TAKING A STAND
Cattlewoman uses Facebook to hit back at activists
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Sue Francis runs the Onwards Murray Grey stud in New South Wales.
INDUSTRY IN ACTION: Sue captured this picture of a cow giving birth. After a ‘rough’ landing the calf was fine.