“Training and ensuring proper animal care starts at the top, instilling a respect and understanding that a cow is everything, and provides us with everything,” said Rod Hissong, Mercer Vu Farms, Mercersburg, Pa., a participant in the F.A.R.M. program through Land O’Lakes. “It has been that way in my family for generations. If it weren’t for the cow, we would have nothing.”
“We spend a lot of time talking about cow behavior, and perceptions of things that we do to cows,” he said. “Managers see the importance of animal care, and then police the rest of the staff. There is zero tolerance for any improper animal care – no matter how insignificant.
“When animal abuse allegations are publicized, we take the opportunity to talk to our employees,” noted Brad Scott, Scott Brothers Dairy Farms, San Jacinto, Calif. “Whether the allegations are true or not, it’s a chance to show examples of what activist look for. Sometimes what we do and what they see are totally different.
“Our dairy is close to a major road, so we are constantly telling our employees to be aware of who may be sitting along the road or in the driveway,” he added. “Employees could be assisting with a calving, but from the road it may be interpreted negatively.”
“We take part in an annual animal welfare audit our milk co-op, Southeast Milk, Inc., requires to meet the demands of its processor customers,” said Don Bennink, North Florida Holsteins, Bell, Fla. “Most important is the attitude of our department managers. They’re ‘animal people’ who delight in working with healthy, happy animals raised in a comfortable environment. The example they set is the standard for everyone.”
Lloyd Holterman, Rosy-Lane Holsteins LLC, Watertown, Wis., stresses the message that employees are entrusted as caretakers of a valuable asset – the cows.
“We focus on stockmanship, and talk about cow behavior and worker positioning,” he said. “Understanding how cows think, move and react to people can make life easier for workers and cows.
We have switched our focus from ‘making’ the cows fit our system to understanding animal behavior and training our team to work with the animals.”
Rosy-Lane owners walk pens and check in with each employee daily. Several “middle managers” are charged with being another set of eyes to watch animal handling. Video cameras, located in high-traffic areas, are randomly checked several times a week.
The Holtermans offer animal handling training sessions at least quarterly, and have a small team trained specially to handle down cows. Employee training programs have included Merck Animal Health Dairy Care 365 videos, Tom Wall/Dairy Coach milker training videos, University of Wisconsin-Extension animal handling curriculum, NMPF’s F.A.R.M program, and other in-house programs.
For Sandy Stauffer, Nicholville, N.Y., animal welfare begins with the Stauffer Farms’ vision statement, posted in the milking parlor and employee break room, and given to each new person hired.
“Stauffer Farms LLC strives to honor God by producing safe, high quality, affordable milk in a way which is empowering and fulfilling to our families and employees, is sustainable to the environment, and is humane and comfortable for our animals.”
“We are constantly training and retraining employees in proper cow handling, including the handling of non-ambulatory animals,” said Stauffer, a F.A.R.M. and Dairylea/DFA Gold Standard program participant.
“Our veterinarian trains multiple employees in the practice of using nerve block when dehorning calves. We have stopped tail docking. We have an open sand-bedded area where cows having difficulty getting up have good traction and aren’t hindered by stalls. We have also purchased a float tank for rehabilitating injuries.”
“Our dairy is part of the Land O’Lakes’ F.A.R.M. Program,” explained Deb Reinhart, New Holstein, Wis. “We have hosted a training for field staff, and participated in two animal care assessments. These tools keep us focused. We work carefully with our veterinarian to achieve our Herd Health Plan goals. Each new employee receives training and is held accountable. Breech of protocol is cause for dismissal, and will not be tolerated.”
All owners and employees have signed “See It? Stop It!” agreements.
“I believe it is critical to tell the positive story about how dairy producers are passionate about the care of their animals, land, people and communities,” Reinhart said. “If we do not lead the conversation, our detractors will frame it for us.”