Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Elvis the cow

I skimmed through these postings with interest. I am a dairy farmer and am amazed that folks keep insinuating we are dispassionate about our livestock. I would not do what I do on 4-6 hr nights of sleep, physically exhausting work, not to mention poverty level wages if I did not truly enjoy and care for my cows! The care and management we give them takes priority over our comfort and wants. We have a very high producing herd of cows because we strive to provide the best we can for them while keeping stress down. As do most dairyman I know. Before buying this farm I consulted with farmers as an extension agent as well as a livestock nutritionist working for a feed mill, so I have interacted with hundreds of operations, both large and small and I can tell you that the general public has many misconceptions about todays modern agricultural practices.

All of our cows (65 milking, 50 heifers) are named and we know them by name as well as number. They all have distinct unique personalities, like people do. Some seek out our company and affection, others avoid human interaction and a few are somewhat uncooperative and hostile. Their disposition is influenced slightly by how we handle them, the high strung ones can learn that we do not intend to hurt them and a small understanding can be reached, however, they are still untrustworthy and can be dangerous. The sweethearts will never intentionally hurt us, but they are so big, they too must be handled with caution, especially for my children who "help" us with barn chores. The sweethearts, by the way, are the ones who more often need to be tapped on the nose or rump to get them to back off and behave. I was not raised on a farm, my husband was. The first cow we culled from the herd was difficult. It would be great if our business was profitable enough for us to be able to retire our cows to pasture when they became unproductive, but life isn't so. Regardless of how much we love our cows, part of the difficult decisions that need to be made is when it is time for their useful life to end. We are faithful people who firmly believe that we (man) was placed on Earth to take care of it. Animals are to provide for our needs. Human anatomy classifies us as omnivores (meat and plant eating). The choice to be vegan is simply a personal choice. I disagree with the reasons behind it, however, I can repect that some make that choice. Most farmers and I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to take the best care of our stock as well as the natural resources under our management. We do the best we can in a country that has a very abundant and cheap food policy. We are committed to providing a safe and wholesome food. There are some with anti-agriculture agendas whose purpose is to mislead the non-ag public about animal welfare issues and environmental concerns. As a former consultant and now a producer, I can't reconcile the charges with the general practices. While I am sure there are a few "bad eggs" out there, the majority of ag producers even the large operations or factory farms as some would term (no one has given me a good definition of that term yet) do a very good job at caring for their stock and their surrounding resources. Keep this in mind - content animals are more productive animals. Stressed animals are not. There is a very low profit margin in animal agriculture enterprises. There is little room for unproductive practices that lead to losses. The food we raise for our animals and ourselves must be excellent quality for us to be successful. Therefore, our natural resources - land, water and air that we and our livestock live and grow on must be managed the best we can to be productive and clean. This is the philosophy that most farmers live and work by. I for one admire that and is why I chose to be among this hard working people! Now, time to head back to the barn to take care of "my girls".

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