Jan 282010
Authors: Robyn Scherer

For anyone watching the evening news this week, you probably saw a video of dairy cows being abused and mistreated. This video, put together by Mercy for Animals, is the exception rather than the rule in the dairy industry.

It always amazes me that people treat animals this way, but even more so that this image is portrayed as the “norm” in the industry. Most managers in this situation would immediately fire the people involved.

Do you really think most dairy farmers would allow this kind of treatment? Cows in the conditions shown in the video pose multiple risks for the farm. Infections and sick cows can cause the other animals to get sick, and sick animals do not produce milk.

This loses the producer money. If for only that reason, dairy farmers would take care of their cows for profitability. However, most dairy farmers I have met take care of their cows because they sincerely care about them.

The video shows dairy cows in deep manure. The narrator says, “Filthy living conditions are an industry norm.” This is not usually the case. It is true that a lot of dairy cows are kept on concrete, with sand stalls they can lay down in if they choose. In the several dairies I have visited, these pads are powerwashed daily.

One common practice shown in the industry is disbudding of horns. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, disbudding is done because it makes the cattle less of an injury risk to workers and other cattle.

William Wailes, the head of the Animal Science Department at CSU, said many producers actually use a paste to disbud cattle, although electric dehorning does occur. The paste is relatively painless and is usually done early in the calf’s life, not as was shown in the video. Wailes has been involved in the industry for 25 years.

Part of the video shows calves being dragged away from their mothers. The dairies I have been to do not drag the calves as the video shows. However, it is true that calves are not left on their mothers like beef cows.

Calves are given colostrum from the cows, which is vitally important and usually pasteurized to keep bacteria from harming the calf. They are then fed milk every day (again pasteurized), just like a beef calf would be. They are usually kept in huts with a run, and steers usually go to a feedlot to be used as beef cattle, not as veal as the video described, although some do.

When CBS aired this video, the anchor stated, “Cows are kept perpetually pregnant so they will produce milk.” This is absolutely incorrect. Yes, the cows are bred so they will calve, which makes them produce milk; but most cows are then milked for 90-100 days, rebred and continue to be milked for seven months of gestation. They are then allowed a “dry period” of 60 days to recuperate before they calve again.

Dairies are regulated by the U.S. Health Department, and operations are checked twice a year. In addition to that, every load of milk that is shipped is checked for bacteria and dumped if it does not meet quality standards. Artificial steroid hormones, like those mentioned in the video, aren’t allowed.

Videos like this appeal to people because of anthropomorphism. Groups like Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States (not to be confused with your local humane society –– different group) play on that and push political agendas in these videos. Don’t believe me? Listen to the end. “Please choose kindness over cruelty at your next meal by adopting a vegan diet.”

If the person who shot the video actually cared about the animals himself, he would have helped those animals in need rather than exploit them for his own personal gain. Interesting thought isn’t it?

I am a livestock producer, and I use humane practices with my animals. My animals are more than a job. They are a large part of my life. Many dairy producers feel the same way. The cows they milk support their families, send their children to college and help to feed people like you and me.

Robyn Scherer is a senior animal science, agricultural business and journalism and technical communication major. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:25 pm

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