Saturday, April 11, 2015


How sad is it that when I came home from my 2-hour talk about Raising Chickens at Merck Forest I saw the barn door swinging open and felt a pang of panic. I could not remember the door being opened and the barn right now isn't being used for anything but goat shelter from the rain, and even then - just one corner. The rest of the barn needs to be cleaned out and readied for milking space. The pig pen need to be mucked, emptied from 6 months without use and chickens just pecking and molting feathers in there. I went about evening chores and I was worried the whole time because someone who wanted to ruin my life and livliehood could take pictures of this weird block of time on an early spring afternoon and draw all sorts of foolish conclusions. Sounds paranoid, right? Well it is happening all over America.

The horse had spent the afternoon rolling in the mud and knocked over his water rubber tub (10-gallons) and someone could say he was neglected and filthy and denied water intentionally. They wouldn't see his body condition, just-trimmed hoofs, or the fact he has 2 acres of field to run and enjoy. They would just see a horse that looks like a mess. The rabbits had not been fed since morning and their water crocks needed refilling, so they must never be fed or watered, right? The dogs were inside, the sheep's water had run low, the place needs to be raked and woodpiles restocked. You get the picture?

And that person could break the law and trespass on my property and snap photos. They could accuse me of neglect, and slander me online and the whole time they'd holler I had no anti-tresspassing signs on the front lawn and their constitutional right of free speech meant they could say whatever they wanted. All this based on one afternoon in early spring.

I just finished evening chores and if someone walked around now I'd get a friggin award for their care and condition. A gorgeous horse just brushed with perfect feet, great hay, and water overflowing. They'd see the romping free range space for a flock of birds and healthy lambs running in the field as their mothers chew on a pile of second cut goodness. They'd see happy, pregnant goats with trimmed hooves eating minerals and grain with their red bucket filled to the brim. They'd see new chicks in the brooder with paste-free butts. Why? Because at this moment everything is perfect. Twice a day this place is perfect, morning and evening chores. The rest of the time it is a farm.

A farm - like your kitchens, changes all day in appearance and usage and performance. If someone broke in from child services and you hadn't gone grocery shopping yet and there was dirty dishes in the sink and pizza take-out boxes by the door they could snap photos of your private property and say you had failed as a parent. You failed to ensure proper care and nutrition of your household and child. Didn't you know that mold could grow on those dishes, and the toilet wasn't flushed and had urine in it, and there was nothing planned for dinner and the floor had mud on it...You must be a filthy, horrible person. They could type that up, take photos and show evidence of poor planning and slander you and take away your children. But we all know that if that happened thousands of families would be outraged and rally and say that this was is insane and idiotic.Yet, if you raise animals in 2015 and the place doesn't look like a County Fair exhibit 24/7 you're a deadbeat, animal abusing, criminal.

I hate that that fear filled me. I hate that this is all true and neighbors right in this state are dealing with criminal charges because a dog bowl froze in February. I hate that this is what it is like to have animals and be a public person in this modern world of iPhones, anonymous comments, and ignorance of livestock and their care. Most of all, I hate that I felt I had to write this in case some crazy person snuck into my barn when I was teaching strangers about brooder temperatures and flock health.


Blogger daisy g said...

Sorry you have this worry. Hopefully, there is some reasonable explanation. 'Tis true, life is more complicated when you are a public person. Wishing the best for you, farmer.

April 11, 2015 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

Jenna, you have been down this road before. It makes you cautious, but not crazy. As I recall, you learned that the truth will out, and that false accusations don't rule the day.

You are amazing! (and careful, and cautious). Keep it up.

April 11, 2015 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

If it makes you feel any better, you're not alone in those worries. We've all suffered problems trying to explain to well-meaning but misinformed people how and why things are done on a farm. It leads to paranoia and self-doubt in us all. I have a helpful neighbour who gets angry when my sheep limp (a constant sheep problem as you know) even when I explained they have been treated and given pain meds but it will still take time for the foot to heal. I have to constantly explain my ewe is not stuck in the hedge, that there's a ram the other side and she's just frisky, or that I'm not giving them pellet food because their good body condition doesn't warrant it, that I'll shear them when the shearer fits us in, and on and on. I try so hard not to lose my temper and to keep good neighbourly relations but if someone catches you on the wrong day, tired from lambing as I am now for example, well it's hard to bite your tongue. Cuddle Gibson and remember that you dog thinks you are great!!

April 12, 2015 at 4:05 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I don't think anyone was here but the way things are changing these days, caution is so needed. Thanks all for the kind words.

April 12, 2015 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Sal used to limp once a summer, he doesn't anymore thanks to treating his hoof with Today (dairy goat udder treatment, of all things) but I remember worrying people at workshops or visitors would think a limping sheep was a sign of abuse.

April 12, 2015 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

I don't farm, but live in the middle of farms. I have never had the urge to walk on the property and inspect it.

There are, however, three properties I ride past routinely on my way to town. Two are empty homes, each with a lone horse in the shed. I have noted in both cases that they are are being tended to. I'll admit....I watch for ribs and tire tracks in the snow. We've had a couple of brutal winters and it would be easy to blow off watering these animals. In several years time, I can't figure out who these animals belong to....that's how infrequently someone is there.

The third property is a house and yard with a couple of chainlink fences next to the house. Chickens, dogs, goats. Those folks are asking for trouble. I don't doubt they are being taken care of....but someone will call eventually. The place is a sty, littered, discarded feeding bowls, plastic....its ugly and its right on top of the road. They are half way closer to "city".

Oh...I did mention to a cousin once that a bull was laying in their field for three days attempting to get up. These folks are a touch lax. Apparently, the old guy pulled something trying to "get busy" and was scheduled for field butchering the next day. But I approached as ....what with that cow? And they are family.

As for you Jenna, get a couple of inexpensive game cameras. Click them on when you aren't going to be home. Pull the memory card and check it when you get back. You are a bit of a bigger target because you are more "public". We know when cash is tight or animals are sick. We know you have the bases covered, but a "well meaning" person might just track you down thinking otherwise.

April 12, 2015 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I am glad you wrote this - it needs to be said - more and more and often - people need to realize what is happening and the total absurdity of it - it is real - it is out there - and until an uproar is raised by people who know animals - the common folk will not be aware

April 12, 2015 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

Hopefully it was just the wind. I used to worry about stuff like this when I lived in a more urban area. I'm grateful it never crosses my mind where I live now--almost never that is. Sometimes family or acquaintances that are city dwellers aren't accustomed to chicken coops or winter life in a barn and make comments about animals being cold and happy, etc...even though they have fresh straw and heat lamps and have their water heated or thawed. It is a different age for sure.

April 12, 2015 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

GIANT +1 to what mdoe said, regarding inexpensive game cameras. Some of my animals were "well known" locally, and my Flemish giant buck was stolen one night. He was a ridiculously mellow rabbit that I used to occasionally bring to visit friends' kids, they all thought I was the awesome lady who was friends with the Easter bunny. Whoever took him must have known what they were after, they took his carrying cage and everything. Now, everything (chickens, rabbits, etc) is padlocked. Originally it was a giant headache to remember to bring the key ring when taking care of the critters, but it became habit quickly. I have a game camera near my goats.

Protect yourself, the world is full of crazies.

April 12, 2015 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger janamama said...

Actually, this does happen with child protective services. A disgruntled relative reported us. Our house was spotless, dinner in the crockpot, laundry folded on the table and kitchen well-stocked (I got lucky) but it didn't stop them for harrassing us for two months, $2000+ in legal fees, nightmares, tears and frustrating meetings to prove a negative. We were finally exonerated but all it took was an accusation. We weren't able to face our accuser, and we're guilty until WE could prove we weren't at our expense.

It's no joke. There are really awful "well-meaning" people out there minding your business for you.

I feel your pain.

April 14, 2015 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm a cps social worker, and quite honestly child welfare does not work that way. We get called to investigate and an investigation is just that. If you check out, your case is closed. And some dirty dishes and piss in a toilet would not warrant the removal of a child. Plus, workers don't decide if the child is removed, all of that is determined by a judge. I get sick of people throwing around so many misconceptions about child welfare. Is it a perfect system? Absolutely not. But what is an effective alternative? Jenna, no one should ever snoop around your property without your consent, but if you get reported and an investigation is opened, so what? I'm sure your farm will check out just fine and the investigation will be closed.

April 14, 2015 at 11:13 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I've been following the case you refer to...we are in TX and would really like to sell our raw goat's milk, but researching the liabilities is scaring us off. It only takes one person sick of something else to claim it was our milk OR one person coming the farm picking up milk to make an accusation about our animals....because you are right at 8am and 8pm this is the perfect farm....between times sometimes it is a mess....chicken poop in the water, spilled feed, empty hay mangers, dirty stalls. It's heartbreaking that those of us who literally break our backs to keep our animals cared for have this fear but we do. (In my lighter moments, I can laugh about it because my barn is generally cleaner than my house and the goats/chickens never miss a meal, but the humans sometimes have cereal for dinner).

April 20, 2015 at 7:34 PM  

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