FFA members, 4-H’ers learn to address concerns with animals’ welfare


FFA members and 4-H Junior Leaders from across Jackson County received animal welfare training from two Purdue University professors on Thursday in the FFA building at the fairgrounds east of Brownstown.

The training comes just in time for the annual Jackson County Fair, which starts its seven-day run Sunday.

Marisa Erasmus, an animal welfare specialist and assistant professor of animal sciences at the West Lafayette school, discussed the definition of animal welfare and how people have different perspectives and ethical views when talking about the care of animals.

Then Beth Forbes, director of science communication at Purdue, spoke about how to have conversations with fairgoers about the well-being of animals. She had the students in attendance go through exercises to practice speaking with others about animal welfare.

“Everybody has different perceptions and perspectives about how animals are raised and treated, about the products we get from animals and all kinds of things we use animals for,” Erasmus said.

When it comes to what factors influence people’s perspectives on animals, she said values, convictions, norms, knowledge and interests all play a role.

If you Google what animal welfare is, Erasmus said the term can be hard to understand because you will get a variety of resources and definitions as to what it means.

Animal welfare is not how we treat animals, she said, but rather a characteristic of an individual animal and how they’re able to cope with their environment.

The ability for an animal to deal with what’s going on around it and how it adapts is what animal welfare is, Erasmus said.

During the 2019 Jackson County Fair, social media criticism arose when a photo of a kitten with runny eyes at the Young MacDonald’s Farm building operated by the county’s FFA chapters was circulated online.

Crothersville FFA adviser and fair board member Linda Myers told The Tribune at the time that the kittens were properly treated, housed, looked over, evaluated, fed, watered and safe.

Because of the incident, local FFA advisers decided earlier this year to have professionals from the animal science department at Purdue come to Jackson County to train students on how to speak with others about animals exhibited at the fair.

Myers attended the training and said she was pleased with the skills being taught and liked that there was an animal science perspective from Erasmus and a communications side from Forbes.

She said she thinks people are going to continue to be critical of the conditions that fair animals are in and that education is key in mitigating that.

“I think it’s not going to stop in Jackson County,” she said. “I think it’s going to continue to happen. The more of us that are willing to educate the public, the better off we’re going to be.”

Education also is an important purpose of the fair, Myers said.

“A big reason why we have the fair is so these kids can show off the animals they have taken care of all season, and those kids have the opportunity to educate someone else,” she said. “That’s what we’re in it for.”

Forbes spoke to FFA members and 4-H Junior Leaders about how to talk to the public about fair animals and went over six steps for challenging conversations on animal well-being.

They are to listen, check for understanding, speak to their interests, address concerns and share common values, manage emotions and empathize and end conversations respectfully.

When showing animals at the fair, Forbes said to be aware of what people are doing at exhibits, such as taking pictures, and stressed the importance of striking up a conversation with other people.

“They may not necessarily want to have a conversation,” she said. “You want to have that conversation because you want to have that conversation in person.”

Forbes said having a conversation prevents unproductive discourse on social media.

“You do not want to have that conversation on social media,” she said. “It’s not a fair playing field when you’re on social media.”

After receiving instruction from Myers, students broke off in pairs to role play conversations they might have with someone asking about the well-being of fair animals.

Some scenarios included addressing people who might be concerned that the weather is too hot for animals and that the animals are kept in cages that are too small.

A tip that Forbes gave was to tell others the animals are on display for a certain amount of time and are not kept in the same environment they are at the fair.

Brocker Bottorff and Cooper Robison, both juniors at Brownstown Central High School, partnered up for the role playing.

Robison said he thought the training was excellent, and Bottorff said he was glad the Purdue experts spoke to the students.

“I think it was a very good idea because I know that some of the people outside of livestock don’t know what other people think,” he said.

BCHS senior Taylor Loudermilk worked with Austin High School senior Erin Lee for the role playing portion of the training.

Loudermilk said she thought the training session was informative and will help 4-H and FFA members talk to others at the fair.

“It’s really helpful to know how to communicate with people and how to best teach the public what we do here and why we love it so much so they love it as well,” she said.

On what skills that Lee thought would stick with her going into the fair, she said, “Definitely the conversation skills and staying calm, cool and collected when you’re trying to have a conversation with somebody that has a problem or issue.”

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