I’ve acknowledged here before that I grew up in a small Midwestern town. It was even larger than most small towns, but I still went to school with more farm kids than city kids. I’ve also admitted here before that the longest two weeks of my life were spent helping a friend milk 60 cows twice a day while his folks were on vacation. I was always in awe of all the farm kids I knew for how good and how fearless they were with animals. Frankly, I started out being afraid of these farm beasts. Horses are tall. Cows are huge. Pigs can see the wind, and sheep always look like they are up to something. But all my farm friends could make these animals do what they wanted them to do just by standing in the right place or position, or pointing, or making some noise. My farm friends taught me not to be afraid. They showed me how easy it is for us humans to get animals to go there, or stand more or less in one place, or move along. I am not talking about those special “horse whisperer” powers in the movies or the amazing abilities someone like Professor Temple Grandin has in real life with animals. I am talking about a time just a generation ago when there were a lot of farm kids who knew how to handle animals. I did not say handle them humanely because it seemed like nobody back then would think of handling animals in any other way. Farm animal abuse was not in our lexicon. What’s different today, I think, is there are not enough farm kids. Not all the ones I knew at my land grant university planned to go back to the farm. Most of the kids I know of went beyond the farm to become scientists and engineers and such. USDA is out with the 2012 agricultural census that again shows fewer people living on the land, but with at least a positive uptick in a younger age group of farmers. Maybe it’s leveling off. This past week in Boise, there was a three-and-a-half-hour public hearing on legislation that grew out of an ugly 2012 incident of animal abuse that was videotaped by an animal rights activist who easily got a job at the involved dairy. Five hourly employees involved in the offense immediately lost their jobs and were convicted on misdemeanor animal abuse charges after an investigation by Idaho agricultural officials. Two fired workers fled the state’s jurisdiction. They are probably working with animals in another state or even in Idaho as the misdemeanor warrants have since expired. In the Boise hearing, the dairy industry testified about training programs they now have in place for workers after they are hired. Hardly any mention was made of the scarcity of hourly farmworkers with the skills and ability to work with animals in rural America. The animal rights activist who went undercover at the Idaho dairy later bragged that all he had to do was to say he didn’t drink and that he would arrive at work on time. As my mind was wandering, as it usually does during these long hearings, I was thinking about all the unemployed 18-30 year olds, many of whom love animals and who, with training and support, could become the workforce rural America needs. I know, it’s one of those “out of the box” theories that would be very difficult to implement. Immigration reform might be easier to pull off. It just seems like something more is required than training after folks are hired or the 20 cameras the Idaho dairy has since installed to look on its own for the next animal abusers. Idaho’s “same old, same old” legislative solution – to make lying on an employment application part of its law against trespass and ban taking pictures or making videos of animal agricultural facilities without the owner’s permission – isn’t going to solve the real problem. Somehow we need to come up with a system that weeds out people sick enough to abuse animals before they get hired and then delivers a pool of skilled, humane people to do the jobs that are out there in rural America with animal agriculture.