“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.