The Humane Society of the United States considers South Dakota the least humane state in the nation, partly because the state does not have a number of recommended farming restrictions.
Farmers in the state say the idea that a Washington, D.C., group can legislate good ranching practices is absurd.
"I think there are a lot of misinformed people that have never seen a cow and they have no idea," said Carl Sanders, a 34-year-old rancher from near Hot Springs. "They come up with all these grandiose ideas of what they think it should be."
The state meets just eight standards on a 66-item list of humane animal policies released by the Humane Society of the United States, which ranked South Dakota 51st among the states and Washington D.C. in 2011. Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota are also among the bottom 10. North Dakota meets 13 standards and Montana and Wyoming each met 19. Nebraska meets 29 standards and Minnesota meets 24.
Sanders, who has been in the family business for 12 years, said he has a larger than average ranch. None of the standards on the Humane Society of the United States' checklist apply to his ranch, but he is careful to follow best practices.
"We just take exceptional care of our livestock," he said. "They're always fed and watered and sheltered when you can. It's just part of doing good business."
Even though South Dakota does not meet the national humane society's standards, the state still considers itself animal-friendly, especially with farming and ranching policies, said state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven.
"Although our state law may not align with a national humane organization's legislative agenda, it works very well for South Dakota," he said.
The Humane Society of the United States' checklist includes a dozen recommended animal-fighting restrictions, a half dozen animal-cruelty penalties, 18 hunting, trapping and sale restrictions and seven farm animal restrictions. The list also includes rules for horse protection, dog breeding, exotic pet ownership and animal research.
South Dakota law does not list humane slaughter standards, according to the report. However, Oedekoven said there is a state law requiring animals to be humanely slaughtered. He oversees inspections of South Dakota slaughter facilities to make sure they meet the standards.
Ranchers, however, are skeptical of taking humane treatment recommendations from a group of non-farmers and non-ranchers.
Troy Hadrick, 35, raises cattle near Faulkton. None of the Humane Society of the United State's standards directly applies to his ranch, but said he does take care that his cattle are slaughtered humanely. Cattle slaughtered when they are stressed taste worse, so it is in everyone's best interest to keep the slaughter process calm and efficient, he said.
"I really struggle with the animal rights lobbyist group based out of D.C. knowing the best way for us to take care of our livestock as farmers and ranchers in South Dakota," Hadrick said.
There are about 17,000 livestock-producing farms and ranches in South Dakota by Oedekoven's estimate. His office responds to about 100 livestock mistreatment complaints each year. Of those, only 10 turn out to be actual cases of inhumane treatment, he said.
"We truly live in a state where animal welfare is a large part of the economy," he said. "By far the majority of the livestock producers in our state recognize that."
Some other items on the list, like a ban on selling and owning shark fins, aren't common temptations in South Dakota. Some, such as hunting restrictions, are just not important to South Dakota residents, said Darci Adams, director of the South Dakota Humane Society.
Adams said she is most concerned that South Dakota pass an animal cruelty law. She is hoping to get support for a bill making intentional torture of companion animals a Class 6 felony. The maximum penalty would be two years in prison, a $4,000 fine, or both. Dog fighting and bestiality are currently felonies in the state, she said.
"We're not working on any hunting issues right now. We're not working on any animal agriculture issues right now," Adams said. "We're focusing on what's most important to our constituents in South Dakota."
Animal cruelty is a Class 1 misdemeanor in the state with a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and a $2,000 fine. Promoting animal fighting already is a Class 6 felony, and it is a Class 1 misdemeanor to attend any sort of animal fighting.
Oedekoven said local humane societies currently handle complaints about inhumane treatment of small animals such as dogs and cats. A statewide policy would be inconvenient because different areas in the state enforce different policies, he said.
"We have a good system for addressing humane concerns in our state," he said. "Our ranking with (the Humane Society of the United States) I think is not indicative of our ability to deal with complaints."
Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or email@example.com.