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.

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* 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.

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!

Check Out These Happy Cows!

“…It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Grazing 2015 officially began today! Organic dairy farms are required to pasture their cows during the growing season, weather and pasture condition permitting. We’ve had enough grass to pasture for about a week, but the ground was just too soggy to allow the girls pasture access. Today we decided that it was dry and firm enough for the girls to spend their first day outdoors.

After spending the last 5 months in the barn (with access to a walkout area), the girls were extremely eager to head out to the lush buffet of grass. As we opened the pasture gates, they eagerly crowded to the back of the barn, and rushed down the laneway as soon as the gates were opened. Heels flew high and udders swayed from side to side as they galloped around the pasture, expressing their glee with snorts and high flying tails.

Some of the older, more staid ladies settled down to graze fairly quickly. In my opinion, there’s nothing more blissful and relaxing than listening to the rhythmic tear, chew and swallow of a cow enjoying a good meal of tender young grass. What do you think?

Looking out of my kitchen window now, 3 hours later, 1/3 of the herd is stretched out on the grass, enjoying the spring sun; 1/3 is grazing contentedly; the final 1/3 is standing and also chewing their cud – the picture of pastoral contentment. Here’s hoping we’ll enjoy a long and successful grazing season this year!

Supply Management Part 3: Addressing Recent Globe and Mail Article

Mondays are busy days on the farm and in the farmhouse. We generally take care of just the necessary chores on Sunday, so Monday really signals the start of a new, busy work week. But I’ll still usually find time to sit down with a cup of coffee, usually after the kids are on the bus to school, to go through my twitter feed. This is mostly a pleasurable, relaxing time of day for me. Not today. I was confronted with this article in the Globe and Mail by Barrie McKenna, who has added to his rather lengthy repertoire of anti-supply management opinion pieces with this: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/the-world-is-rapidly-closing-in-on-canadas-dairy-industry/article23678491/

I contacted a few of my friends in the industry, a dairy farmer and an industry leader. Here is what they had to say:

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Jennifer Hayes’ thoughts on the article. Find her on Twitter @FarmShigawake for more thoughtful commentary on supply management.

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Wally Smith, President of Dairy Farmers of Canada, reacts to the article.

 

Initially, I was tempted to just move on with my day, but the more I thought about this article, the more I realized that I have much to say to Mr. McKenna, and that I would like to have my opinion, and the opinion, I believe, of all Canadian dairy farmers, heard as well. I don’t pretend to be an expert on trade, or supply management either, for that matter. But Mr. McKenna’s biased opinion piece leaves me with the impression that either he doesn’t understand the system or that he blatantly takes advantage of his readers’ lack of knowledge on the subject presented here.

Mr.McKenna’s first sentence already shows his bias. He says our dairy “regime” is sealed off from the rest of the world. While I know that we do use tariffs to limit imports of dairy products from other countries, Mr. McKenna conveniently leaves out the fact that we allow more tariff free imports than the US and the EU – 6% of imports are tariff-free in Canada, with only 2.75% tariff free imports allowed into the US. Additionally, as part of the new CETA agreement, Canada will allow 9% of the cheese consumed in Canada to come from the EU tariff free, up from the current generous access of 5%. The (EU) currently imports only a modest number of Canadian dairy products, despite the fact that the EU is a market about 15 times the size of Canada.

Moving further along in the article, Mr. McKenna references a confidential report from the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. But rather than being what he seems to think is a smoking gun detailing Canada’s dairy woes, it rather is a piece that “indeed is confidential, and was prepared in the context of reviewing policy and identifying growth opportunities among farmer delegates … it actually identifies that there is an opportunity for more competitive pricing to compete in the domestic dairy ingredients market which is already directly subject to international price competition from duty-free imports. More competitive pricing will create some export opportunities but these are small compared to the opportunities within the domestic market and below current permitted exports.” https://www.milk.org/Corporate/News/NewsItem.aspx?id=5461

I have difficulty believing the statement that Canada is facing a growing glut of unwanted milk. How on earth would Mr. McKenna like to explain the extra quota allotted to Canadian farmers over the last year and a half? BC farmers have received an extra 10% of quota, and Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI have received 5%, while the remaining Western provinces have received an amount in-between these numbers. This extra quota has been allotted to encourage farmers to produce more milk to fill the increased demand for milk products by Canadian consumers. I’m sorry, Mr. McKenna, but numbers don’t lie.

Further in the article, the author states that creating a new market to compete with foreign imports of milk proteins or export at world milk prices amounts to an “illegal subsidy.” The irony is actually laughable. Mr. McKenna would like to see our borders open to imports – imports that are very highly subsidized by their country of origin. Care to explain your double standards, Mr. McKenna?

Mr. McKenna drops his two most infuriating comments at the end of the article. First of all, he says that consumers pay an inflated price. Now, if you remember, I addressed this in a previous post, here. Farmers are paid the cost of producing the milk. Period. The recent reduction in the price paid to farmers ($0.06/L for us on our farm) because of decreased costs of production illustrates this perfectly. Keeping prices artificially low in the store by supplying farmers with government subsidies (like in the US, which appears to be Mr. McKenna’s ideal system) does not benefit the consumer, but rather inflates their taxes. Secondly, he indirectly calls farmers greedy. Now, I personally take offense to this, and I’m sure other dairy farmers do as well. Is wanting a fair price for the product we produce “greedy”? Maybe he should talk to dairy farmers in the UK and France who are dumping their milk to protest the dropping milk price, a price with which they cannot cover the cost of production. Are they, too, greedy?

Let me paraphrase my opinion like this: supply management is a great system. It ensures a stable economic outlook for farmers and stable prices in the grocery stores for consumers. Stability on the farm means that farmers can dedicate more of their time and investments in sustainability, technology and advancing animal welfare. With supply management, we all win, consumers and farmers alike. And no, Mr. McKenna, dairy farmers don’t think the system is broken. I am a dairy farmer, and I support supply management – because it WORKS.

Supply Management Part 2: Recent Developments and Comparisons

Perhaps you’ve heard some of the latest news from New Zealand, detailing their current dairy woes. Since my last article explaining supply management was published, several readers have reached out, asking about New Zealand’s deregulated dairy industry. Long promoted as “the Miracle Down Under“, New Zealand has traditionally been held up by various anti-supply management groups and individuals as an example of how the Canadian dairy sector would prosper if our dairy industry were to be deregulated. Supply management critics purport that dairy prices for consumers would drop, but farmers would be able to compete in the world market and begin to export milk products, thus expanding the dairy sector.

Those dreams have been shattered over the past few months. Due to global issues, such as the ban on dairy products from the EU by Russia and the drop in China’s imports of skim milk powder, global milk supply has increased dramatically, causing prices to drop. The global milk price has HALVED since last February. Farmers in New Zealand now can no longer cover the cost of production by the price they are paid for their milk. Farmers are currently being paid about $0.45 per liter of milk. They are doing whatever they can to cut costs, reducing labour costs, feed costs, and lowering production. The dairy industry in New Zealand accounted for one-quarter of their exports and one-third of their economic growth last year. It’s still too early to put real numbers together, but economic experts expect that this situation will definitely negatively affect New Zealand’s economic outlook as a whole.


But what about the price consumers pay for their milk? The decreased price paid to farmers must coincide with a lower price for consumers? NO! The price of milk in New Zealand grocery stores has actually increased by 3.2% in October alone. Consumers there generally pay between $1.75 and $2.50 per liter of milk. Compare that to our price: approximately $1.48/L, which has risen at less than the consumer price index for the last 30 years, and actually dropped by 0.4% in the last fiscal year. I’ve corresponded with “Kiwi” dairy farmers who complain that consumers don’t seem to realize that the astronomical supermarket costs are not associated with the dairy farmers, who can barely scrape by, but with the processors and retailers who set whatever profit margin they desire.

I suspect New Zealand has now lost the rights to the title “Miracle Down Under”. For both their farmers’ and consumers’ sakes, I hope it doesn’t become the “Debacle Down Under”.

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Our 70 milk cows. 76 cow herds are the average in Canada. 98% of our dairy farms are family owned. Herd size in NZ is much higher: 393 cows on average. 25% have more than 500 cows and over 490 of these have more than 1000 cows. 65% are owner operator businesses, the rest are part share or equity partnerships.

Both Canadian dairy farmers and consumers are fortunate to enjoy a dairy industry that is strong, stable, and self reliant. Supply management benefits Canada’s economy as well as our local economies. Milk products, especially fluid milk and cream, are generally sold locally, creating local jobs and revenue. The dairy sector’s GDP contribution increased from $15.2 B in 2009 to $16.2 B in 2011, and has created thousands of jobs, increasing from 215,104 to 218,330 over the same time frame. Additionally, the dairy industry contributes more than $3B in local, provincial and federal taxes every year. A situation like the one “down under” would be disastrous to dairy farmers, would not benefit consumers, and would likely result in economic instability for the agriculture sector and quite possibly for the Canadian economy as a whole.

support Canadian dairy

I hope supply management critics and our politicians sit up and take notice: this is NOT the type of future that would be beneficial to Canadian farmers or consumers. The current Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks are rumoured to be a threat to supply management. Our Canadian negotiators should ask themselves if the situation in New Zealand is one that Canadian voters would appreciate and support. Canada has signed other trade agreements without sacrificing supply management, and, in my opinion, these present global circumstances heavily favour retaining the current system to protect all Canadians – farmers and consumers alike. I challenge our politicians and policy makers to stand up in support of supply management because, really, in all likelihood, the future of dairy would be looking rather grim without it.

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!”

 

 

 

Farmers Care

Farmers care for their cows. Verb? Noun? No matter, both most definitely apply to dairy farmers! Farmers feel sentimentally attached to the animals they own, while providing them with the necessities to ensure their health and welfare. Animal health and welfare are extremely important to dairy farmers. We know that in order for a cow to produce milk that is high quality and in good supply, she must be happy and healthy; therefore farmers place a huge emphasis on ensuring that the animals they own are properly cared for.

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Happy girls on pasture. September 2014

First of all, farmers pay close attention to the feed given to their cows. We take special care to secure high quality feed for our cows. Many farms across Canada grow the majority of their cow feed on farm but purchased feed can also account for part of a dairy farms’ ration. Both purchased and home grown feed must be high quality to guarantee cow health. Farmers work closely with trained and specialized nutritionists to provide the right feed and nutritional components for each stage of a cow’s life. In dairy farming, what goes into the cows has a great impact on their overall health and wellness, which makes quality feed a high priority for dairy farmers.

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First cut of grass in May 2014

Animal housing also plays an important role in animal care. Across Canada, there are many different styles and types of cow housing, but one thing remains constant: our commitment to provide our cows with a safe and comfortable area to call “home”. Barns provide shelter from the elements: the heat of summer and the extreme cold of winter. Proper ventilation and lighting are paramount in cow comfort; many barns have opaque curtained or paneled sides as well as large overhead doors at the front and back of the barn that allow light and air into barns. In our barns, our cows have plenty of room to move around and socialize with other cows and engage in normal herd behaviours. Our stalls are deep bedded with soft wood shavings; other farms use sand or mats for bedding and some farms even have water beds for their cows! During the growing season, our cows have access to pasture. We find this improves hoof health and strength and cow health. Farms that do not provide access to pasture often install mats on the concrete floors in the barns to provide a cushion that mimics an outdoor surface. Dairy barns are cleaned multiple times per day, removing the manure from the barns via scrapers or through slatted floors, which provides a clean surface for the cows to stand on. Regardless of barn type, farmers know that if a cow is comfortable, she will likely remain healthy and productive.

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This lovely lady is enjoying the breeze and sunshine flooding in through the opened curtained walls.

 

Farmers are often actively involved in animal health care:

Hoof care: We provide foot baths for our cows, which helps to stop the growth of painful fungi or infections of the hoof. If a cow has a sore hoof, she is less likely to consume proper amounts of feed and her body condition and health will suffer as a result. Healthy feet are a huge asset in a milk producing cow, so many farmers enlist the help of trained hoof trimming professionals who visit a farm multiple times per year to trim the cows’ hooves and treat any infections or lesions. Yes, our girls are pampered; they have more pedicures done in one year than I have done in 10! In between visits from the hoof trimmer, we will take care to treat any hoof problems that may arise.

Disbudding: Calves are disbudded (their horn buds are removed with a cauterizing iron) at 3 weeks of age, a process that is quick and nearly painless. This process ensures the safety of a cow’s herd mates as well as farm staff. Our calves are sedated and given a local anesthetic and analgesics during the treatment. By the time the sedative has worn off, the calves are unaware that anything out of the ordinary has taken place!

Antibiotic treatments: If a cow is ill or is suffering from an infection, such as mastitis, farmers will treat the cow with antibiotics to combat the infection, at the advice of a veterinarian. If a cow has been treated with antibiotics, her milk must be withheld from the food chain and is discarded until the drug specific withdrawal time (which is the time is takes for the drug to be excreted from the cow’s body) has passed.

 

Of course, we also enlist the help of a veterinarian team to care for our cows. A vet visits our farm periodically to check our overall herd health and to check each cow’s prenatal status. Additionally, our vet is on call day or night, weekends and holidays, if any problem should arise which we are unable to resolve ourselves. For example, on July 1st, Canada Day (see my Facebook post on July 2 for more details and pictures) we called the vet out to our farm for an emergency. A cow had pushed her uterus out after a hard calving. Without veterinarian care, a prolapsed uterus is a sure death sentence for a cow. Thankfully, with proper treatment, the prognosis in such cases is excellent. The vet arrived promptly and soon had the uterus back in its rightful place. The cow is now doing very well and is showing no ill effects from the traumatic experience. Farmers and vets work together to provide the best possible medical care for dairy cows.

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Cleaning the prolapsed uterus before re-insertion.

Perhaps the most overlooked but maybe the most important aspect of animal care is the frequent observation of the dairy herd. A good farmer or herd manager will quickly be able to notice any discrepancies or changes in cow behavior and health if they are familiar with the herd and normal cow attitudes and behaviors. Times of close contact with the cows, such as at milking time, are excellent opportunities to observe and record any disparity or change in cow health and wellness. Times like these are also excellent opportunities for showing our affection to our girls – our most affectionate cows often meander over for head rubs and scratches if they see us in the barn. Cows needing extra attention of any sort can then be separated from the herd and have their specific needs compassionately and thoroughly attended to.

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Calf kisses!

The animal welfare section of Dairy Farmers of Canada’s ProAction initiative, the Code for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, which is now mandatory here in British Columbia, as well as in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, delves deeply into animal welfare issues. The Code deals with all aspects of animal care highlighted above, as well as cow transportation and euthanasia. If a cow must be transported to auction or slaughter, special protocols are in place to ensure that cows that are unable to withstand the journey or are unable to walk onto the transport truck are not transported at all. If a cow is too weak or ill to be transported, she must remain on farm until she is stronger or must be humanely euthanized if her overall prognosis of recovery is not promising. Farms in these provinces (and soon all across Canada) are required to abide by the Code and are subject to inspections to ensure that each farm places firm emphasis on animal care and welfare.

As dairy farmers, we take great pride in the care given to our cows. We take extreme care to ensure that our girls are comfortable and free of disease and pain and fear. We know that happy, comfortable, well cared for cows produce the best quality milk. And that, after all, is the dairy industry’s mission: providing Canadians with top quality milk that is produced by healthy and happy cows.