CHICO, Calif. — Where David Daley is concerned, the student is the teacher.
A cattle producer and interim dean of the College of Agriculture at California State University-Chico, Daley considers himself “still a student” as he works to preserve the long-term viability of the ranching industry.
He’s learned about the public image of animal agriculture from urban students who didn’t grow up around farms, and he’s become nationally known for speaking out on several high-profile issues that can be touchy subjects for ranchers, such as animal welfare and the use of antibiotics in livestock.
“I deal a lot with urban students, and seeing that disconnect gave me the chance to step into that kind of role” of fostering a better understanding about the livestock industry, said Daley, who is also first vice president of the California Cattlemen’s Association. “I also try to understand people who have different viewpoints.”
A 25-year instructor and researcher at Chico State, Daley returned to the campus in 1990 after having been an undergraduate student here in the late 1970s. He began in the beef cattle program, drawing on his family’s history of ranching in Butte County since the 1850s.
Daley runs several hundred mother cows in the rolling hills near Oroville, Calif., and on U.S. Forest Service land in Plumas County. His children are involved in the operation as sixth-generation ranchers, he said.
Some of Daley’s early research helped lay the groundwork for animal traceability, as he worked with Harris Ranch to use DNA to identify and track animals to see how different sires performed in various range conditions, he said.
“I think some of the things we did were forerunners to the discussions we’re having now,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think we solved anything, but we had some good exploration and dialogue and increased some understanding in some of these areas.”
Lately, Daley has gained national attention for his role in educating the public — and the industry — about several thorny issues. In 2012, his vocal rebuke of animal abuse caught on an undercover video at a Central California slaughterhouse raised some eyebrows in the meatpacking industry.
Federal regulators temporarily shuttered the Central Valley Meat Co., in Hanford, Calif., after a video released by Washington, D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing, an animal welfare group, showed cows that appeared to be sick or lame being beaten, kicked, shot and shocked in an attempt to get them to walk to slaughter.
Speaking on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Daley said most cattlemen adhere to best-animal-care guidelines and that industry leaders “firmly believe that those knowingly and willingly committing any abuse to animals should not be in the business — period.”
What upset some in the meatpacking industry, he said, was that he made no complaints about the propriety of the undercover video itself. But he said he realized he had a short window of opportunity to get an industry message across to non-agricultural media and consumers, and he didn’t want to say anything that appeared to defend the slaughterhouse.
Since then, farm groups in Washington state and elsewhere have given generally cool receptions to proposed “ag-gag” bills that would bar undercover taping at agricultural operations and criminalize harming an operation’s image. One such law that passed in Idaho is being challenged in federal court.
On the issue of antibiotics, Daley has said the onus is on livestock producers to show the public they’re concerned about the issue and that they know what they’re doing when dispensing the drugs to their animals.
“What I’m really interested in is our long-term viability as cattle producers,” he said.
Today Daley often meets with consumer groups and speaks to the public about the livestock industry. “It’s more about pulling together the pieces and working with diverse groups (to educate them) about what we do,” he said.
He also keeps studying the issues. One day recently he attended a rangeland water quality summit at the University of California-Davis, gaining more knowledge about an issue that “has huge impacts on our business,” he said.
“I consider myself still a student,” he said. “I’m still learning how to resolve a lot of these issues.”
Daley said he enjoys his dual role as university dean and CCA officer, noting that it gives him plenty of exposure to both the private sector and academia. “It’s a nice combination,” he said.
“My problem is I’m interested in everything,” he said. “It’s probably fair to call me a jack of all trades and a master of none, but as a producer I think that’s important. … You really need to have an understanding of how it all fits together.”
Occupation: Cattle producer and interim dean, California State University-Chico College of Agriculture
Residence: Oroville, Calif.
Organizations: First vice president, California Cattlemen’s Association