Ranchers Beware Of Rancher Advocacy Program

I’m not ashamed to say I had beef for dinner.

Most of you reading this were raised the same as me – taught that all God’s creatures in our care deserve to be fed and sheltered accordingly, and free from abuse; even those that would eventually become food for our families.

Renee King-Sonnen does not share all my views about animals – she’s a vegan. What makes King-Sonnen unique is that she’s a rancher gone vegan – and she’s convinced her husband, Tommy, too.

Renee moved to the Sonnen Ranch in 2009, a 96-acre spread 50 miles south of Houston where she became a little too attached to one of the calves she named Rowdy Girl. You can read Renee’s full version of events at her web site Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, but the short version is that she convinced Tommy to become a vegan and turn their ranch into a sanctuary.

Before we wander too far down this path, let me make clear I have no issue with Renee and Tommy turning their ranch into an assisted living facility for cows. It’s their property and their cows. If they want to sing lullabies and tuck their cows in at night, more power to them.

I do, however, have some concerns with the Rancher Advocacy Program (RAP), launched by Renee to help “transition cattle ranches and animal farms away from animal agriculture into viable veganic, compassionate businesses.” Her words, not mine.

Apparently, becoming vegan and launching a bovine retirement village was so inspiring Renee wants to share.

Last month a press release was distributed by RAP announcing, “Farmers and ranchers are in crisis due to climate change and economic chaos. The Rancher Advocacy Program of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary leads with the answers.”

The answers, apparently, will come at the first RAP Summit to be held next September in Austin, Tex., claiming to “bring cattle ranchers, animal farmers, plant-based industry experts, manufacturers, activists, and environmentalists together to debate and determine solutions to the imminent concerns around global food production, the economy, animal protection and our climate.” Wow. That’s an aggressive undertaking for an established, well-funded NGO, let alone a fledgling start up like RAP.

Further, Rowdy Girl Sanctuary says it will evolve from a farm animal rescue and sanctuary “to a state-of-the-art, animal care facility, a plant based/environmental resource education center and endowment for ranchers and farmers.” More on that word “endowment” later.

Through Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, Renee hopes to inspire “other ranchers to experience a paradigm shift, and, through the Rancher Advocacy Program, provide them the expertise and tools to evolve away from the cruelty of factory farming to a financially stable business.”

That’s right. You want out of the cow business? Renee says she can help.

At this point your first thought must be, “how am I going to pay the bills after I’ve retired all the cows on my ranch?”

To date, the RAP web site provides information about five “ranchers in transition.” None of the five would be described as a “working cow outfit” – one claims 20 acres, another owns four cows, three calves and a bull. You get the idea.

In transition means these families have committed not to send their animals into the food system, and they’re working with Renee on an alternative business plan.

Again, I am not opposed to those endeavors, but there are at least two reasons to be critical of the Rancher Advocacy Program.

The first is that Renee is gathering some media attention, because… well, a rancher-turned-vegan is one of those man-bites-dog stories the media can’t resist. Throw in the fashionable notion some have that cows are the root cause of climate change and Renee’s story is enticing. The story of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary has been told by various media outlets, including CBS News, the Texas Country Report and others. Rowdy Girl Sanctuary has also been the subject of videos for animal activist groups such as Mercy For Animals.

The second, and most compelling reason to oppose the Rancher Advocacy Program is that it appears to subsist almost entirely on donations. Remember that word “endowment” from earlier? Rowdy Girl Sanctuary is a registered 501(c)(3) charity.

For Giving Tuesday this week, Rowdy Girl posted this plea for donations: “Please share your kindness with us and give to Rowdy Girl Sanctuary to help fix our roads!!! $15,000 will help level our roads and bring in the necessary gravel and fill to fix our existing roads and build new roads that allow tractors and other equipment to bring hay and feed to our animals.”

Those inclined can also “adopt” an animal at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary - $50 a month for cows and horses. 

I’m sure a lot of ranchers would love to have some kind strangers sending them $50 per cow per month via PayPal or Venmo. But, seriously, that isn’t a business plan. And it certainly isn’t a sustainable plan for more than a handful of hobby farms, never mind a strategy to “rescue ranches” as the RAP Summit suggests.

Maybe you think I’m being a little hard on a nice Texas lady who just loves animals. Maybe, but just take a look at some of the groups that have joined Renee in “support of the Ranchers Advocacy Program”: Save Movement, VegFund, Egg-Truth, Womxn Funders in Animal Rights, Vegan Investors, Effect Partners, Pollution.tv, Free From Harm, Cowspiracy, Waking Justice and Agriculture Fairness Alliance.

I rest my case.