flat view. Immediately behind us, the view is of lots of curious black and white steers standing at the fence line watching us. We interpret their stares as curious, for which Holstein cattle are known, but it might not read that way to someone with less cattle experience. As you look further back into the frame of the photo, your eye is met with more cattle who also looked squished together. Unfortunately, as much fun as this picture is for Lauren and me, it only shows one perspective of a feed yard which doesn’t accurately describe how cattle are housed.
The thing that struck me was this is often the perspective the average person has of feed yards or even dairies (which are often set up similarly). Most people only drive by a feed yard or dairy and never get the chance to talk with the person running these locations, or even better, get to see it from a bird’s eye view.
And it is also a reminder for myself and others in my unique position to be very mindful of the photos we share. I love posting photos on social media of my experiences on feed yards, dairies, and ranches throughout Arizona, but considering what the photo says if there was no explanation given is an important factor to consider. Not every person is going to see or read the text you attach to a photo. Remember, a photo says a thousand words only offers one perspective.