ABC News has aired a story about practices in the dairy industry. I want to first start off by saying that ALL dairy farmers we know take the utmost care of their animals. Whether there are 50 , 800 or thousands of cows, dairy farmers care. Farmers will probably tell you stories of the times they put their animals in front of their and their families’ health and care. We hear stories about husbands staying in the barn and arriving moments before a baby is born. All holidays are spent in the barn. Animals are fed in the worst weather imaginable (rain, ice, tornadoes, hurricanes and more) So when a news group decides to show negative images of our industry, we naturally take offense.
I will address the two dairy practices that where shown tonight and how they relate to our farm.
We do not tail dock on our farm. Since our animals spend most of their time out in pasture, they need their tails to swat at flies. Tail docking is not a common practice on farms (no matter what the size) and is frowned on by the industry. It is kind of a non issue. The theory is that cows will stay cleaner if their tails do not get full of manure and then swing it on their udders. The docking of dogs’ tails is done in the same way. Again, this practice has fallen out of fashion and is only still done on a few farms.
The method of dehorning that was shown is actually the least painful, best and most widely accepted method. The old method involves chopping off the horns and leaving large holes in the animals head. On our farm we first calmly put a halter around the calve’s face and carefully remove her from her group bedding area. We have a small device that holds their head still. This prevents sudden moments that could hurt the animal. Then we apply a local anesthetic to the horn areas.
*I just want to note here that all cattle have horns. It is a misconception that just bulls do*
After the anesthetic starts to work, we use a heated dehorner to burn away the horn tissue. The animal does not feel anything. The calf may struggle (like shown in the video) but this is because cattle have a strong flight response and will struggle whenever they are in confined areas. Once the dehorning is done (a minute or two) the calf is released back to their straw bedded home.
How do we know that dehorning does not negatively affect the animals? We see that moments after returning to their bedding areas, they are relaxing, eating and drinking, and playing with the other calves.
So why do we dehorn in the first place? Two reasons: safety of the animal and safety for the humans.
Cattle love to rub their heads. They rub on posts, other animals, us farmers, etc. A horn can get stuck, rip, and tear. If a horn does break off, infections will be very painful for the animal. We had one cow last year that had only one horn. We thought that she was born without horns so we didn’t dehorn her. Big mistake. She grew a horn, got it caught and had a painful infection.
Dairy producers personally handle all their cows two or three times a day for milking and twice a day for feedings. We are literally are in the pens with them. We walk between them, we reach for their ear tags, we open gates and doors with them standing inches from us. A horn can be a dangerous thing.
Dehorning is not a “factory farm” thing. It is not cruel. It is a way to make delicious, wholesome milk while treating the animals with the most dignity and care.
Dairy farmers care 1,000% for their animals. Stressed animals do not eat, do not grow and do not produce milk. It would be silly to not to care for them. Besides, our animals are like our family.
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