A Dairy Farmer’s Thoughts on the TPP

Now that I have had some time to let the recent announcements about how the TPP will affect the dairy industry sink in, here is my reaction:

First of all, I’d like to extend my thanks to Dairy Farmers of Canada, and especially to DFC President Wally Smith, for their untiring work representing Canadian dairy farmers’ best interests both in Hawaii in July, and in Atlanta and Ottawa during this round of negotiations. I know that they did their utmost to present our industry’s concerns and reservations about the trade agreement and lobbied unceasingly for the preservation of our supply managed system. And their hard work paid off! Remember, just a few months ago, supply management as a system seemed to be on the negotiating table, and just last week rumours suggested that up to 10% market access was being considered. Thankfully, neither of these two scenarios came to fruition.

So what does the TPP mean for our dairy industry? Well, I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I’d like to take some time to share my thoughts.

Under the TPP agreement, our trading partners now have access to an additional 3.25% of our dairy market, tariff-free, based on  2016’s milk production. Consequently, this milk will not be produced in Canada, and will result lost revenues for dairy farmers as well as a reduction in our GDP and tax revenue. Our government negotiators obviously thought this was an appropriate and acceptable price to pay to participate in the TPP. And of course, there are benefits to being involved in this trade agreement, also for other agriculture sectors such as beef, canola, barley, pork, wine, etc, who will all benefit in some manner from this trade deal. But while we are happy for their good fortune, this does not detract from the reality facing our industry: reduced demand for our Canadian milk which will be displaced by foreign imports. As a result, dairy farmers’ income will be reduced. The government has announced that it will be implementing new programs to help dairy farmers through this situation. While what this will exactly entail remains to be seen and/or expounded upon, here is the official announcement:
“The Government of Canada announced new programs for dairy, poultry and egg producers and processors to assist them throughout the implementation of TPP and the Canada and European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA):
•The Income Guarantee Program will provide 100% income protection to dairy, poultry and egg producers for a full 10 years from the day TPP comes into force. Income support assistance will continue on a tapered basis for an additional five years, for a total of 15 years.
•The Quota Value Guarantee Program will protect producers against reduction in quota value when the quota is sold following the implementation of TPP. The program will be in place for 10 years.
•The Processor Modernization Program will provide processors in the supply-managed value chain with support to further advance their competitiveness and growth.
•The Market Development Initiative will assist supply-managed groups to promote and market their top-quality products.”

Dairy Farmers of Canada is still assessing exactly what these programs mean, and I’m sure they’ll be forthcoming with that information as it becomes available. DFC President Wally Smith said that he appreciates the government support which has “lessened the burden by announcing mitigation measures and what seems to be a fair compensation package, to minimize the impact on Canadian dairy farmers and make up for cutting growth in the domestic market.” We certainly would rather have emerged from these negotiations without having had to sacrifice any market access, but we’re still thankful that our supply management system has remained intact.

While I am grateful that our government will try to ensure our industry’s survival with these assistance programs, it galls me to think that one of the biggest points of pride in our industry is falling: these programs are likely to be viewed as subsidies. We can no longer pride ourselves on being able to produce our milk without government support. And I know that this is beyond our control, but I can’t help but feel that this is somehow represents a decline in our industry’s integrity. If only national food sovereignty was more important to our government, because if it was, we wouldn’t be in this position at all.

For our consumers:

THANK YOU so very much for your support and encouragement during the last few months. It’s wonderful to know that our work is appreciated and that you understand the benefits of keeping the milk in our grocery stores produced by Canadians, for Canadians. We’re grateful for the actions you took on our behalf: sending letters to our government in support of Canadian dairy, contacting your government representatives directly, and sharing our concerns with your friends via social media. I believe that this outcome is a result of the public outcry at the suggestion of opening our markets to huge amounts of foreign product, and that without your support and participation in our campaign to preserve supply management the final result would have been far more detrimental to our dairy farmers.

A few months ago, you showed in an overwhelming manner that you support milk produced by Canadian farmers. In a poll conducted by Environics Research, 89 per cent of you said it was important, or very important, that the milk products you use come from Canadian farmers! We’re so glad you are happy with the product we produce, and we hope that we can continue to count on your support. Thankfully, it is still possible for you to source Canadian dairy products and thus support Canadian dairy farmers. Dairy products that are produced with only Canadian milk are labeled with the 100% Canadian Milk logo of the little blue cow. If your favourite dairy items don’t have this label, contact the processor to ask if it produced with only Canadian milk and ask them to label it as such. Remember, purchasing products made from 100% Canadian milk means that the benefits of that sale remain in Canada: it benefits the farmer and the whole economy. Our farmers rely on many other Canadian businesses to produce milk: feed companies, equipment companies, banks, transportation companies, etc. and so by purchasing Canadian milk, you help to keep these companies in business as well, which bolsters the entire Canadian economy. By buying Canadian, we all win – consumers and farmers alike. What’s not to like about that?

I believe that our industry will survive this hurdle. It may not be easy, and it likely won’t be pretty. But now more than ever we need to remain strong and united. We must continue to supply our top-quality milk, produced according to the highest quality and animal welfare standards IN THE WORLD. And we will continue to do this because, really, could we do otherwise? When dairying is in your blood, there simply is no alternative. It’s not what we DO, but it’s who we ARE. We ARE Canadian dairy. And we’re immensely proud of that. I know that you will join me in continuing to fight to keep Canadian dairy farming viable for our consumers and, just as importantly, for the next generation, so that they, too, can become what they dream to be: dairy farmers of Canada.

Milk Myths Debunked – Part 1: Is There Pus in Milk?

 

Perhaps you have read or heard that milk contains pus. Articles like this one from nutritionfacts.org have certainly played their part in spreading this myth, claiming that mastitis runs rampant in the dairy industry and that the milk from these cows is saturated with pus (along with the highly inaccurate claim that most cows are only productive for two years). http://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/08/how-much-pus-is-there-in-milk/ Perhaps you’ve seen inflammatory infographics like this one:

A dairy friend of mine says that the NotMilk website is aptly named: it is most certainly not milk what they describe there!

A dairy friend of mine says that the NotMilk website is aptly named: it is most certainly not milk what is described there! And that bit about casein: human breast milk also contains casein. It’s not likely to be deadly, is it?!

Maybe you’ve even had the dubious pleasure of watching the same video I have, where the somber voice over gleefully chortles about the millions of pus cells present in each glass of milk.

 

So…Is there pus in milk??? Absolutely not. As a dairy farmer, I work with our cows and their milk daily, and I know that this is not true. Allow me to explain…

Where do these rumours begin? Like all mammals, cows produce milk after giving birth. Sometimes a cow will develop an infection of the udder called mastitis. For those familiar with breastfeeding, you’ll know that humans too can develop mastitis. This accurate definition from Wikipedia sums up mastitis clearly and succinctly: “Mastitis occurs when white blood cells are released into the mammary gland, usually in response to an invasion of bacteria of the teat canal. Milk-secreting tissue and various ducts throughout the mammary gland are damaged due to toxins by the bacteria. Mastitis can also occur as a result of chemical, mechanical, or thermal injury. The udder sac is hard, tight, and firm. This disease can be identified by abnormalities in the udder such as swelling, heat, redness, hardness or pain if it is clinical. Other indications of mastitis may be abnormalities in milk such as a watery appearance, flakes, or clots.” Reading this definition, one can almost understand why a person not familiar with procedures and practices on a dairy farm could be led to believe that there is pus in milk, especially after reading false statistics claiming widespread incidences of mastitis in dairy cows. Yes, cows can get mastitis. It can be a debilitating, even life threatening infection if not treated properly and promptly. As farmers, we take each case of mastitis very seriously. When mastitis is detected, either via testing or the daily visual inspection of each cow’s milk before the milking machine is attached, the milk from that cow does not enter the supply chain until the infection has cleared. Depending on the severity of the infection, there are a few different ways to treat mastitis. If the infection is not too virulent, hot compresses and massages and stripping out the milk from the infected part of the udder can sometimes help the cow get rid of the infection on her own. Other times, antibiotic treatment is necessary. When a cow is treated with antibiotics, her milk also does not enter the supply chain and is discarded until the drug specific withdrawal time has passed. Additionally, all milk is tested on farm and at the processing plant for antibiotic residues; if residues are detected, all contaminated milk is discarded and the farmer responsible pays a hefty fine. Once a cow has recovered and her milk has tested clear of antibiotic residues, her milk is once again shipped to the processing plant.

A healthy udder on a healthy cow. No swelling, hard quarters or redness to indicate mastitis. A few squirts of milk were expressed before milking to check for irregularities in the milk.

A healthy udder on a healthy cow before and after milking. No swelling, hard quarters or redness to indicate mastitis. A few squirts of milk were expressed before milking to check for irregularities in the milk. After milking, an antibacterial dip is applied to the teats to prevent bacteria from entering the open teat end.

Is mastitis rampant in the dairy industry? No! Take this blurb from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle: “Overall goals to strive for are: b) Reduction in the occurrence of clinical mastitis to two or fewer clinical cases per 100 cows per month.” Adherence to the Code is now mandatory on all BC dairy farms, and soon will be all across Canada as well. These guidelines were written to be realistic and practical for dairy farms. If mastitis were rampant, aiming for an incidence level of less than 2% per month wouldn’t be feasible. We aim to reduce cases of mastitis by ensuring that our cows live in a clean and sanitary environment. We keep their stalls full of fresh, clean bedding; we clean the barns of manure multiple times per day; we utilize sanitary practices during the milking of each cow; we ensure that our milking equipment is properly maintained and serviced, and we apply an antibacterial teat protecting dip after milking when the open teat end could allow the entry of bacteria.

Now, let’s take a look at these “pus cells” that anti-dairy groups claim are in the milk you drink.

To tell you the truth, there is no such thing as a “pus cell”. Pus is made up of dead white blood cells, dead skin cells, and bacteria, not one type of cell.

So to what are these people referring? Generally, these “experts” equate somatic cells with pus cells. Somatic cells are living white blood cells located in the udder of cows. Like all white blood cells, they fight infection so an elevated somatic cell count indicates that the cow is fighting some sort of infection, such as mastitis. Milk is tested both on farm and at the processing plant, and one of the tests run is called a “somatic cell count” test. This test shows the level of somatic cells in a sample of milk. A healthy cow with no underlying infection will have a low somatic cell count (SCC). A cow with a somatic cell count between 100 000 and 200 000 cells per milliliter is considered to be in optimum health by most industry sources, she is not fighting any sort of infection. Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs states that “bulk tank counts or herd averages of under 200 000 indicate excellent udder health and counts over 500 000 indicate a definite problem with subclinical mastitis.” Most dairies aim to keep their SCC level under 200 000.  An average monthly herd somatic cell count under 250 000 somatic cells per mL is also eligible for a quality bonus paid to the farmer. In Canada, the maximum allowable limit for somatic cells in milk is 400 000. This line is drawn to ensure that sick cows are treated and that their milk does not enter the food chain. Consumers can rest assured that their milk does not contain pus AND that it comes from healthy cows! (Just as an aside: the somatic cell count averages for our herd over our last three SCC tests were:  142 000 (Jan 5), 147 000 (Jan 12), 163 000 (Jan 19) ).

If you are looking for answers about dairy, please be critical. Why is the source presenting this information? Is there an underlying agenda? Try to find the source of the information, and verify that it is from an unbiased agency. Pages that push vegetarian or vegan diets or lifestyles may not be interested in telling the whole truth about dairy. While some may say that this article also is a biased source of information, remember that what I have described here is supported by the scientific and veterinarian communities. You’re welcome to double check my facts!

I hope that I’ve explained this issue clearly and logically. As always, questions or comments are more than welcome in the comments section below!

 

To Milk A Cow

 

A large part of a dairy farmer’s day is spent milking the cows. Each farm in Canada follows similar procedures, and all must adhere to the regulations set out in the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) program. On our farm, we usually milk the cows ourselves; our 70 cow milking herd is easily managed by one person. We do, however, employ a lovely young lady who milks our cows on alternating Saturday afternoons. This gives us some time to spend as a family, either around the house or occasionally taking day trips together. We milk twice a day – beginning at 5:30 am and 5:00 pm – and each milking takes about one hour, excluding the associated chores, such as feeding calves and heifers. It takes about 8 minutes to milk each cow, some shorter, some longer. Each side of our milking parlour (the place where the cows are milked) accommodates 8 cows, so 16 cows are milked at once. The rest of the day, our cows are free to roam about the barn, socialize with other cows, lie down in the comfy sawdust bedded stalls, munch on their specialized ration of feed at the feed bunk or head out to pasture during the growing season.

We’ve compiled a few photos recently that document our milking procedures. Enjoy!

to milk a cow barn layout

Near milking time, the cows start to gather around the milking parlour, eagerly anticipating the moment that we will open the gate allowing them access to the parlour. About half an hour before we are scheduled to milk, the parlour equipment that comes into contact with the milk is automatically washed and sanitized. This ensures that the equipment is sterile before contact with milk, keeping it safe for consumer consumption. Of course, milk is also pasteurized at the processing plant to totally eliminate the chance of milk-borne bacteria making a consumer ill. Once the gate is opened, the cows amble into the parlour. We always treat our cows gently and calmly, but this is especially important at milking time. Cows that are stressed or agitated will not allow their milk to drop, stress and agitation can block the milk let-down reflex. A cow that is not milked out properly will experience pressure and fullness in her udder before she is due to be milked again. Repeated episodes of improper milking may lead to an infection of the udder, mastitis. Therefore, both we and our employee know that cows must be handled in a calm and quiet manner during milking. Our cows are accustomed to our parlour layout, and align themselves at a 45 degree angle to the parlour pit. Our parlour is laid out in para-bone style, a cross between parallel (milking between the back legs) and herringbone (milking from the side of the cow) styles. We attach the milking unit between the cow’s hind legs. When the cows have all moved over into the waiting area in the alley behind the milking parlour, we take a scraper and clean the manure or wet sawdust out of each stall, and spread more sawdust from the pile at the front of the stall into the area where the cows lie. We want our cows to be comfortable while they’re lying down producing more milk, and overall cow health is improved when cows lie comfortably as well.to milk a cow 213

Once all 8 cows have positioned themselves properly, the back gate is closed and the brisket bar at the cows’ chest height moves in toward the parlour pit, ensuring that the cows cannot move around too much and possibly injure themselves or their neighbor. We designed special water troughs on the brisket bar that are filled with lukewarm water from the plate cooler (the plate cooler quickly cools the milk before it is pumped to the bulk tank). The girls often enjoy slurping down some liquid as they are being milked. Many cows also contentedly chew their cud while being milked; the milking process is comfortable, even pleasurable for a dairy cow.to milk a cow front and hind view

Before a cow can be milked, her udder and teats must be cleaned of manure splatters and sawdust shavings. We use soft microfiber cloths for this (see photo above). The gentle process of cleaning the udder also stimulates milk production. Some farms also use a pre-dip that disinfects the teats. We have had great success with just using our towels. Notice on the photo above that the cow’s udder is relatively clean. We take care to ensure that our cows’ stalls are free from manure and that the walking surfaces of the barn are scraped multiple times per day. As a result, less manure is present on the udder, making the pre-milking cleaning much easier. A clean udder also results in more sanitary milk.

After waiting a few moments after wiping to allow the cow to get into the “milking moooo-d”, we attach the milking unit. A milking unit claw has 4 attachments – a specialized cup fitted with a soft, flexible rubber inflation – that are attached to each teat on the udder. Our units only produce suction when they are held upright. This eliminates the chance of manure or urine being drawn into the milking equipment should the cow kick off the machine or if it should fall to the ground. The suction produced is gentle but insistent, mimicking the actions of a calf’s mouth as it suckles from a teat. Milk begins to flow into the inflation, through the pipes to the plate cooler, then onto the bulk tank. If, for some reason, a cow has been treated with antibiotics, the hoses linking the milking unit to the pipeline that connect to the bulk tank are removed, and the milk is collected in a large bucket and discarded until the required withdrawal time has passed. The withdrawal time is drug specific, and is the period of time necessary for the last residues of the drug to be excreted from the cow’s system. Milk is tested on farm and at the processing plant to ensure that no antibiotic residues are present in milk. If the milk tested is found to contain antibiotic residues, the whole truck load of milk will be discarded and the farm responsible must pay a hefty fine.to milk a cow attaching milker

It usually takes about 5-10 minutes for each cow to finish milking. Once the sensors in the milking unit register that milk has stopped flowing, the milking unit automatically detaches from the udder. Each milking unit also measure how much milk each cow produces. This cow produced 15.9 liters at this particular afternoon milking. Cows generally produce a little more milk in the morning. This cow produces about 34 L of milk daily. Brown Swiss and Brown Swiss cross bred cows generally produce a little less milk than their Holstein counterparts, but the butterfat and protein components in their milk are higher. Our herd average butterfat currently is 4%, and the protein content is as 3.46%.IMG_3614

After the machine detach, each teat is dipped in an iodine solution. The iodine helps to ensure that no bacteria will enter the still slightly open teat end, and also conditions the skin of the teat, keeping it smooth and supple, free of cracks and dryness.

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In the photo below, you can notice the difference in udder size, comparing before and after the cow has been milked. to milk a cow before and after

Once the entire row of cows has finished milking and all of the teats have been post-dipped, the front gate of the parlour is opened and the cows can return to the barn. The cows all head over to the feed bunk to enjoy a meal of their specially prepared mixed ration. After all, producing milk works up a good appetite!

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When the entire herd has been milked, the manure piles are scraped away and the parlour floors, wall, and equipment are thoroughly sprayed down with a high pressure hose. The milking equipment is sanitized and washed once again. The milk in the bulk tank is cooled and stirred until the milk truck comes to pick it up and delivers it to the processor. From there, it is pasteurized and packaged and sent to local grocery stores for consumer enjoyment.

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After we feed the calves warm milk in bottles and nipple buckets, we check the other young stock to be certain they also have enough food and are comfortable, then finally head into the house for our own dinner. And on some nights, we’re lucky enough to enjoy a view like this:

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Now, the next time that you enjoy a glass of cold milk, a wedge of cheese, a serving of yoghurt, you’ll know exactly how the product you are enjoying was supplied by cows like ours to satisfy your hunger and cravings. And so, our girls and our family would just like to say: “You’re Welcome!”