Farming: A slippery slope that users in a Fibbers’ Charter – Andrew Arbuckle

How many newborn lambs are kept away from prying eyes?

From being worthy of a childhood skelping, telling fibs moved into the mainstream with the bigger the untruth adding to the notoriety of the politician.

The farming community are renowned for the speed in which it picks up new trends and this was the case when some of those in the industry realized they could claim anything under what might be known as the Fibers’ Charter.

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Among the earliest group of people to adopt the “say anything and give any excuse” policy if it helps cover up the truth were pedigree breeders – or at least those at the least reputable end of the business.

Telling fibs helped ease them from years of constraints imposed by the breed societies who wanted their members to record a few basic pieces of information such as when the animal was born, and who was its mum and dad. Thus, the optimists thought it would bring a degree of uniformity and discipline within a breed.

However, some producers railed against this discipline as it meant they could not do as they wanted such as creating wholly fictitious back stories to their pedigree animals. They had, they believed, been held back by their breed society insisting on such fiddly details. As such, they had often failed to grab the headlines occupied by more honorable breeders.

Now, as endorsed by the man in charge of running the country, it was not only permissible to tell untruths, but the falsehoods could also be covered up with more pieces of fiction especially if they were delivered along with a sly knowing smirk.

There have always been rumors about the time taken by some pedigree breeders to record birth dates as the longer this task is postponed, the higher the subsequent growth rate could be claimed.

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Some breed societies had set dates on the calendar before which offspring could not be born in order to comply with their rules. This often-entailed sheep with their lambs already at foot being kept inside in order to avoid the prying eyes of their neighbors and the wrath of those adhering to the rules in the breed society.

At first, all the jiggery-pokery was low key. Nudge the birth date by a day or two. This practice was not widespread as many breeders are respected men and women who rely on nothing more than their stock breeding skills to advance the reputation of their livestock.

But as everyone who has gone down the slippery road of telling untruths knows, it all begins to unravel, and you can quickly descend into the depths of fibbery.

Most at risk in the wave of untruths is the box that says, “ease of calving index”. This is important in livestock breeding but the answer can be surprisingly subjective, which is another way of saying it gives fibbers considerable leeway

The more relaxed attitude to telling a fictionalized version of the truth also brought with it a flood of lambs and calves all purporting to be sired by well-known or highly priced rams and bulls. It also brought back memories of old timers responding to queries from journalists on an animal’s parentage getting an answer along the lines of “what sire and dam do you want?”.

There might be those who are poo-pooing the above, saying that it could not happen with DNA testing, but this places faith in some people who are tremendously innovative when it comes to dodging the rule book.

Even before the new relaxed attitude to telling the truth came into vogue there were many rumors of dark deeds being done out of sight of the breed society staff – some of the matings being unbelievably with animals from different breeds as desperate breeders tried to get “more backend” or “better milkiness” into their progeny.

All of this more relaxed attitude to livestock breeding made life much more difficult for the agricultural reporter who as part of his journalistic duties is required to note down the parentage of the prize-winning livestock.

It was at this point; I woke up in a cold sweat at the prospect of lying becoming the new norm in farming.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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