Pat Troendle was just trying to make things more comfortable for city kids that had come to his farm on a bitterly cold January morning. Rather than having the kids brave the elements, he brought two calves into a barn and constructed a makeshift pen so the kids could see the calves up close.
But that didn’t satisfy one of the high school girls. Despite the fact the calves were indoors — out of the cold — and knee-deep in straw bedding, the girl didn’t like to see them penned up. She thought they should be running free.
After calling the calves “abused,” the girl started to grate on the nerves of even her own classmates. At one point, a classmate told her to get off her “high horse.”
This story helps illustrate the ﬁckle nature of public sentiment. And, it helps explain why Troendle is still willing to give tours on his 200-cow dairy in southeast Minnesota. Many of the schoolkids who visit his farm have never been on a farm before. Yet, they will grow up and become voters someday, possibly inﬂuencing legislation that will have an impact on the way he and other dairy producers do business. It’s amazing some of the things the public is already digging into.
Dairy producers know that it is in their own best interest to treat their animals well. But, society wants conﬁrmation of that. Animal-rights groups have pressured many of the supermarket and fast-food chains into conducting “animal-welfare audits” of dairy, swine and beef-cattle farms.
Here are some things you can do ahead of time — before the auditors arrive.
Perhaps the ﬁrst question to ask is whether you are even a candidate for an animal-welfare audit.
Chances are, the co-op or processor that buys your milk has product going to a restaurant represented by the National Council of Chain Restaurants or a grocery store represented by the Food Marketing Institute. NCCR and FMI would like to ensure that animal-welfare standards already adopted by the dairy industry are followed. In August, some members began sending letters to their suppliers, notifying them of the audits.
Your processor may have a good idea by now if you are a candidate for an audit.
It will be difﬁcult to audit all farms in one year’s time, simply because there are so many farms to cover, says Eric Hess, vice president of SES, Inc., a Lenexa, Kan.,-based company that serves as administrator for the NCCR-FMI audit program. So, rather than trying to squeeze all farms into the ﬁrst year of the program, a restaurant chain or supermarket chain may simply require that a certain percentage of its on-farm suppliers be audited the ﬁrst year, a certain percentage the second year, and so on until all of the farms are covered.
The single most important thing you can do is obtain a copy of the dairy-audit form used by inspectors. It provides a checklist of things the inspectors will be looking for, ranging from calf care to the treatment of non-ambulatory animals.
To obtain a copy of the audit form, go to the following Web site on the Internet: http://www.awaudit.org/ (Once there, click on “read more” under the “AWAP Audit Forms” section on the upper right-hand corner of the page. Then, click on “Dairy Audit Form.”)
Items considered to be “major conformance issues” are italicized on the audit form for emphasis. Some of the major conformance issues include:
Having a written herd-health plan.
Feeding 2 to 4 quarts of colostrum to calves within four hours of birth.
Maintaining bedding in a condition or thickness that keeps the animals dry, clean and prevents injury.
Turning animals out of stanchions and tie-stalls for at least one hour per day for exercise (except when prevented by severe weather).
Identifying sick or injured animals.
The guidelines are similar to those found in the industry handbook, “Caring for Dairy Animals Technical Reference Guide,” developed by the Dairy Quality Assurance Center in Stratford, Iowa. Generally speaking, if you are in compliance with the Technical Reference Guide, you will have no problem complying with the animal-welfare audit. (See sidebar on this page for order information.)
However, some subtle differences exist. For instance, the DQA Technical Reference Guide suggests that cows in stanchions and tie-stalls be turned out for exercise and heat detection on a frequent basis, but does not specify “at least one hour per day” like the audit does.
Hess, of SES, Inc., says he thinks that most dairy producers will be in compliance with the animal-welfare audit because they already practice good animal husbandry.
How to obtain the DQA manual
By being in compliance with the booklet, “caring for Dairy Animals Technical Reference Guide,” you should be able to pass an animal-welfare audit.
The Guide may be ordered from the Dairy Quality Assurance Center in Stratford, Iowa, for $25. For more information, go to the following Web site: www.dqacenter.org (Once there, click on “Dairy Animal Well-Being Materials.”)
Tail docking still permitted
One of the more controversial aspects of cow care—tail docking—is still allowed under the animal-welfare-audit guidelines.
However, only those animals that have been conﬁrmed pregnant can be docked. That way, auditors know that the animal is in the herd for milking purposes, and therefore will be around for a while. Research also suggests that tail docking is less stressful on mature animals than it is on young calves.