Illinois State University Department of Agriculture recently teamed up with the Illinois Horsemen’s Council to put together a disaster preparedness livestock symposium. The symposium featured a variety of different professionals in the livestock industry and topics focused on everything from how to talk to animal rights groups to being prepared when disaster happens.

This event was open to anyone interested in the livestock industry, or those wanting to know more information about disaster preparedness. There were representatives from the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and horse and livestock producers, as well as students and faculty in attendance.

Illinois Horsemen's Council president, Paula Briney

Illinois Horsemen’s Council president, Paula Briney

The morning sessions focused on how those in the livestock industry can best interact with animal rights groups. The livestock industry has been a hot topic in the media, sparking much debate from animal rights groups and livestock producers. The morning’s speakers talked about how to best interact with those groups and the importance of livestock producer’s reactions in those interactions.

When asked why learning the skills to interact with animal rights groups as a person involved with the livestock industry, Drew Lugar, Ph.D., assistant professor of animal sciences at Illinois said: “Animal activists aren’t going anywhere, and their methods have escalated in recent years. It’s important in the livestock industry to be transparent and communicate the truth to the public and animal rights groups.”

Senior agriculture major Madalynn Camp said one topic discussed she found important to keep in mind when talking with animal rights groups is that to have the most honest conversations about the livestock industry, the conversation has to be focused on the science. “When emotions are included, it tends to become more about the humans and less about the actual care of the animals,” she said.

After lunch, topics of the sessions switched gears from interacting with animal rights groups, to disaster preparedness in the livestock industry. Speakers from the afternoon ranged from emergency response professionals to veterinarians. Their topics mainly focused on how livestock producers and owners can do their part to prevent disasters, and what to do if disasters and emergencies do take place. Sessions included everything from what to do in the case of barn fires, how to handle disease outbreak, and livestock trailer accidents. Each of the speakers from the afternoon gave the audience information to numerous resources that are available to them for disaster preparedness and assistance.

Assistant professor of agribusiness, Michelle Kibler, Ph.D., was contacted by the Illinois Horsemen’s Council about working together with the Department of Agriculture at Illinois State to put on this event. Kibler shares that she was initially interested in an event like this because “there was a big desire to get the equine and livestock industries represented in the same room. The various species in the livestock industry can help each other out with problems like these (topics covered in the sessions). Our anticipation for hosting this event was to initiate the conversation together, as a united front, and identify issues some may not have realized were issues.”

Both Kibler and the Illinois Horsemen’s Council would like to see a continuation of events like these. In the future both groups hope to see certain topics expanded on and continue to get feedback on what different groups want to discuss further. The hope is that this first symposium could be a stepping stone to launch further events that gets people together and start tackling the problems together in the livestock industry.