The following is an outside perspective on the realities of dairy farming in response to the recent PETA ‘undercover’ video on one of the Land ‘o Lakes supplying dairies. Cathy Mills of Catren’s Shar-pei is the original author and retains all rights on this commentary. Re-printed with permission
She outlines the challenges much better than I could.
From the looks of this farm, they probably milk a few hundred (maybe even a thousand+) cows. For every cow that is producing milk there are at least 3 to 4 animals behind her in different stages of growth and development to take her spot after she stops producing around 5 -6 years of age. So if they are milking say 300 dairy cows, they have another 1200 animals in different stages of growth. This operation looks to milk more than that. When you have that many animals – things happen.
This is a 24/7 job. No breaks, rain, freeze, snow…you are out there taking care of those animals. You learn to work in all types of slop and such and to deal with the animals in such.
As for the conditions of these animals are under – it rains; when it rains, you get mud, because that is what these animals create very quickly and very efficiently in a very short time going in and out of the barn. Whether they go to field or not during the day does not matter, because they will walk through mud to get into the barn. And if given a choice – Holsteins won’t go out if they have enough food in front of them. The way to stop the slop: build concrete alleys but there is still slop to get to the alleys.
The alley where the cow was down and the other cows were walking around her? Look closely, this gets hosed down on a regular basis and is cleaned (USDA regulations). It just so happens that dairy cattle have a very liquid manure and when mixed with all of the urine you get this slop and cows slip and fall. Do farmers want to see this happen? NO. A cow can break a hip, another animal step on the udder and tear it open, etc. The concrete is variegated but believe me, when these animals come into the barn in a hurry to get to feed, they do stupid things. And once down, it takes a lot for them to get back up as they lose their equilibrium, their stomachs can twist and they have to get to their chests to get quieted down and gather themselves to get back up. The person who took the video, who was supposed to be working there, was the abuser. Instead of shooting the video he should have shut the cows off from coming through and been rolling that cow onto her chest to help her up.
As for the cows down – Holsteins are the worst (sorry to those of you that like this breed but I can’t stand them). They are bred for one purpose and one purpose only = milk production. Their main goal in life is to eat, produce milk, and poop. If they get sick – they die. No will to live. If they go down and decide to stay down, you won’t get them up. I have tried, I have watched other people try. We have pushed, we have kicked, we have used shockers, we have put bullrings in the nose and pulled. I have even seen people hoist them up and they will hang there until either they decide to get up, or if sick get better, or die.
Farmers do not want downers (a cow that won’t get up) or a sick cow. They can’t take them to market as a cow has to get out of the trailer on her own feet. If she collapses in the alleys at the market, she can’t be sold and the owner can be charged for the removal of the body. If signs of sickness are seen, the vet at the markets have the right to refuse the animal to sell. These are all laws that thanks to groups like PeTA are enforced.
There is some sense to them and it is a totally different subject. If the cow dies on the farm, the farmer has to pay for the rendering plant to come and pick up the body. This service used to be free as the rendering plant got the body to do with what it may and make money off of it, but no more.
Last time I checked it cost around here $40/head for them to come out and the bodies have to be removed as again per USDA regulations.
Finally the dirty legs of cows while being milked. I just sit here and shake my head. Mud is a reality when it rains. You cannot hose down and clean the legs of each cow before putting on the milking machine.
Requirements are for the teat and udder base to be clean (which you want as all the milk goes into one tank and one dirty cow can cause the loss of the entire tank – 500+ gallons and then increases from there), sterilized with udder cleaner, slap on the milkers. If you are lucky, the cow does not stomp and cause dirt to get into the teat cups which then have to be cleaned. After being milked, the milkers removed, a quick rub with a rag and each teat is dipped in medicine to close down the orifice and not let germs, etc get in and cause mastitis. People who do this are efficient and know their job. In fact in a big enough barn, they start at one end putting on the milkers, by the time they reach the other end they walk back and start removing and the cows are released to leave. If you have to stop this rhythm to clean equipment, you are wasting time and energy. They know their job and how to keep the milk clean and healthy for you and me. Besides samples are taken each milking (or on a timely basis for the 24 hour operations) and tested for bacteria growth etc.
Milking barns if kept in constant use on a 24 hour basis, must be shut down every so often (can’t remember if it is 12 or 24 hours), hosed down, cleaned and equipment cleaned and sterilized. Of course on smaller operations when you finish milking than you get to clean the barn. In some cases, you milk, clean the barn and start milking again, clean the barn, sleep and start all over the next day.
And somewhere in between the farmer has milk testing and marketing, milking equipment and tank maintenance, crops and hay to raise, silage to make, feed and additives to mix, hay to put out, fence to fix, bottle babies to feed and raise, calves to be birthed, cows to rotate in pasture, cows to check in pasture, sick cows to be taken care of, cows to be taken to market, building maintenance, inspections to schedule by the USDA, computers to learn, reset and use in operations, bills to pay, loans to bargain for, family to raise, sleep and eat. And I am sure I forgot something – oh yes, machinery to fix to be able to do the majority of all of this.
Around here, dairies are going under. A very good friend of mine is losing money every month, but he has been in milking for generations and his son is trying to take it over. But right now they are not making it. It is costing him to produce milk. But he does not want to get rid of his herd (Brown Swiss and Holstein – the Brown Swiss are some of the best in our state). Right now dairies are petitioning the state assemblies for help.
PeTA knows all of this – here again, let’s get something out to the public and dramatize it.
BTW – The calf that was sick…I saw a healthy calf that was laying in the mud. Bright eyes, clear nostrils, no labored breathing. Cattle like to lay in mud because once their body warmth gets into it below them, it becomes a natural sauna for them. Same reason they love to lay on manure piles. Sick calves look sick and don’t respond to anything. Really sick calves are on their sides as are dead calves.
Sorry this is so long, but we have to educate and it begins here. Visit a dairy operation and volunteer to help on it for a couple of days – you will see what I have written is true.
Cathy Mills, Catren’s Shar Pei