TAK­ING A STAND

Cat­tle­woman uses Facebook to hit back at ac­tivists

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

IF PEO­PLE are in­ter­ested, they can han­dle the truth.

That’s the opin­ion of New South Wales cat­tle­woman Sue Fran­cis.

In her no-holds-barred Facebook page, On­wards Mur­ray Greys, Sue shares reg­u­lar posts about beef pro­duc­tion pro­cesses us­ing pic­tures and sto­ries from her prop­erty, which is sit­u­ated out­side of Dor­rigo, west of Coffs Har­bour. Pho­tos of cows calv­ing in the pad­dock, vets per­form­ing cae­sare­ans in a crush and even skin­ning a steer dur­ing the butcher­ing process – Sue shows it all.

For some, the images may seem con­fronting – of­ten there is blood – but Sue be­lieves her fol­low­ers de­serve the full truth.

She be­came fed up with the non­sense be­ing shared by “mil­i­tant ve­g­ans” on so­cial me­dia so she made a stand.

This week the Ru­ral Weekly caught up with Sue to learn more about her page and whether or not she feels her in­dus­try is do­ing enough to counter the be­liefs be­ing ped­alled by an­i­mal ac­tivist groups.

FIND­ING FACEBOOK

About seven years ago, Sue started a Facebook page, purely to pro­mote her own stud, On­wards Mur­ray Greys.

“The very first time I got in­volved with Facebook, which was six or seven years ago, I couldn’t be­lieve it – I didn’t re­alise the an­i­mos­ity to­wards farm­ers ex­isted,” she said.

“I was get­ting into dis­cus­sions with peo­ple and I couldn’t be­lieve that they didn’t know what re­ally hap­pened.

“I felt this was be­cause they didn’t have any chance to see real, down-to-earth in­sights of what hap­pens on a farm – so they were be­liev­ing the pro­pa­ganda from the anti-live­stock pro­duc­tion mob.

“I found that pretty up­set­ting.”

Sue quickly learned there was no use try­ing to ply the truth on an­i­mal ac­tivists’ pages, so she changed the fo­cus of her own page.

“I did this so peo­ple can have a real look and an hon­est look into what hap­pens on a farm.”

It’s im­por­tant to note the groups Sue is re­fer­ring to, such as PETA and An­i­mals Lib­er­a­tion, have mass so­cial me­dia fol­low­ings.

An­i­mals Aus­tralia, for in­stance, has more than one mil­lion likes on Facebook, whereas Meat and Live­stock Aus­tralia only has 18,000 fol­low­ers.

FIGHT­ING BACK

Sue is a straight shooter. There is no doubt about it.

She calls a spade a spade and gained her ex­pe­ri­ence through years of hard work within the cat­tle in­dus­try, start­ing out as a dairy farmer’s daugh­ter to now run­ning her own herd.

Her busi­ness, which pro­duces about 15 sale bulls a year and calves out about 80 head a sea­son, is run with ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity in mind as she is a one-woman band.

While it’s only a small busi­ness, within the grand scheme of the beef in­dus­try it is her liveli­hood.

Given Sue’s fierce be­liefs and out­spo­ken on­line na­ture, I thought she may greet me with a guarded or blunt man­ner when we talked over the phone. But the op­po­site was true.

Sue had wel­com­ing coun­try warmth and laughed of­ten.

Her sense of hu­mour was some­thing she said helped her deal with the in­ter­net trolls when they even­tu­ally came.

So among well-writ­ten posts – some care­fully ex­plain­ing the best place for an old cow is the meat­works, rather than let­ting her be­come de­crepit – there are healthy doses of hu­mour and plenty of pic­tures of cute calves and fat, happy cat­tle on her site.

“The site is just to re­fute the rub­bish that you see,” she said.

“It’s wor­ry­ing that peo­ple are so dis­con­nected with what hap­pens with an­i­mals.

“When an­i­mals are in our care and un­der our hus­bandry and re­spon­si­bil­ity, they are a re­source and we use them, we can’t deny it, but I don’t think there is any­thing wrong with that when they are looked af­ter prop­erly.”

BACKLASH

While, for the most part, Sue re­ceives mes­sages of sup­port for her page, she has copped crit­i­cism from an­i­mal rights groups.

The worst was a per­sonal at­tack about her that was placed on another user’s page, which was a site she couldn’t ac­cess.

I want to be por­tray­ing some­one who is will­ing to dis­cuss things ... — Sue Fran­cis

“It gave me an in­sight into how mean peo­ple can be when they know there can be no backlash – they can be hor­ri­ble,” she said.

“If you were to take it per­son­ally and you weren’t thick-skinned, it would worry you.

“But you learn to brush it off, I mean it is just Facebook.”

For the most part, how­ever, Sue re­ceives notes of thanks for her page.

“I think it’s a re­al­ity check. Peo­ple do com­ment and say thanks for be­ing hon­est,” she said. Sue has learned meth­ods of man­ag­ing a so­cial me­dia de­bate.

On a re­cent post, when com­ments started to turn nasty Sue was swift to step in.

She deleted any­thing with swear­ing and wrote a warn­ing on the page that rude­ness wasn’t tol­er­ated.

“I am happy for them to have a go at me and my page but I don’t tol­er­ate them at­tack­ing other peo­ple on the page,” she said.

“A few years ago I did have to ban a cou­ple of re­ally nasty peo­ple but un­be­knownst to them I have al­lowed them ac­cess back to the page.

“So I am not into block­ing peo­ple and I am not into re­mov­ing com­ments un­less they are of­fen­sive or there is swear­ing or if they are just down­right mean.

“Peo­ple are al­lowed to have their say. This is a place where ev­ery­one can sit down and have a civil chat.”

CHANG­ING PER­SPEC­TIVE

Sue has a knack for word­ing her posts, be­ing de­scrip­tive and in­for­ma­tive with­out bor­ing those in the cat­tle in­dus­try or over­whelm­ing those out­side of it.

“Facebook suits me per­fectly be­cause you can put it down in the writ­ten word,” she said.

“I don’t want to be por­tray­ing an an­gry farmer, I want to be por­tray­ing some­one who is will­ing to dis­cuss things, I want to show peo­ple that we are hon­est. We are will­ing to share our sto­ries be­cause we have noth­ing to hide.”

Sue would like to see in­dus­try bod­ies pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion about the full in­dus­try cy­cle.

“I don’t know if we have to show the nitty-gritty but if it was avail­able for peo­ple who wanted to see it with an open mind, I think that’s a pos­i­tive move,” she said.

“When it comes to slaugh­ter, peo­ple get squea­mish over blood. The gen­eral per­son, who is not deal­ing with life and death ev­ery day, can get squea­mish.”

How­ever while the sight of blood could make some peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able, Sue didn’t be­lieve it was her job to hide the re­al­ity.

“I think try­ing to shield peo­ple is part of the prob­lem,” she said.

“You can’t pretty up blood. We have to be up­front about it, not to the point of be­ing blaze but just be­ing hon­est.”

Sue re­mem­bers a time when pro­duc­ers were dis­cour­aged from show­ing pic­tures of cute calves.

“We were told not to show the live an­i­mal when pro­mot­ing beef. I re­mem­ber think­ing that was just not on, be­cause these cute calves are what the in­dus­try re­volves around,” she said.

Sue firmly be­lieves those in­ter­ested in learn­ing how cat­tle are slaugh­tered for meat pro­duc­tion should have ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion.

“If they are in­ter­ested in it they can han­dle the truth,” she said. “If they are not in­ter­ested, if they just go to the su­per­mar­ket and buy their beef, well they won’t be wor­ried about it any­way.”

Search On­wards Mur­ray Greys on Facebook to see more posts from Sue.

PHOTO: CONTRIIBUTED

Sue Fran­cis runs the On­wards Mur­ray Grey stud in New South Wales.

PHOTO: CONTRIBUTED

IN­DUS­TRY IN AC­TION: Sue cap­tured this pic­ture of a cow giv­ing birth. Af­ter a ‘rough’ land­ing the calf was fine.

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