Rural Heritage is a bimonthly journal mailed by subscription since 1976 to small-scale farmers and loggers who are enthusiasts of draft horse, mule, and ox power.

Rural Heritage has granted permission to "The Power Hour" to post this article from their August 2006 magazine.

Rural Heritage also provides one of the most comprehensive and current  NAIS "Calendar of Events" and regular new articles in their effort to stop NAIS.  They have also provide to The Power Hour a host of excellent speakers and lecturers in recent months.  "The Power Hour" salutes Editor Gail Damerow and her publication!

License to Keep Animals
by Zoo Keeper

I subscribe to Rural Heritage because my wife and I are looking for an alternative lifestyle to get away from the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS). Then I read Assault on Small Farmers and found out I can’t way from it.

We are licensed by USDA APHIS because we have a zoo. Being federally licensed to raise animals, I have to follow more rules and laws than anyone who raises children. And the criteria are impossible for anybody to meet. I’ve been licensed 20 years and have had to go to court three times. All the things Justin Sanders said in Assault on Small Farmers are true. The government views this license as a privilege.

At least once a year, and usually twice, the inspectors come to your place unannounced. Whatever else you had planned for that day, or whatever you’re in the middle of doing, you can just forget, because they are here to inspect. You have to show your records. They invite themselves into wherever you keep your records, which most likely is your home.

You’d better be able to produce records for every animal on your property. You have to show where each animal is. If an animal is not on your property, you’d better have a record of where it went. If an animal is not accounted for and not documented, plan on going to court and possibly to jail.

They take inventory of every animal on your property. If a coyote ate one of your lambs, that’s a write-up, because you have inadequate vermin control. If a chicken died and you didn’t have a vet post it, you do not deserve to have a license. If a raccoon gets into your ducks and you lose more than 10 in one year, that gives them full right to take away your license.

They will inspect where you keep medications. If anything is outdated, even by one day, that’s a write-up. They check your facility, including horse pasture, to make sure it will drain within 30 minutes after a rain. If it will not, that’s a write-up. They check your feed. If any feed has a milling date beyond six months, that’s a write-up. Any little bit of algae or dirt in a water bowl, or horse or cattle trough, that’s a write-up. You know you can scrub all your waterers in the morning and by afternoon algae will start to grow, and they know that too. But the inspector will stick in a figure and find a tiny bit of green, and that’s a write-up.

Just because you have raised these animals all your life and know more about them than any inspector with a badge and title, doesn’t mean they think you know more about your animals than they do. They carry a little hand-held device to check each of your animals for hot spots, such as might be created by a sore spot. If they find a hot spot, that’s a write-up.

All these write-ups eventually lead to an investigation, which means the government comes after you. At your expense you defend yourself against the federal government, and if you are not successful they take your license away. They don’t care if you have your whole life invested in your farm—if you do not comply with their rules and regulations, they will take it away. They will tell you, “It’s not my job to put you out of business. It’s my job to get you into compliance.”

At this moment more than 300 USDA APHIS licensed facilities under investigation are going to court to fight it. The USDA wants to thin us out before they open season on farmers.

They will have to hire more people to get all the farmers into compliance. They will spend years trying to get everybody into compliance, and when they deem everyone should be in compliance, they will have grounds to go after anyone who is not in compliance.

Farmers will go through inspection every six months, and without warning. The USDA is already doing it with zoos. They’re already doing it with circuses. They’re already doing it with dairy farmers. NAIS is just a matter of taking it a step farther. It’s all about the USDA APHIS expanding their horizons.

The licensed vet I’ve had to deal with for the past 20 years is from New York City. Now how many lions, tigers, or leopards—how many cattle, sheep, or horses—did he work on in New York City? But he dictates to me how to take care of my animals. Although I get along with him okay, he doesn’t want to lose his federal job, so he does what he’s told.

These people know they’re untouchable and will tell you so. They will shove it in your face that no matter who’s elected to office, they will still be here. You’re going to comply with their regulations, and you’re going to like it, because farming is a privilege.

Nobody in their right mind could think NAIS is good thing.

A few years ago a man from the Ringling Circus came to visit my zoo. As always happens when zoo or circus people get together, inevitably the subject of USDA came up. The man told me he left his home in Hungary and 300 years of animal tradition—sold his elephants, tigers, and all—to live in America and be free. “When I came here in 1960, America was a free country,” he told me. “Now you have more law here than we ever had over there. You call it law. At least we called it what it is—communism. I’m going back.”

If NAIS comes to pass, full-time farmers, weekend hobbyists, the family with kids who raise 4-H calves—all will have USDA licensed inspectors on your property routinely at least twice a year. They will dictate what, in their opinion, is a proper diet, whether it’s right or wrong. They will dictate proper facilities and housing.

You’re going to have a vet care program, filled out by your vet, dictating exactly what animals you have, what his credentials are to work on those animals, and what your vaccination program is. This plan has to be approved by USDA, and if you lose your vet for any reason, you are out of business until you find another vet with “adequate credentials.” If you deviate from these regulations, you will pay the price. The price is losing the privilege of your license to be a farmer.

Make no mistake: The inspector will find deviations, reasons to write you up for noncompliance. Inspectors freely admit they have to find reasons to write you up, because otherwise it appears they are not doing their job. When your non-compliant issues add up, you will be fined. The amount of the fine depends on how important you are and how well you’re doing; the better you’re doing, the higher your fine. The fine is based on what they believe you can afford and feel is not worth fighting in court. If you don’t fight it, your transgressions remain on your license, and next time your fine goes up. If you choose to go to court, and you’re found guilty, the fine can be tripled. It’s blackmail.

If you don’t take NAIS seriously, I suggest you go to the director of a zoo and ask what criteria they have to meet. Or spend a week volunteering at a licensed dog kennel or equine facility and find out what it’s all about. Expect to meet the same USDA APHIS criteria as any currently licensed facility. If you feel you can’t afford to meet those criteria, your reply needs to be, “I can’t afford not to fight NAIS.”

My wife and I have a lot of time and money invested in our zoo and we don’t care to have some bureaucrat with a title discontinue our livelihood. So once again I’m going to court with the USDA APHIS over simple-minded infractions (the same infractions all farmers will deal with if NAIS goes through). What I’ve told you here could be held against me in court, but I had to warn the good readers of Rural Heritage about NAIS. I’m asking to have my name withheld pending my court date.