by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“Stand up for what you stand for!” emphasized NY Animal Agriculture Coalition Executive Director Jessica Ziehm.
Ziehm led an impressive roster of speakers for the 2018, 2nd Annual Cow Comfort Conference, hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Regional Ag Team, and the South Central NY Dairy & Field Crops Team at Liverpool, NY.
“Image really is everything out there,” explained Ziehm. “Perception is reality.”
With social media rampant and misinformation rapidly spread, Ziehm cautions the dairy industry to be vigilant about what they are sharing and how they are perceived by the public.
“Farming today requires a social license. A social license is basically operating under the pretense of whatever public trust that somebody else has given you. Public trust is aligned with somebody else’s belief. It may be right or it may be wrong. But public trust is what drives the social license that we’re all required to operate under today.”
Ziehm described a six-step plan for dairies to take part in to help keep public trust. These steps include taking responsibility for and “own our actions, be transparent, be passionate and be real, find shared values, listen and invest in good will.”
Ziehm led the attendees in a pledge stating everything done on individual farms should be for the health and benefit of animals, employees, the environment, farm products and the community, and if not; vow to change it.
Taking part in your community and keeping a hand in community events will promote good will and public trust. Sharing values with community members will motivate them to stand up for you when public trust wavers.
Ziehm said de-horning calves, cow/calf separation, and cows kept in tie-stalls are recent objections from the public against the dairy industry.
Dr. Kimberley Morrill, Cornell North Country Regional Ag Team Dairy Management Specialist, spoke about these and other emerging issues in her presentation.
“The roster of standard operating procedures and recommended practices on dairy farms is evolving, shaped by new technology, new science, and practical experience,” Morrill explained. “What is new, is that this evolution is increasingly driven by both measurable animal welfare outcomes and by societal pressures about what is acceptable, as expressed by the clear and unequivocal expectations of our customers.”
Emerging issues Morrill discussed included, disbudding/polled genetics, biotechnology, antibiotic stewardship, animal housing and calf care.
Morrill said current industry recommendations are to disbud calves before 8 weeks of age.
“Do it early.”
Some farms are disbudding calves before 2 weeks of age as newly adopted protocol.
Pain mitigation should be provided in accordance with recommendations of herd veterinarians.
Precision breeding or polled genetics may be an option for some farms. However, this depends on cattle breed, and may not be feasible to many farms at this time.
When questioned by the public about disbudding, explain that horns are a safety issue to people and other animals.
Tie-stalls have also recently come under attack.
“This is really important because this has been a huge focus the last few months — tethering animals.”
Morrill said consumer groups are saying they don’t know if they want to drink milk from cows that are tethered. This has a huge impact on the dairy industry as Morrill pointed out. Her research shows 39.8 percent of dairies are tie-stall. Fortunately, at this time, there are no regulations against tie stalls.
“In Europe the use of tie stalls is very limited and is being phased out in some countries. Current recommendations are facility neutral and state: housing allows all age classes of cattle to easily stand up, lie down, adopt normal resting postures and have visual contact with other cattle, without risk of injury.”
“How is the industry handling this issue?” Morrill asked. “In 2017 National Milk Producers Federation formed a task force to identify primary areas of customer concern, animal activist threats and animal care opportunities related to tie-stall facilities, and to formulate best management practice recommendations for tie-stall facilities that will be used to address customer and consumer concerns, ensure quality animal care and ensure economic viability of the farm. The Tie Stall Task Force will develop a report that will provide relevant information related to best management practices as well as the demographic, economic and social components for tie stall facility use.”
Access to pasture is another issue that has been brought up. And although organic dairies have some regulations to follow concerning pasture access, Morrill pointed out that in many areas, such as Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay, cows would not be able to be turned out on pasture.
Reproductive hormones is another issue that has come up and should be watched closely.
“That one’s really scary,” said Morrill.
Morrill advises an approach of defending the defensible. “Use of best management practices that are developed from sound science and practical experience. Educate customers and consumers — this includes not just the people shopping at the local grocery store, but those who carry the purchasing power — someone has to buy the milk from your co-op before it even makes it to the store shelves.”
“Through coordinated industry messaging for customer meetings, corporate responsible sourcing guidelines and social media interactions, emerging animal care issues can be addressed, in a positive format.”
She says to be prepared for changes.
“The dairy industry is changing, consumer demands are changing. We are in a commodity market and yes, we do need to address consumer demands. As emerging issues arise, co-ops and NMPF have to evaluate each concern. Is it valid, is there science to defend one side or the other, and is this something that should be incorporated into a best management practice? There is new research everyday — some of the research will suggest new and improved management practices be put into place. If this is the case, milk co-ops and NMPF work together to develop reasonable transition timelines.”
David Darr, Dairy Farmers of America, reported on several cases of farms that had been accused of mismanagement and abuse on their farms, which were investigated by DFA, as they were members of their co-op.
Although in most instances the allegations turned out to be false and were lodged by disgruntled employees and unknowledgeable sources, the stress, time and cost involved in farms defending themselves was immense. Darr concludes one of the best practices farms can utilize is in security cameras that record daily operations. Also, strict training of all staff should be mandatory. Supplying uniforms, so trespassers will be spotted immediately is helpful and documentation of daily activities concerning the cows and staff.
Molly Scoville, Merck Animal Health, led a discussion on creating a culture of animal care on dairies.
As always, best management practices must be priority.
Curt Gooch, Dairy Environmental Systems and Sustainability Engineer, Team Leader – Dairy Environmental Systems Program, with Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY Program, discussed cow cooling vs. barn ventilation.
“Ensure all cow and replacement management groups are provided good, clean air throughout the nose zone during all times of the year using natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation, or a combination of both,” he advised. “Remember, cow cooling fans located over stalls and feeding/watering locations do not provide barn ventilation.”
Click here to read part 2 of our coverage.