Animal rights advocates exhort farmers to commit suicide

Waikato herd manager Gina Greenwood says farmers are not responsible for the bobby calf deaths which have attracted the ...

Waikato herd manager Gina Greenwood says farmers are not responsible for the bobby calf deaths which have attracted the ire of animal welfare activists.

Farmers are being urged to commit suicide by animal rights advocates.

The level of vitriol against farmers has risen "dramatically", say two women dairy workers who started up Facebook pages supporting farmers after abuse of bobby calves was made public late last year. 

Some of the posts to the pages have urged farmers to take their own lives. The women fear such verbal attacks may lead to an actual increase in farmer suicides, which are higher than for the urban population.

A post to a farmer support Facebook page describing farmers committing suicide as "justice".

A post to a farmer support Facebook page describing farmers committing suicide as "justice".

Animal rights organisation SAFE said it did not sanction such behaviour.

* Almost 5000 bobby calves died last year while being transported
* Q&A: Bobby calves, New Zealand vs the rest of the world
Farmers need to open up, not harden up

SAFE managing director Debra Ashton said "while we cannot control what individuals may say, SAFE does not condone any personal abuse of farmers whatsoever, by our supporters/members or anyone else for that matter".

For the 2014-15 year, 27 farmers (all male) committed suicide. The figures from Coronial Services do not state what type of farmers they were.

Over eight years from 2007-8, 196 farmers committed suicide. The number is higher than those who died from farming-related accidents.

Gina Greenwood, a Waikato herd manager, said she found it hard to reconcile that animal rights campaigners felt compassion for animals but at the same time urged farmers to take their own lives.

"The level of abuse has definitely gone up dramatically. People are being told to take their own lives. We've never had that before, I don't know any dairy farmer who has been abused for farming before, not until the SAFE stuff came about.

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"It's not on. These people are saying they are compassionate towards animals but then they tell human beings to top themselves," Greenwood said.

One of the posts on Greenwood's page reads: "I genuinely believe the world will be a better place without freaks like you. Go Kill Yourself."

Greenwood is the creator of the "Farmers against SAFE #prodairy" page and an administrator of the "Farmers against SAFE-we love our animals" page.

The "Farmers against SAFE #prodairy" page has 938 members, while the "Farmers against SAFE-we love our animals" page does not have members but has recorded 8362 likes.

Last week it was revealed that about 4500 bobby calves were killed last year while being transported from farms to processing works.

Greenwood said farmers were not killing the calves.

"It's not the farmers' problem, we can do what we can to stop the bobby trucks treating them that way if we see it happening. They are saying it's a nationwide issue but we take care of ours really well until they get picked up," she said.

Also from the Waikato where she is a contract milker, Jennifer Hannigan is the creator of the page "Farmers against SAFE-we love our animals".

She said farmers were "scared and worried".

"Just the other day I was messaged by two people who had received private messages from the same person telling them to go kill themselves.

"There are plenty of farmers out there who would be willing to let people on their farms to see for themselves, there's no need for all the hate. What we need now is support. It will just create more and more farmer suicides," Hannigan said.

She said everything went back to the bobby calf controversy. People accused farmers of being heartless and only in dairy farming for the money.

Chief executive of the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand, Michelle Thompson, said farmer suicides were higher than urban, but it was hard to point at the specific triggers.

"We're trying to get some research underway to look at the context of people's lives before they died. There are a range of factors from economic circumstances, education, medical history, drug and alcohol use, marriage situation, socio-economic status, and isolation. Once I have the results of that research I would feel more confident to talk," Thompson said.

It was difficult to persuade support personnel to live in rural areas.

"And that's all about making rural towns liveable. Are they good places to bring up your kids, is there good broadband," Thompson said.

Meanwhile Greenwood is selling t-shirts to support farmers, with proceeds going into a charity to help dairy farmers suffering from depression.

Where to get help:

The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812) will refer callers to some of the helplines below:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 

Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757 

Healthline - 0800 611 116

Samaritans - 0800 726 666 

Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) 

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email

Contact your local Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

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