Respect is a Two-Way Street

What would you do if you noticed a local celebrity sharing a blog post that calls into question your integrity? Would you respond with anger? With outrage? Or would you take a minute to calm yourself and respond with kindness and respect?

Recently, a local news anchor shared a post from Mercy for Animals on Facebook. Mercy for Animals is an animal rights group. Like all of these types of groups, Mercy for Animals campaigns for the cessation of all animal agriculture. They do so by sharing opinions that are biased and slanted against animal agriculture, using wording like this: “As shocking as it may seem, sexual assault and stealing babies are common in modern animal agriculture”. They share horrific videos of animal abuse, claiming that abuse is common practice on farms. And they promote a vegan diet that eliminates all animal products.

This local news anchor is a celebrity in her own right. She’s been featured on local television for nearly 20 years and has gained many well-earned accolades for her work. She is a respected advocate for Down Syndrome and blogs about her life as a mom of three. In short, she’s an esteemed and popular voice in British Columbia. As such, she has a large following on social media.

So you can imagine that when she shared that she was having misgivings about consuming dairy products after reading a Mercy for Animals blog post that accused dairy farmers of abusive practices, I was dismayed. In fact, I was hurt, upset, appalled and, truth be told, angry. Not at her, but at these animal rights groups. These groups smear my honor, my integrity. I’m proud of my life as a dairy farmer. I’m proud of the stellar care we give to our cows – our “girls” – 365 days of the year. And I’m proud to provide my fellow citizens with a nutritious product that was produced ethically and responsibly. I know that there is nothing un-ethical or cruel about the way our cows are treated on our family farm.

Happily, there was a saving grace in this post:

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I read this post as a call for help, for assurance. I saw someone who desperately wanted to learn more about the food she served her family and consumed herself. I saw an opportunity. I could have responded with heated words and recriminations. And I saw some of those types of comments. But I calmed myself. This was not the time to be angry. This was the time to convince and reassure and support. It was a time to “err on the side of kindness”.

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And, as it turns out, it was the right thing to do. I soon received this message:

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This was huge. I was so excited. Success!
The next day, this appeared on her page:

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The hours I spent responding to comments and accusations on this post was time well spent! If I had responded with anger and outrage, the conversation would have unfolded much differently and I might have lost the opportunity to inform and influence both this celebrity and her followers.

Now, I’m not sharing this to toot my own horn. I’m using this as an example of respect being a two way street. To gain respect, we must give respect, regardless of whether or not we agree with the person we are interacting with. This definitely applies to our conversations surrounding our farms and our way of life.

Consumer perception of dairy farming but also of dairy farmers will be a driving force behind our successes or our failures in the time to come. Take the recent mayhem over Earl’s ill-advised decision to abandon the Alberta beef industry as an example. This uproar showed that consumers support those they respect and value, and they obviously hold the Alberta beef industry in high regard. Would they do the same for the dairy industry? Time will tell as we begin to see more foreign dairy imports due to the recent trade deals.

In the meantime, as dairy farmers we would do well to remember that the general public has little to no knowledge of dairy farming. Perhaps they even have misgivings or misconceptions about our farms. It’s not. their. fault. The average Canadian is at least two generations removed from agriculture. What little they do know about dairy farming comes from information that they glean either via word of mouth or the internet and social media. Groups that oppose animal agriculture and the dairy industry take advantage of this gulf of ignorance, using it to promote their vision of a farm-animal-free “utopia” by using lies and half-truths to propagate fears and concerns about our industries.

Knowing this should influence how we interact with those who have genuine questions and concerns about the dairy industry. Do not interpret questions as accusations or concern as acrimony. Instead, use these apprehensions as opportunities to share your passion for your cows and your farms. Do not be afraid to allow your enthusiasm for your way of life to show clearly in these interactions. Your love for your animals and your land will drive consumer confidence and support, guaranteed. I’m not suggesting that you allow yourself to be subject to bullying or threats. If those types of comments are directed your way, move on and definitely do not stoop to that level. Hold yourself to a higher standard and you’ll advance your status and your credibility in the eyes of those who may be following the conversation from the sidelines.

Going forward, let this example that I’ve shared drive your motivation to interact with concerned consumers with kindness and respect. There’s enough hateful and horrid material coming from the animal rights’ camps. Countering that animosity and hostility with kind and polite interactions will help to gain respect and will also lend credence to your claims of proper and ethical animal care. In my opinion, that little golden rule exactly fits these situations: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Don’t you agree?

 

Video

Happy Cows’ First Day on Pasture

Today is my most favourite day of the entire year: the first day that our “girls” go out to pasture! We’ve had a gorgeous stretch of warm weather, and the cows have been eagerly awaiting this day, often gazing longingly at the lush pasture through the opened curtain barn walls. Now that the sogginess left by our winter rains has lessened, we’re able to give our girls access to the outdoors once again.

Every year I’m amazed at how our cows understand what’s happening as soon as we walk to the back of the barn and talk to them in a “going to pasture” tone of voice. They all crowd to the back of the barn, so aware of what is going to take place. Their intelligence is quite astounding!

And then, that moment that the gate is opened and they gallop out of the barn, displaying such infectious joy. It’s pure bliss, and it’s one of the happiest sights in the world.

(If the video does not play, follow this link to the YouTube version: Cows to pasture)

I’ll admit that I had a permanent grin plastered over my face for the rest of the day, and that I’ve watched and re-watched this video more times than I should admit. But I think it’s pretty understandable: anyone who loves cows enjoys seeing them happy and content.

#happycows #happyfarmer

Milk Myths Debunked – Part 3: Dairy is Scary – or Not?

Over the past few months, a new video about the dairy industry has been floating around the internet. Titled “Dairy is F*ing Scary”, it purports to show that dairy farming is cruel and inhumane. Erin Janus glibly rattles off dozens of myths about and misrepresentations of the dairy industry, while horrific images flash over the screen. I’ve watched the video numerous times, all the while shaking my head at the blatant lies gleefully rattling off this woman’s tongue. At the request of one of my blog readers, I’d like to try to address the claims Ms. Janus makes.

 

  • Cows only lactate when they are pregnant or have given birth, so the dairy industry impregnates or inseminates dairy cows starting at the age of 12 months, over and over and over again so they keep making milk. Ms. Janus is right in that cows produce milk after giving birth, just like all mammals. When a heifer (female bovine that has not yet had her first calf) reaches sexual maturity (begins to ovulate) at around 6 months of age, she is not bred until she can safely carry a calf to term, typically at 15 months (not 12 months as Ms. Janus states). She is bred either by a bull or via artificial insemination. After giving birth nine months later at two years of age, she begins to produce milk to feed her calf. Dairy cattle have been selectively bred to produce greater quantities of milk than their beef-type cousins and often produce more milk than a calf can drink. On most dairy farms, calves are fed their mothers’ milk, and the excess is then shipped to the processor for human consumption. After this, cows are inseminated or bred once a year, but only if their health allows. This mimics the natural cycle of a cow giving birth once a year. In the wild, a cow is bred as soon as she comes into heat after giving birth to a calf, regardless of her health or her ability to carry a calf to term. On a dairy farm, only cows in good health are bred, and only after a few months have passed after she has given birth. If the cow is judged to be unfit for breeding, the farmer will wait until the cow is healthier and/or stronger and then breed her, typically at the advice of a veterinarian. A cow is milked until up to about two months before she is due to give birth again, then she goes on a sort of ‘maternity leave’, a time in which she is not milked, but spends her time eating, sleeping, and relaxing.

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  • Artificial Insemination: On some farms cows are bred by a bull. Other farmers prefer to use artificial insemination to impregnate their cows. They prefer this method so that they can match each individual cow to a bull that will produce a strong and healthy calf. For example, if the cow being bred has great conformation but does not produce a lot of milk, the farmer may choose to breed that cow with semen from a bull that has shown promising milk production in both his family and his progeny. Additionally, a bull on a farm can be dangerous, both to farmers and farm staff, but also to dairy cows. Artificial insemination can be gentler for a cow than being mounted by a 2000lb bull. Regardless of the method used, both have one purpose: impregnating a cow during her fertile period. So what does artificial insemination involve? Yes, semen is collected from bulls. However, this is not done on a dairy farm, but at specialized facilities that house these bulls for this purpose. And it’s not the sexually charged ordeal that Ms. Janus makes it out to be. Sex in animals does not involve emotion, but rather is a biological imperative to reproduce, not an act of love. The harvested semen then needs to be introduced to the cow’s reproductive tract. This is done via a small tube called a straw which is inserted into the cow’s vagina. Yes, a hand is also inserted into the cow’s anus, gently, and for the purpose of directing the semen straw to the cervix without damaging the cow’s reproductive tract. Again, this is NOT an act of bestiality, but rather of assisting a very natural process in a safe and gentle way.
  • Calves are stolen from their mothers so that humans can drink the milk meant for the calf, and the mother cries for days in search of her baby. Calves are left with their mothers for a period of time after birth. This amount of time varies, and it depends on how well the mother cares for her calf. The truth is, many dairy cows don’t have much of a mothering instinct. Sad as it may sound, farmers can often do a better job taking care of a calf than a dairy cow can! I’ve seen cows neglect or ignore their calf, and we’ve even had some cows attack their calves! After some time has passed (usually between 24 and 48 hours on our farm) the calf is moved to the nursery where he/she is provided plenty of milk/colostrum from the mother cow; fresh, clean, soft bedding, and lots of love and attention from our family. Because of the high level of trust between us and the mother cow, which is generated by the level of care she has received her entire life on our farm, she does NOT cry for her calf, instead, she’ll usually continue eating or laying down when we move her calf. Sometimes we move the mother cow back to the herd before moving her calf to the nursery; in this scenario, once we open the gate the mother cow eagerly moves off to rejoin her herd-mates with nary a backwards glance at her calf. Neither does the calf cry for her mother, she’s perfectly content in her new surroundings. On our farm, and on all of the many farms I’ve visited, calves are fed their mother’s first milk via bottle and then milk from the herd by pail or nipple bucket as they grow older. As I have stated above, a dairy cow can produce much more milk than her calf can drink. Farmers take absolute care to make sure that the calves drink enough colostrum in the first hours after they are born. This can be difficult to judge if a calf is nursing, which is why most farm will supplement with extra bottle-fed colostrum even if the calf is nursing from the mother. This colostrum is fed within a few hours after birth to make sure the calf gets enough of this high calorie wonder food that is full of essential antibodies – the ability to absorb colostrum declines after a few hours. (Colostrum is never shipped to the processor, if a cow has too much for her calf, it is frozen to feed to other calves whose mothers may not have sufficient amounts for their own calf.) After the first few days, calves are given whole milk from the herd as opposed to colostrum. Most farms wean the calves from milk around 2-3 months of age, onto a diet of hay, grains and other forages as their digestive systems mature. But what about the horrific clips shown of cows chasing after their calves that are being dragged away by a cruel farmer or cows bellowing loudly? Unfortunately, just like in all walks of life, the dairy industry does have some bad apples. These clips are awful examples of bad cow management practices. However, this does not mean that things like this happen on all farms. Abuse does happen; it is not the norm, but the very rare exception. On all of the farms I’ve visited, separation of cows and calves is done in a calm, quiet, and gentle manner in order to make the transition as relaxed as possible. We’re not in the business of causing unnecessary trauma to the animals on our farms, but rather we do whatever we can to keep our cows happy and comfortable. Cows will bellow for many reasons, including for food, in unfamiliar situations, and when they are in heat (their fertile period). Without showing the context of why these cows are vocalizing in these video clips, Ms. Janus lets the viewer assume that these cows are crying for their babies, while this very probably is not the case!
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Calves in our nursery. Comfortable, clean, lots of food and water. They’re perfectly content!

  • Dairy cows are continuously kept pregnant their whole lives to keep them lactating. This leads to premature aging, exhaustion, and mastitis. See point #1 regarding cows being ‘kept pregnant’. As I stated there, it is natural for a cow to give birth once and year, and this would happen without a farmer’s intervention if a cow had access to a bull. Giving birth yearly does not lead to premature aging, exhaustion, or mastitis. Just like humans, cows also can get mastitis, which is an infection of the udder. It is not caused by giving birth every year, but is caused by bacteria entering the udder. It can be avoided by ensuring that barns and milking equipment are clean and sterile. This infection is treated with antibiotics. While a cow is being treated with antibiotics and until the drug-specific milk withdrawal time has passed, her milk is discarded. For an in-depth look at what the milking process involves, see this previous post, here.

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Bright and airy barns, and sparkling clean milking equipment help minimize the chance of our cows getting udder infections.

  • Bull (male) male calves are all killed as veal. Ms. Janus states that all bull (male) calves have their throats slit and are sold as veal, implying that this happens right after birth. Our male (bull) calves remain on our farm for a few weeks, and then another farmer takes over raising them for beef. The bull calves are raised on a completely balanced diet of forages and grains and then are slaughtered for beef once they reach an appropriate weight, usually near 2 years of age. There are some veal farms in Canada, but the majority of bull calves are raised as beef, not veal. Additionally, many veal farms in Canada no longer use veal crates for raising veal, but have renovated or retrofitted their barns to allow for group housing with plenty of room for the veal calves to roam around. These new standards of care, outlawing veal crates, will be mandatory in a few years. Veal are slaughtered at 4 to 6 months, not as tiny baby calves.
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This 2 week old bull calf is treated just like his female counterparts – plenty of food, water, clean bedding. He’s treated with respect and compassion.

  • Pus and blood in milk. I’ve written an entire blog post on this myth. Find it here. A short summary: There is NO pus or blood in milk. Canadian farmers like myself, as well as all farmers around the world, must comply with very strict standards regarding the components and purity of milk. Milk that does not meet these standards is not shipped to the processor and the farmer must correct his procedures in order to resume shipping milk. The myth of pus in milk arises from the equating of somatic cells with pus. Ms. Janus says it’s the “same stuff that erupts from the top of a big zit”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Pus is made up of dead white blood cells, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Somatic cells are living white blood cells located in the udder of cows. Like all white blood cells, they fight infection. An elevated somatic cell count indicates that the cow is fighting some sort of infection. Milk is tested both on farm and at the processing plant; 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 herd with an average somatic cell count of 200 000 cells per milliliter is generally considered to be in optimum health, there are likely very likely few if any cows in that herd with poor udder health. 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. Additionally, herd somatic cell counts under 250 000 receive a monthly monetary bonus; in our province about 80% of the herds often receive this bonus. This proves that the milk you buy in the grocery stores comes from healthy cows.
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. No swelling, hard quarters or redness to indicate mastitis. In the “after” photo, the teats have been coated with an iodine based substance to minimize the chances of bacteria entering the teat canal.

  • “Downers”. Sometimes cows become sick. When they do, farmers use every tool they have to help their cow regain her health, often with the help of a veterinarian. Occasionally, a cow will be too ill to stand. These cows are sometimes called “downers”. A downed cow is not killed and sold for beef…EVER. The Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle contains strict regulations on how to handle downed cows. They are NOT treated in the abusive way that is shown in the undercover videos. This type of treatment would result in criminal prosecution. Downed cows are moved in the gentlest way possible to a comfortable hospital pen. In Canada, only a cow that can walk onto a transport truck can be shipped to slaughter. It is illegal to ship a downed cow, and so these cows are either nursed back to health or humanely euthanized on farm. Cows don’t “go down” after four or five years of milk production. Neither does their milk production decline at 4-5 years of age. On the contrary, their milk production is usually still increasing at that stage of their lives! On our farm, and on many farms that I have visited, cows will often stay on the farm for much longer, sometimes well into their teens. But at the end of those 8-10 (average on our farm) years, they don’t all “go down”. Instead, they are shipped to slaughter as healthy animals in order to supply our Canadian consumers with beef.
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Happy cows on pasture. Most of the cows pictured here are more than 8 years old.

  • Milk and Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis Canada, Canada’s national osteoporosis research and education organization, recommends “3 servings of milk and alternatives (2 servings for adults under age 50) – yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified beverages, puddings, custards, etc. This essentially means that, if you are over 50, you need the equivalent of one good serving of dairy at each meal” to help prevent osteoporosis. I’d think that an organization like this would be more informed about reducing the risks of osteoporosis than an internet quack, no? And I think Health Canada along with the actual doctors and nutritionists that recommend that dairy products be included in the Canadian Food Guide know more about a healthy diet than an activist. (Of course, there certainly are other sources of dietary calcium, it’s definitely not only found in milk, and it’s definitely possible to get enough calcium from a diet that does not include dairy products.)
  • Abuse on dairy farms. Abuse to dairy cows, and to any animal, is never, ever ok. The clips Ms Janus shares deeply saddened me; I can’t understand how anyone could treat an animal in the manner shown in this video. Along with our fellow Canadian dairy farmers, we are committed to continuously improving animal welfare. We strive to do this through funding animal care research, attending educational sessions, investing in technology to improve the life of the animals, as well as with supporting the proAction Initiative for a sustainable future. Animal health and welfare is a top priority for Canadian farmers who work with veterinarians and nutritionists to provide the best conditions for cows. Unfortunately, as can be seen in this awful video, some individuals treat animals poorly and inhumanely. This is reprehensible, disgusting, and devastating to us as dairy farmers, and to the whole industry. Dairy Farmers of Canada and all provincial dairy farmer organizations are working to continually advocate for enforcements against abuse and Canadian dairy farmers are very transparent about how they care for their animals, which can be seen by our efforts to show the public our farms and informing them in other ways about common dairy practices. All farmers are expected to adhere to the Code of Practice and treat their animals with respect and compassion. Our industry promotes on-farm training and materials for farmers to educate their employees on the importance of providing proper care for animals treating them with dignity and respect. The Animal Care Code of Practice clearly emphasizes the importance of good animal care and reporting any incidence of animal abuse immediately. Abuse is definitely not the norm, there is no motive or reason for a farmer to abuse his/her cows: even if a farmer cared nothing for the cows under their care, every farmer knows that happy, comfortable, healthy, well cared for cows produce the best quality milk, and no farmer wants to jeopardize their income or bottom line. But beyond this, as farmers we treat our cows well because it simply is the right thing to do. Period.
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We love our cows and their calves!

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For real information about how cows are treated on family farms like ours, I’d like to invite you to take a peek at our Facebook page.

You can find it in the left hand margin of this blog.

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I have nothing against those who choose not to include dairy products in their diet. However, I hope that your choice was not based on biased propaganda similar to what is shown in this video. Additionally, I will not stand idly by when my integrity and the integrity of my fellow dairy farmers is attacked. Portraying dairy farmers as abusive and sexually sadistic not only is patently false, but it verges on slander. I’m trying to do my part to slow the spreading of lies about the way cows are treated on dairy farms and the misrepresentation of common dairy practices. I’m not a corporate spokesman or a crazed activist. I’m just a hard-working farmer, and I’m not getting paid a dime to write any of this. I wanted to write this article for the sole purpose of promoting the truth and correcting the false information that I’ve seen all over my social media feeds. I hope that after reading this (rather lengthy – sorry!) article, you’ll now feel assured that dairy farmers go about their daily work with one purpose: caring for their animals with respect and compassion while providing a safe and nutritious product for consumers.

 

add: this link has a ton of resources comparing milk to other non-dairy beverages: https://milklife.com/milk-vs-non-dairy-milk-alternatives/

Be Like Me and Don’t Cry Wolfe!

I don’t know about you, but I love this whole ‪#‎BeLikeMe‬ craze that’s making the rounds on Facebook these days. For the most part, these memes are pretty funny and surprisingly accurate! I was considering trying it out to see what kind of meme my profile would generate, when I came across another post of Facebook that made me forget all of those funny posts.

I’m sure you’ve seen David Avocado Wolfe memes, photos and posts spreading like wildfire across the internet. And it’s perfectly understandable! He posts inspirational quotes, either of his own creation or attributed to famous people, pasted on gorgeous backgrounds.

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Pretty harmless, right?!

These posts strike a chord with the people who read them, prompting them to “like” and/or share this content. In this way, Mr. Wolfe has amassed more than 4 MILLION followers! Can you imagine how many people see his posts every day? The number is mind-boggling. So what’s the issue? Well, as it turns out, Mr. Wolfe has an agenda, and a pretty nasty one at that. Now that he has generated so many followers, he has begun to show his true biases. And one of these is against milk. (There are many more, and if you’d like to find out about these, search ‪#‎dontcrywolfe‬).

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Hmmm…. Showing our bias now, aren’t we, Mr. Wolfe?

There’s absolutely no need to fear dairy products, and there’s absolutely no truth to his statements. Milk is safe and wholesome. Period.

  1. There is no blood or pus in milk. Canadian farmers must comply with very strict standards regarding the components and purity of milk*.   Milk that does not meet these standards is not shipped to the processor and the farmer must correct his procedures in order to resume shipping milk. This myth of pus in milk periodically makes the rounds on the internet, and seems to be borne of the idea that white blood cells can be equated with pus. This is not true. There actually is no such thing as “pus cell”!  Pus is made up of dead white blood cells, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Somatic cells are living white blood cells located in the udder of cows. Like all white blood cells, they fight infection. An elevated somatic cell count indicates that the cow is fighting some sort of infection. Milk is tested both on farm and at the processing plant; 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 cow with a somatic cell count of 200 000 cells per milliliter is considered to be in optimum health, she is not fighting any sort of infection. 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. See here for a very in-depth discussion on the whole “pus in milk” myth.
  2. In Canada, it is illegal to use growth hormones to stimulate milk production. Yes, milk does contain naturally occurring hormones. But did you know that there are many other foods that contain hormones? In fact, one 8-oz serving of cabbage = 5,411 nanograms of estrogen while a glass of milk contains only 3ng of estrogen. (1 ng = one billionth of a gram)
  3. Canadian farms comply with very strict standards that allow NO antibiotics in milk. If a cow becomes ill and needs to be treated with antibiotics, the milk she produces does not enter the bulk tank, but is safely discarded for the required “withdrawal period”, which is the time that it takes after treatment for the drug to be excreted from her body. The milk is tested for antibiotic residues both at the farm and at the processing plant. If residues are found, the entire truck load of milk is discarded of safely, and the farmer responsible pays a very hefty fine.
  4. Osteoporosis Canada, Canada’s national osteoporosis research and education organization, recommends “3 servings of milk and alternatives (2 servings for adults under age 50) – yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified beverages, puddings, custards, etc. This essentially means that, if you are over 50, you need the equivalent of one good serving of dairy at each meal” to help prevent osteoporosis. I’d think that an organization like this would be more informed about reducing the risks of osteoporosis than an internet quack, no?
  5. Canada’s dairy farmers are environmentally responsible. Many are certified under the Environmental Farm Plan, which is a tool to help farmers mitigate any unwanted environmental stresses that farming may cause. Additionally, Dairy Farmers of Canada’s ProAction Initiative contains a section related exclusively to environmental sustainability. Adherence to this section will soon be mandatory across Canada. But more importantly, dairy farmers know that caring for the land is the responsible thing to do. After all, our land produces the crops that our cows eat. We are good stewards of our land — it would be counter-intuitive to waste or destroy our own resources.                                                                                                                              IMG_5704 IMG_5206
  6. Animal abuse is never, ever okay. And as dairy farmers, we do our utmost to ensure that the animals under our care are happy, comfortable, and healthy. Dairy Farmers of Canada and all provincial dairy farmer organizations work together to continually advocate for enforcements against abuse and Canadian dairy farmers are very transparent about how they care for their animals, which can be seen by our efforts to show the public our farms and informing them in other ways about common dairy practices.  All Canadian farmers are required to adhere to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle and to treat their animals with respect and compassion.  The Animal Care Code of Conduct – clearly emphasizes the importance of good animal care and reporting any incidence of animal abuse immediately.  Most importantly, animal abuse is definitely not the norm. There is no motive or reason for a farmer to abuse his/her cows: even if a farmer cared nothing for the cows under their care, every farmer knows that happy, comfortable, healthy, well cared for cows produce the best quality milk, and no farmer wants to jeopardize their income or bottom line. Most of all, farmers treat their cows well because it simply is the right thing to do.  See these videos for proof that cows are happy on dairy farms!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cq67DZItFk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORYprELu7v8

  7. Veal is produced from male (bull) calves. These calves are raised on a specialized diet until 4-6 months of age or 450-500 pounds, and then they are slaughtered. Veal farmers are no different than other farmers – they treat the animals under their care with respect and compassion. It seems that the issue with veal is emotional: people picture baby calves being slaughtered. But that’s not at all true! A six month old bull calf resembles a full grown cow more than a newborn calf! Only a fraction of bull calves are raised as veal; the majority are raised as beef on a diet of forages and grains until approximately 18 months of age. The dairy industry helps to provide both meat and milk for Canadians.
  8. Yes, milk is for calves. And calves are fed their mother’s milk. But a dairy cow can produce much more milk than her calf can drink. I’ve often heard the argument that milk is designed to grow a calf to several hundred pounds weight in a short amount of time. This is true. But…a calf drinks up to 12 liters of milk per day! Humans drink only a tiny fraction of this. Milk is full of essential and beneficial nutrients and has been a source of nutrition for humans for centuries. Milk really does do a body good!

 

So, back to the BeLikeMe craze. It struck me that what I would like most would be for you to join me in spreading the word about David Avocado Wolfe and his anti-agriculture agenda. Don’t “like” his posts. Don’t share his posts. And if you “like” his page, please do me a favour and hop on over and “unlike” it. If you notice your friends sharing his posts, perhaps you would be so kind as to inform them of his true agenda. Maybe we can limit the spread of these absurdities, even if it’s in just a small way.

david wolfe

* Farmers all around the world are held to quality standards — as a Canadian dairy farmer, I speak to the Canadian standards of quality and purity. Many other country’s standards are very similar.

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.

Supply management: Better than Ever for Canadian Farmers, the Economy and our Consumers

I support supply management. Period. As a member of a Canadian dairy farming family, proudly producing top quality milk for my fellow citizens, I know that supply management’s demise would mean the end of the dairy life that I know and love. Recent articles from various news outlets as well as a newly released study have brought these feeling to the foreground once again. In my opinion, the media’s discussion about the future of the Canadian dairy industry is sorely lacking any input from Canadian dairy farmers themselves. I’d like to add my voice, a dairy famer’s voice, to the discussion as well. In all likelihood, you’ve read one or more opinion pieces recently speculating about the fate of supply management as the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations continue. According to various sources, Canada’s participation in these trade talks depends on our willingness to dismantle our supply managed poultry, egg, and dairy sectors. Looking north, the US sees Canada as a veritable treasure trove of untapped export opportunities. In the wake of falling global milk prices, increased competition from newly emerging dairy powerhouses like New Zealand, and lost markets due to the Russian embargo,  a new dairy export market would inject some much needed income into the US dairy industry. As though throwing a dog a bone, supporters of the TPP claim that Canada will also be able to export dairy products south of the line, but, in my opinion, this half-hearted benevolence does little to mask their true intent: flooding the Canadian market with mass produced milk. Additionally, a  recent article in the Globe and Mail falsely accused Canadian dairy farmers of producing too much milk and that milk dumping was occurring as a result, and used this standpoint as a grandstand to air anti-supply management sentiments. This article has since been soundly discredited, here, here and here, but the ideology behind those sentiments remains, and is extremely worrisome to my fellow dairy farmers and myself.  Here’s why:

What does Canada actually stand to lose if supply management crumbles? A study commissioned by the Dairy Farmers of Canada shows just that. This study “affirms the significance of the economic impact of the dairy sector in Canada. Conducted by EcoRessources, the study, entitled “The Economic Impacts of the Dairy Industry in 2013”, is third in a series which tracks the changes and impact of the sector over the years, beginning in 2009.” Highlights of this year’s study point to :

  • Local, provincial and federal tax revenue produced by the dairy sector: $6.3 Billion in 2013
  • Growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) output by $3.7 Billion in four years, to 18.9 billion in 2013
  • 215 000 jobs maintained by the industry
  • More milked shipped: 7.8 billion litres in 2013, up from 7.6 billion litres in 2009.
  • Less than 10% of Canadians’ disposable income is spent on food, one of the lowest in the world (1.03% on dairy).
Dairy Industry Statistics

Dairy Industry Statistics

In addition to this study that highlights the dairy sector’s vibrancy, viability and important contributions to the Canadian economy, recent analyses have also shown increased growth in the dairy industry due to Canadians’ higher demand for dairy products. The retail sales of cream (+5.5%), butter (+4.4%), cheese (+3.2%), and organic milk (+15%) registered quite remarkable growth rates over the past year. Dairy farmers have been asked to produce more milk than last year – 8% more in the past year here in BC alone! – to keep up with this increased demand.

The risk Canada runs by dismantling supply management is this: we could lose many of the above mentioned contributions and more than that, we would stand to lose what we value the most, a safe, secure supply of milk, produced to the highest quality standards that Canadian consumers have come to rely on. The ultimate sacrifice if supply management is eliminated would be our Canadian family farms. With an average size of 77 milking cows, we would have a very difficult time competing with the glut of foreign-government-subsidized milk flooding in over an opened border, most produced by mega dairies. This would likely mean the end of the dairy industry as we know it. Canada’s small, family run, environmentally conscious, local farms would likely be replaced by what experts call CAFOs – confined animal feeding operations. With CAFOs come a number of environmental risks, and they require special legislation to operate, but they can produce milk at a lower cost. I am quite active on social media, sharing our daily farm experiences, and I have had many conversations with consumers who are concerned about the environmental risks and animal welfare concerns that tend to be attached to CAFOs. The current situation in California is a prime example of this: farmers there are paying a huge price for over-concentrated farming and the subsequent consumer backlash against agriculture. Would Canadian consumers really appreciate our family owned and operated dairies turning into massive conglomerates?  I have my doubts…

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Our family owned and operated 80 cow dairy farm. Will it be a casualty if supply management falls?

Claims that Canada could become a big player in the export game have little standing. Since deregulation in Australia in 2001, exports initially grew for a short period of time, but have since dropped rather dramatically, from 6.1 million tonnes in 2002 to 2.9 million tonnes in 2011. From this we can see that more market access does not necessarily mean more industry growth. And we’re not comparing apples to apples here! Australia’s climate allows their dairy industry to rely on a cheaper, pasture based system, which is unfeasible due to Canada’s much harsher climate. Our cost of production due to the need to store and purchase feed and house our animals for extended periods of time is therefore higher, and would lead to challenges in competing on the world market. And of course, we cannot forget that presently there is an excess of milk globally, contributing to very low milk prices. What little Canadian farmers could export after deregulation would likely not have very much monetary value relative to the cost of production. Another interesting recent development, to me, is that the oft-mentioned comparisons of prices of dairy products for consumers in the US and Canada seem to have faded into the background. The lower Canadian dollar has resulted in the price difference shrinking considerably. Even with the government subsidized milk prices in the grocery stores, US milk prices are very close to, and sometimes even higher than, Canadian prices. Meanwhile, prices paid to US farmers have dropped in the last few months to below the cost of production (according to an American dairy friend). Dismantling supply management would likely not result in a decrease in consumer pricing, but could result in an increase in taxes to fund government subsidies if the cost of producing milk in Canada is not covered by farm gate prices.

Price of milk in Florida vs Prince Edward Island

Price of milk in Florida vs Prince Edward Island (photo and tweet credit:Randall Affleck)

So what can you, my fellow dairy farmers and consumers, do to help others understand the value of our current system? Talk about why you support the supply managed system, write about it, or, better yet, contact your local member of parliament. In an election year, our voices are more influential than ever and are more likely to be heard. MPs need your support to win their seats come November, and they need to know what is important to their constituents. With such a significant contribution to our country’s economic vitality, we have the obligation to make our voices heard; our voices matter. And our voice is this: We support supply management… because it works! It works for farmers, for consumers and for our country. Stand firm, Canada!

Is Organic Farming Anti-Science?

I’m an organic dairy farmer, and this question–Is organic farming anti-science–has been weighing on my mind recently. Said another way, many people question whether organic farming is as advanced as conventional farming. This is an issue close to my heart as I’m a former conventional farmer.

Speaking for myself, and I believe for all the organic farmers who I know, I’m constantly on the lookout to improve our operation with new or improved farming techniques, often spending time online and on social media researching different methods of agriculture and interacting with and learning from other farmers and farming organizations, and not just those that support organic farming.

For the past several months, especially since I have become more active on social media, I have read multiple assumptions that purport to show that farming organically means that scientific knowledge and research is thrown out the window. I’ve also heard opinions that organic farming is not as innovative, efficient, or sustainable as conventional farming. In addition to this, I have seen consumers that choose organic products ridiculed as uninformed and unrealistic for buying into the latest scam or “woo” put forward by organic farmers and “Big Organic” and, subsequently, supermarkets’ motives are questioned when they source foods (supposedly) produced in a manner not supported by scientific research to supply these consumers.

Some recent examples

Some recent examples

Now, as an organic farmer, allow me to try to explain why I believe that these assumptions are neither accurate nor warranted. Here’s why:

When I take stock of our farm practices on our transitional organic dairy farm, I find that I can say with emphasis that I firmly believe that organic farming is just as science based and as innovative as conventional farming, especially in these three areas: sustainability, animal welfare, and technology. *Disclaimer: this is not an in-depth look at organic versus conventional farming, but rather a short, superficial analysis of how organic farming also utilizes science and technology. Technology and Scientific Research: Organic farms utilize much of the same technology that conventional farmers employ. Precision cropping equipment and high tech field mapping in crops are used by conventional and organic farmers alike.  Sometimes, organic farmers use different, but still advanced, technology, such as the new piece of equipment I came across recently that selectively weeds cereal crops. When it comes to dairy, my niche, I know that robotic milkers can be found on conventional and organic operations. Organic dairy farmers utilize the same milk testing regimen as conventional dairymen, and therefore know just as much about each cow’s production, milk quality, and milk components as their conventional neighbor down the road.  Organic and conventional farmers have access to the same breeding technology, and use the same bull proof sheets and information when finding an appropriate sire(s) for their herd. Similarly, crops fed to cows on organic farms are tested for nutritional value and the herd’s diet is balanced by a specialized nutritionist, just as is done on conventional dairies. On our farm, we have participated in scientific studies looking at different types of manure application methods and their impact on soil and crops. Being organic does not exempt us from trying to farm the best we possibly can by applying scientific research results to our operations. The one major difference in technology usage is the exemption of GM crops in organic farming. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that is a positive or negative aspect of organics.  🙂

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New breeding bulls for our farm. We selected these bulls partly because their genetic background looks promising.

Sustainability: Both conventional and organic farmers try to ensure that their farm is sustainable. This can be done conventionally by using environmentally beneficial practices, such as no till cropping and cover crops. No or low till crops protect the soil from erosion and drought and also allow the farmer to grow crops with less passes of heavy machinery that burn fossil fuels.  Organic farming practices revolve around improving and feeding the soil and soil life rather than feeding the crop growing in that soil. Organic farmers believe that healthy, balanced soil full of organic matter and nutrients will grow good crops. This has proved to be true on our farm. Since we began farming organically three years ago (without the use of any pesticides), we have not noticed the slightest decrease in our crop yields. By utilizing natural fertilizers such as compost, animal manure and green manure crops, organic farming reduces its carbon footprint by not relying on synthetic chemical fertilizers, manufactured with fossil fuels. Both organic and conventional farms in Canada take advantage of Canada’s Environmental Farm Plan to certify that they utilize environmentally sound and beneficial practices. Also, many farms of each variety across Canada employ the use of Nutrient Management Plans, which, through soil and input tests, help a farmer make informed choices of how to best supply nutrients to their land and crops.

Our grass, cut and harvested as silage for winter feeding, is grown without the use of chemical fertlizers. We use animals manures and compost to fertilize our grass and corn crops.

Our grass, cut and harvested as silage for winter feeding, is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers. We use animal manures and compost to fertilize our grass and corn crops.

Animal Welfare: As a former conventional farmer myself, I know that conventional farmers do their best to ensure that their animals are well cared for.  All farmers know that animals that are cared for well will be more profitable, but beyond this, farmers provide the best care possible for the animals under their care simply because it is the right thing to do. In dairy, Canada’s proAction plan involves an animal welfare component, one that has been praised by animal welfare groups as being the best of its kind in the world. However, organic practices in livestock raising and housing go above and beyond this Code of Practice. For example, the Canadian Organic Standards have stricter animal stocking regulations and calf housing requirements. Animals on organic dairy farms must have access to the outdoors. For cows, this has been scientifically proven by animal researchers to result in better hoof health than being confined to the traditional concrete floored barns. Nutritionally, for cows, their diet is limited to a certain percentage of grain, which in turn limits the amount of milk a cow will produce, but, can, as we have noticed on our farm, result in a healthier cow with increased longevity and decreased vet visits and associated costs. Along with conventional farms in our area, we have participated in university studies surrounding the care and housing of dairy calves. We have responded to this research by adjusting our calf rearing habits to mirror the latest research-supported trends in dairy cattle care.  Again, being organic does not mean that we ignore the scientific evidence presented by researchers that point to the best way to care for our animals, but rather that we adopt these changes, just as conventional farmers do.

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Our cows on pasture last week. Cows enjoy grazing and relaxing outdoors, as can be seen in the way they eagerly rush out the barn door each morning.

 

Discussing calf care with researchers from the University of British Columbia.

Discussing calf care with researchers from the University of British Columbia.

Looking over the above paragraphs, it can be noticed that while some practices are different, both conventional and organic farmers have their farm’s best interest in mind. We may have slightly different goals and different methods of achieving these goals, but that does not mean that either way of farming is wrong, unscientific or less innovative .  It simply means that we are different. This is why I’ve found the recent interactions that seem to point to an “us versus them” mindset to be so troubling.  There is no need for any farmer to disparage a type of farming different from their own. Instead, farmers would do well to explain their own farming practices: what you do and why you do it, instead of attacking another’s ideas and way of life. When confronted with questions about what you do and why you do it, please try to explain your reasoning without deliberately diminishing another. I am of the opinion that when we rely on hearsay to form our opinions and then allow our stance on either type of farming to harden into ideological absolutes, we run the risk of losing the opportunity for discussion, balance and learning from one another. I personally believe that organic farming is here to stay, and I believe that we’ll see conventional farmers adopting organic principles, and vice versa. And this is a good thing: farmers working together to improve the entire agriculture industry. Together, we can achieve great things and combine forces to feed the population that relies on us for sustenance. There can scarcely be a more honorable occupation, and so, let us do our best to go about our daily lives with a willingness to support all farmers, regardless of practices employed.

(Please don’t feel that this is a rant against one specific group or individual; I’ve found this mind-set to be getting more and more common and pervasive and I have spent several weeks trying to find the words to express my feelings about this. If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I have also spoken out about organic groups shaming conventional farmers and their practices. I think it’s only fair to do the same now that the shoe is on the other foot. Comments are always welcomed, but please be respectful.)