Animal suffering in the stable
No isolated cases: why do farmers neglect their animals?
Animals are the farmer’s livelihood, his most valuable asset. However, it happens again and again that they are neglected and die miserably. How can it come to this?
Externally, the barn looks like any other. An empty trailer stands in the yard, pallets stacked against the wall. But inside, the police see a terrible picture: about 170 dead cattle are lying around, the remaining 50 or so are in such a deplorable state that they will have to be killed later.
A farmer in the Bavarian district of Ansbach is said to have neglected the animals for months: they are said not to have received enough food and water and received no veterinary treatment. The prosecutor’s office accuses the head of the livestock farm of cruelty to animals and killing animals. Next Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the 44-year-old will have to answer for this before the district court in Ansbach.
“Animals are bad because people are bad”
When violations were discovered on the farm in May 2021, the farmer sought psychiatric help. Meanwhile, the conclusion of the examination showed that the accused was less prosecuted at the time of the crime.
Even if it may indicate that there are very personal issues behind this case in a village near Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Franconia: this is not an isolated case. Time and time again, reports of stray cows, pigs, or other farm animals make headlines, and often they do more than reveal the suffering of the animals.
- A farmer from the Osnabrück region starved to death about 5,600 laying hens because he ran out of money to feed. In 2017, the court sentenced him to a fine.
- About 2,000 pigs died in a fattening barn in the Würzburg district in 2018 because they were not given enough feed, water and air. Prosecutors later dropped the investigation into the owner because he was innocent.
- Overcrowded stables, emaciated cows, animals lying in feces: the first lawsuit related to the Allgäu animal welfare scandal, which caused a sensation across the country, clearly shows the unbearable conditions and the family that was crushed after an adult son was involved in a car accident with a company that expanded to nearly 600 head of cattle. Three farmers were given suspended sentences.
Cases like this do not surprise Edgar Shallenberger. “The collapse of the company always leads to the collapse of people,” he says. Since 2014, he has been an animal welfare agent in Schleswig-Holstein agriculture and, according to him, walks around in rubber boots every day, solving problems on farms.
There, a retired animal husbandry professor meets stunned and desperate people who don’t know or can’t live on. “Animals feel bad because people feel bad,” he remarked, and usually for quite a long time. “People first neglect themselves and their families, physically and mentally. Then the barn is no longer cleaned.
A downward spiral is set in motion, which rotates slowly at first, and then faster and faster. In most cases, the trigger is a stroke of fate, says animal welfare expert Irene Pfeiffer from the Bavarian Farmers’ Association. “Illness, severe overwork, need for family care, absence of a family member who worked together, heavy workloads due to financial problems, divorce or death,” she lists as risk factors.
“Many farmers work and live at the limit of their capacity,” says Pfeiffer. Farmers often experience strong economic pressure and take out large loans. It is impossible to take a vacation or lie in bed sick.
“The company is so important that they don’t have to worry about their own health,” said Stefan Adelsberger from the social insurance department for agriculture, forestry and horticulture in Kassel. In addition to other offers of help, a crisis hotline has been operating here for several years, through which psychologists can be contacted around the clock. In particular, men waited too long before asking for help, says Adelsberger. Talking about the psyche is still a big taboo for her.
Politicians and farmers must do more to prevent this
In Shallenberger’s experience, when a farmer encounters problems in his business, in many cases he tries to hide them. “He doesn’t want to admit that he failed and becomes more and more withdrawn.”
This may also be the reason why animal neglect is often only noticed when the grievances are already dramatic. In the Ansbach area, the anonymous report ended up alarming the authorities. The district office has now issued a pet ban against the farmer.
According to Shallenberger, signs of neglect appear much earlier. This is usually noticeable in the environment. “But a lot of people close their eyes and don’t want to appear judgmental.” However, this is not about condemning someone, but about offering them help.
Politicians and industry could also do more for prevention, says Iris Fuchs, vice president of the Federal Chamber of Veterinarians in Berlin. Official veterinarians could not constantly check every farm. But you could better control the farms with some sort of traffic light system, Fuchs says. This may include data that is usually collected in agriculture: the amount of milk, medication intake, taxes on the disposal of animal carcasses. If the values are not correct, you can check the operation.