Dairy People Care!

A common theme of the animal rights movement is to promote that today’s farms are full of dirty dark secrets.  I grew up on a dairy farm, live on a farm and have had the privilege of being on hundreds of dairy farms around the world – including some around Plain City, Ohio. The crap you see on the heinous videos from animal rights activists, like the one being released by Mercy For Animals about a Ohio dairy farm, is not what’s happening on every farm. Based upon personal experience on the dairy side of agriculture, I’d like to offer a bit of a perspective check on the “dark secrets of farms.”

  • Calf Care: Dairy calves are given colostrum in their first couple of hours of life to be sure they’re healthy and because farmers want to give them the best care possible. Calves are not thrown around, nor are they mistreated – farm families often care for calves the same way they do for their children (and sometimes better). Calves are typically given their own home to thrive in and provided a formulated diet, along with a vaccination program comparable to your child’s. Some groups would lead you to believe that it’s cruel to take a baby calf from the mother, but this is done for the health of both the calf and the cow. If you’ve ever breast-fed, you don’t need a lot of explanation about what a 100 pound calf can do to mammary tissue.
  • Healthcare Handling: Cattle are typically put in “chutes” for treatments to keep both the animals and humans safe. This does NOT involve beating an animal, poking it with metal or prodding it cruelly. Nose rings are sometimes used to calm an animal who’s throwing its head around (similar to arm restraints for a human). For example, if I see a cow is going to hurt herself in a chute, I try to restrain her with the halter first to calm her down and then, if necessary, will use the nose ring (which does not puncture the nasal tissue).  It’s not  a torture device, it’s a safety device.  If a cow doesn’t like a needle, hoof trimmer, veterinarian examination or other necessary practices to keep her healthy, we still have an obligation to keep her as calm as possible. That’s not always pretty with 1500+ pounds, but people who have worked with animals their whole life have special techniques (mine is talking to the animal a lot, if you can imagine!).
  • Milking Parlor: The parlor is where cows come to do their business – give milk – and they are usually happy to do so. Today’s technology means milking equipment is streamlined to cow comfort and milking efficiency (which typically happens 2-3x daily). Cows are habit driven; once in a routine, will come to be milked in roughly the same groupings, but it can be a bit of a challenge to get a new one into the right habits. However, I’ve yet to meet a dairy farmer who uses a pitchfork to stick a cow in the parlor. If cows are beaten, they don’t release their milk, which kind of defeats the purpose of the parlor, don’t you think?
  • Drugs: Cows are NOT pumped full of drugs. ALL of the milk you buy from the grocery store is antibiotic free; it’s been tested about 9 times between the cow and you.  Any label that suggests that some milk has in it antibiotics is false (if it’s sold as Grade A).  And all milk has hormones – it always has. Udders are not pumped full of hormones nor are calves fed hormones. Hormones exist in living things. Check estrogen levels in soybeans and cabbage if you don’t believe me.
  • Nutrition: Did you have a dietitian plan out your last meal to meet your energy needs, adapt your meal plan to changing seasons, check your manure and then look at your body condition? Cows do. Professional nutritionists evaluate all the components of a cow’s diet, test the available ingredients and provide a complete “ration” (think casserole with all the best ingredients) to help dairy farmers keep their cows healthy. Most cattle eat better than I do!

Above all, please know these videos represent a few bad actors and are an insult to those of us who have worked with cattle since we were old enough to be in the barn. Are all babysitters or teachers bad because there are a few who abuse children?  No – and the same holds true for farmers. Regardless of whether the video was staged or real, the individuals who treated animals with such disrespect should have been reported to the authorities immediately. Agriculture has a responsibility to be very clear that such behavior is unacceptable.

Dairy farmers don’t milk cows because they plan to get rich; they do it out of love for the cows and the dairy business. It’s a tough job that requires 365 days of work – and the bottom has fallen out of the milk market in the last couple of years. They’re not asking for your sympathy – they just want you know that animal rights videos don’t represent how much their family cares. And, speaking as a dairy person, seeing such cruelty makes me want to cry and keeps me up at night. Thankfully, I can go out to our barn and down the road to where our cows are milked to see animals that are treated with respect. If you haven’t had the same opportunity , I’d encourage you to visit a modern day farm – and talk with the family working to care for the animals.

It’s rare I’ll give a shout out to Buckeyes, given my green and white Spartan blood. However, Election Day 2009 calls for a rallying cry for every Ohio resident who cares about agriculture, the rural economy, freedom of business choice, scienced-based information or maintaining low food prices.  My thoughts – live and unedited – about why Issue 2 deserves your YES vote. (more…)