Farmers farm because they love animals. We are no different: yes, our cows provide us with our income, but we also immensely enjoy working with them, caring for them, and meeting their every need. Because we love our animals, we are also intensely interested in ensuring that we are doing our job properly – we want to be absolutely certain that our animals thrive and are in optimal condition. That’s why we’re always eager to hear what experts think of our herd, be it our veterinarian, nutritionist, or a cattle classifier.
Yesterday, we hosted Holstein Canada classifier Morgan on the farm for a socially-distanced animal welfare assessment. This assessment is part of the ProAction Initiative, a mandatory program for Canadian dairy farms that requires compliance in a number of important categories: food safety, milk quality, animal welfare, biosecurity, traceability, and environmental sustainability. As Canadian dairy farmers, we’re immensely proud of this program that demonstrates to consumers and other interested parties that our farmers are regularly inspected and required to adhere to strict standards of quality, safety, and animal welfare. It shows that we don’t just talk the talk, we also walk the walk when it comes to how we care for our land and animals. ProAction is tangible proof that Canadian dairy farmers are held to some very stringent requirements and that our farms are happy, safe, and comfortable homes for our cows.
Morgan closely examined our herd for hock, knee and neck injuries, body condition, and lameness. The cows really seemed to enjoy the attention and crowded around Morgan, watching her every move very curiously. They behaved so nicely for her, making her job quite easy, and we’re proud to report that our herd scored very well – well above the benchmarks in all categories. This was not unexpected but it’s always nice to have third party recognition of the quality of care we provide to our cows.
No matter which brand of milk you purchase in your local grocery store, it will come from a farm that has been audited by a third party to ensure animal welfare benchmarks are met. All Canadian dairy cows are inspected for signs of neglect or abuse under our ProAction program, and you can be absolutely confident that the milk and other dairy products you purchase for your family are produced by happy, healthy, well cared for cows. Isn’t that a great feeling? Dairy farmers are consumers too, and I love knowing that the ice cream, cheese, butter, and cream that I purchase to feed my family is produced on farms that have met some of the most stringent safety, quality, and animal welfare standards in the world. That’s Canadian dairy, and we’re so proud of our products! ❤️ 🇨🇦 🥛
About a month ago, the global community of dairy farmers was rocked by news headlines that proclaimed that Starbucks was “ditching dairy” and instead planned to promote plant based beverages “for the environment”.
We were doubly shocked. You see, two weeks earlier, we had been asked if we’d be interested in hosting a farm tour for Starbucks top executives looking to expand their knowledge on dairy farming. The tour facilitator explained that intention of the tour was to learn more about the environmental sustainability of dairy and dairy farming. We were happy to oblige because we truly do love hosting tours; but I must admit that the thought of hosting top execs from a multinational, well-recognized chain was a bit intimidating.
And then we heard the news that Starbucks was planning to phase out dairy. It was confusing to say the least, as we know first hand just how environmentally conscious we are as farmers. But it also made us very aware of the importance of our upcoming opportunity to showcase just how much dairy farmers do to steward and improve our land and environment while producing nutritive and delicious dairy.
On Tuesday, February 11, Starbucks executives toured three farms in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, and four more just across the border in Whatcom County, Washington State. We spent an hour and a half with this group: we showed them our farm, shared our family’s generational story of dairy farming, described our passion for stellar animal welfare, highlighted how we follow the latest research on animal care, reported on how we have partnered with the University of British Columbia on several research projects, and detailed all of the ways we steward our land to hand it over to the next generation of farmers in better shape than we received it. They asked some really great questions and were genuinely interested in how we farm. We were transparent and open about all aspects of our farm, and I think this helped to plant the seed for the feelings of connection and understanding and camaraderie that developed over the course of the tour.
The group also encouraged us to share our impressions on the sustainability of dairy, so we explained how dairy is a hyper-local product. Milk produced by our cows could be consumed at a Starbucks 20km away from the farm. We mentioned the regulations we are held to regarding manure management and how these protect our environment and aquifers. We talked about how manure is a valuable fertilizer, and how we use our farm’s manure to provide nutrition for the crops we grow to feed our cows. It’s one giant circle of sustainability.
At the end of the tour, we were given an opportunity to ask our own questions. And we didn’t hold back. We thanked them for showing interest in dairy farming but explained that we were very confused about the recent news that Starbucks was phasing out dairy. Since Michael Kobori, chief sustainabilty officer had just started his new position at Starbucks a month earlier, he deferred to Hans Melotte, Vice President of Starbucks global supply chain, on this question.
Mr. Melotte reiterated several times that Starbucks will continue to serve dairy products. Starbucks is simply adding more options to their menu AND looking at ways to be more environmentally sustainable.
This visit to dairy farms was part of that initiative to learn about sustainability on dairy farms and how Starbucks can encourage and support sustainability initiatives in the global dairy industry. He stated that dairy is a huge part of Starbucks’ business, and this will continue into the future.
By the time the group left, they felt like old friends. At the debrief session with the tour facilitators the next day, Starbucks tour attendees shared how excited they were to connect and engage with farmers and learn more about dairy farming. They were in awe of all the different hats farmers wear: nutrition specialist, soil expert, animal caretaker, business person, etc, etc. They were impressed to learn how valuable dairy farming is to local economies and how closely connected our farms are to Starbucks coffee shops in our communities. It seems the realization that milk from our farms in all likelihood ends up at one of our local Starbucks shops was pretty impressive to them! The group will continue their learning to better understand dairy, its impacts and opportunities, and how Starbucks might play a role to support the industry and farmers. Every individual was extremely grateful to have been able to meet dairy farmers in person to learn from us and, most importantly, experience the human side of agriculture.
We too are so grateful to have had this opportunity to open our farm to Starbucks. We look forward very much to continuing this conversation and building on the relationship we forged on the farm. And in the meantime, we’ll continue to savour our homemade lattes made with freshly ground Starbucks coffee beans and milk from our very own cows. Coffee and real dairy: the best combination. ❤️🥛 ☕️
(This post was written for Dairy Farmers of Canada’s Farmers Voice blog. Find it here.)
Christmastime really is the most wonderful time of the year. For our farm family, the Christmas season marks the culmination of a long year spent milking and feeding cows, caring for our animals, growing and harvesting crops, and general farm maintenance. It’s also a time to reflect on things that went well in the past year and on opportunities to improve in the New Year. This year more than ever we will think back to an incredibly busy summer and fall, during which we built a new barn to house all of our young stock under one roof. This project allowed us to demolish several dilapidated buildings that were formerly used to house our calves and heifers and, equipped with automatic scrapers, this barn will eliminate hours of manure removal each week. In 2015, we also finally completed our three year transition to organic dairy farming. We certainly appreciated the value of hard work and determination when we watched that first truckload of organic milk head off to the processor at the beginning of November! And this Christmas is made even more special by the addition of our newest farm kid: baby Connor is 4 months old and will be celebrating his first Christmas with us this year. Thinking back on 2015 certainly fills us with thankfulness for farm and family blessings.
Like most farm families that we know, Christmas is also a time to connect with friends and (extended) family. For us, this means that we attend and host various Christmas dinners and events. It’s always wonderful to feel the bonds of family and friendship strengthened by these gatherings. And, for me, it’s an opportunity to challenge myself to see how many dairy ingredients I can include in each dish served or brought to potluck dinners. Whether it’s generous dollops of sour cream in mashed potatoes, scads of butter slathered over a turkey, or thick layers of cheese oozing delectably from vegetable casseroles, I make it my personal mission to bolster the Canadian dairy industry with my Christmas cooking! I challenge you, my readers, to find interesting and unexpected ways to include dairy in your Christmas cooking. I promise you, everything is better with cheese…or butter…or cream…
But as any farmer will tell you, farm work doesn’t magically disappear at Christmastime! There are still cows to be milked, watered, fed. Calves need their bottles and heifers still love to munch on hay. Farm midwifery doesn’t slow down at all either – there’s still a good chance of being called out of bed for a midnight calving during the holiday season. But I wager that for farmers, myself included, this does not cause discontentment. For us, farming is a labour of love. And at Christmas, just like during the rest of the year, we enjoy being with those we love and doing what we love best. We love our cows and we love farming, so how could any of this cause displeasure? Rather, I find that at Christmas these tasks are all the more enjoyable, especially with more time to enjoy the simple pleasures of farm life: taking the extra time to pet that affectionate cow, marveling at the miracle of a new bovine arrival, or watching that delicious warm milk streaming from rounded udders is even more poignant and gratifying at this time of year. I truly believe that farm life is the best life, no matter the season.
Looking ahead to the New Year we know that, like any other year, 2016 will not be without challenges. This is especially true for our industry, as we expect to learn just how much the new trade agreement will impact us all individually. But I am fully confident that our Canadian dairy farmers and our dairy industry will commit to rising above these challenges. Farmers are resilient, as has been proven through the millennia; tough times are nothing new to farmers. Farm life is a challenging life, dependent on weather and crop success and good herd health and milk production. These new obstacles created by trade agreements will not cause the downfall of our industry. Just like we always have, we will continue fight to keep our industry competitive and our consumers satisfied with and supportive of our farms and our top-quality dairy products.
Farmers and farm friends, we wish you a dairy merry Christmas and a happy “moo” year!