Tuesday Tribute: Fulton Farm, Nebraska

kevin_lamb_crop

Who can you name from Nebraska that has really made a difference to life on our planet? Sure, there is a whole cast of entertainers from Fred Astaire to Marlon Brando, with Nick Nolte in between. There is even President Gerald Ford, and Malcolm X certainly made a statement, but who is making a difference?

Heroes are what the natural world needs now; men and women, who write their own script, direct their own actions and produce their own results, no matter what the critics say.

Kevin Fulton is such a Nebraskan. I don’t know if he can dance but I do know that he can act – on behalf of our fellow creatures, that is. Kevin’s action has meant the difference between misery and an authentic life for many, many animals, both domestic and wild.

The simplest way to describe Kevin to you is to share pieces of our initial interview from just last week. As you know by now, The Cougar Fund strives to be positive, optimistic, compassionate, and hopeful. Every week we pay tribute to an agriculturist, a livestock grower, or even a vineyard, which works towards honoring their place in nature, not seeking domination over it.

Nebraska has been ‘in the news’ lately, because of another fine citizen, Senator Ernie Chambers whose bill to eliminate mountain lion hunting has been met with resistance from the traditional ranching community.

I wanted to find a rancher who works hard to make a living and who does not feel victimized by the natural world around him.

Ranchers are often the first to be fearful of predators in the environment. They feel that their revenue and their families are threatened, and that the only solution is to kill. It is a deep-seated cultural value, intrinsic to generations of ranchers and hunters and only a new and successful way of doing business can ever replace it.

Kevin’s story may be that ‘new way’.  His dad was a veterinarian, so Kevin grew up caring for animals and helping on the family farm. He left to pursue his education, earning a BS from Kansas State, followed by an MS from CSU, but it would be twenty more years before he actually went home to take over the farm. One of his mentors at CSU was famed ethicist and animal welfare champion Dr. Bernard Rollin.

The first time Kevin had a chance to stand up for wild critters was when a trapper asked to catch coyotes on the farm. His dad’s emphatic ‘no’ was reinforced by a young Kevin who physically contorted the trap, before offering it back to the trapper.

Thus began the strength of body and of ethic that would become the foundation of his life’s work.

Shortly after returning to manage the Fulton Farm, there was a call from USDA Wildlife Services to let him know they would be aerial-gunning for coyotes nearby on a specific day. Kevin countered, in no uncertain terms, that it “wasn’t going to happen” on his ranch; this came as quite a shock to the Wildlife Services agents.

“I don’t think you can stop us,” they said.

“Then you can expect me to return fire!” replied Kevin.

“We’ll get back to you,” they offered.

A little while later, bureaucracy gave way to common sense and another phone call: “Well, Sir, it seems we can avoid firing on your ranch”.

“Oh good,” replied Kevin. “That has made me very happy, and YOU will definitely have a better day!”

Thus, the stage was set for a different way of doing business. As Kevin looked around him, he saw huge areas of land eroded by the use of chemicals. He saw animals headed for factory farms. He saw the abuse of the earth itself and the unconscionable cruelty of the CAFO*.

Fulton Farms made changes. They became organic and sustainable. Multiple species enjoyed grazing on the land, mimicking nature and revitalizing the soil as they went. Livestock Protection Dogs used in Europe and beyond for thousands of years, now replaced the gun as guardians of the flock. Coyotes are the best organic ‘pesticide’ available. As Kevin told me, “The coyotes would much rather eat rabbits and other (ground-dwelling) mammals than take on the LPD’s to try and feast on my stock.”

Kevin’s tutelage with Bernard Rollin had instilled a sense of responsibility that went beyond satisfaction with his own personal progress. He wanted to spread the word, to get others who owed their livelihood to animals to become aware that they could be compassionate and successful too.

The plight of sows confined to gestation crates is what first aligned Kevin with the Humane Society of the United States. He knew that working with HSUS in an advisory capacity would be much more acceptable to Nebraska’s farmers. Even the CEO of HSUS realized that Kevin’s goal was visionary. Wayne Pacelle stepped up and supported the formation of a state agricultural council to become the voice of the family farmer striving to incorporate humane methods into his trade. This style of participation with an animal welfare giant has become a template for other farmers in other states, as they respond to the demands of the public to reduce the sustained and deliberate cruelty inflicted upon food animals. It is also a guide for co-existing with wildlife, preserving their natural habitat, and preventing conflict.

Kevin Fulton recently met with Senator Ernie Chambers, another champion of animals. Senator Chamber’s bill (LB 671) to repeal mountain lion hunting in Nebraska has been challenged by a minority who believe that randomly killing cougars for sport somehow mitigates the threat of negative encounters with people, pets and livestock. Kevin and his fellow farmers were able to put that myth to rest.

The ranchers and farmers that vilify predators are no longer the only voice representing those that work on the land.

There is a whole new way of doing business that is thoughtful, not reactive; that is humane, not wanton; and that is a beacon of respect for all living things and is built on compassion and accountability.

When Kevin Fulton summarized the impact of what he does, from the animals’ point of view, it was like taking an emotional bungee jump. My heart dropped at the sadness of it, then bounced back knowing that there are farmers and ranchers committed to stopping the madness. He said “even though everything has a day to die, the animals on the Fulton Farm only have one bad day, while the animals in factory farms only have one good day.”

So now you know that there are Nebraskans who make a difference in our natural world. Our photo shows Kevin Fulton, Senator Ernie Chambers,  and behind them a glorious photo of  ”A Mother’s Love” by fellow Nebraska native and Cougar Fund Co-Founder, Thomas D. Mangelsen.  

Kevin, Ernie standing in front of Tom Mangelsen's  photo.

Kevin and Ernie standing in front of Tom Mangelsen’s
photo.

Thank you for leading the way Nebraska!

*CAFO = Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation