The Animal Advocate Rancher
10 Mar, 2012
Kevin Fulton drives a truck, wears Carhartts, and has never owned a pair of Birkenstocks. As he puts it: “I don’t look like a bunny hugger.” And that’s what makes this rancher’s recent efforts to change the face of animal agriculture in Nebraska all the more surprising.
Fulton had been raising a variety of animals on pasture and farming organic grains for nearly a decade when he decided it just wasn’t enough. The rancher was used to being the odd man out in Central Nebraska, or “CAFO country” as he calls it. But for the most part, he’d kept his beliefs to himself.
After all, converting the 2,800 acres to meet organic standard and practicing what’s called holistic management with grass-fed cattle, sheep, and goats, as well as pastured poultry had kept Fulton pretty busy. But this son of a veterinarian still found himself considering the animals who weren’t so lucky.
“I was very sensitive to the fact that there are millions of animals in situations where they can’t even turn around,” he says. “I think that’s a disgrace to the industry, and it hasn’t helped us make a better food product.”
In the interest of building a bridge between the animal rights movement and the conventional agriculture community — in which some people care deeply about animals but feel stuck in a tightly consolidated system that requires that they resort to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) — he figured he’d start speaking up for livestock raised inhumanely.
Then, around four years ago, Fulton became a member of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “I thought it’d give them more credibility to have a farmer involved, so they wouldn’t just be labeled as the animals rights fanatics, or abolitionists,” he recalls. And in the process he ran the risk of aligning himself with a group most medium- and large-scale ranchers won’t have anything to do with.
“It was already bad enough being an organic farmer — people [in Nebraska] think you’re strange. But when you start aligning with an animal activist organization that may oppose certain practices in the livestock industry, you become a real target.”
Not that too many people want to mess with Fulton: In addition to a strong ethical background, he’s literally a very strong guy. In the intervening years between growing up on the farm and returning two decades ago to take over managing it, he competed in hundreds of weightlifting and strongman competitions. (He was only the second American to lift a pair of giant 400-pound rocks in Scotland called the Dinnie Stones, and he did it at age 41).
Fulton doesn’t come across as bully, mind you. But he is using his place in the world to advocate for those with less power. And, like most Nebraskans, he also believes in being civil, and in hearing his opponents out.