By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
It was a Dutch voice I heard yelling “are we still the boss on our own farms” after Steve Runnalls presented highlights from the new Dairy Code of Practice at Grey Bruce Farmers Week.
I was embarrassed but not surprised. I meet many farmers, steeped in independence, representing all different cultures, who are anti-governance and seemingly anti-environment.
But I meet more who are intentional about animal welfare and keen to drive the industry forward by with transparency about their best practices. Moreover, there are more and more farmers willing to sacrifice short-term profitability for long-term gain to protect their soils, ensure clean water and farm in a way that aligns with leaving a farm behind that their grandchildren can be proud of. You can read about that in the beef partnership story where a cash cropper, eager to add cattle to his farm, is doing it for joy, for profitability, and to improve his soils.
I’m not the one milking cows anymore so I’ll put that out there first. Being the one working with cattle makes for a different mindset than the person living in an “ideal-world” where emotion overrides practicality. However, I was a dairy farmer most of my life and from what I can see, all changes in the new Dairy Code of Practice align with basic animal stewardship.
Should cows tied up in stalls be let out once a day to exercise and socialize? Absolutely. It’s going to make for happier cattle with better feet so it makes sense from a production standpoint anyway. Should you be using a cattle prod on a cow that physically can’t get up? No, you shouldn’t. It’s cruel and pointless. Have some patience, surround her with bedding material, and give her a chance to calm down, collect her wits and encourage her. Jeepers, would you like to be zapped if you fall over and hurt your hips?
Pain medication for dehorning and sore hooves is also a no-brainer. These are sentient beings. They think. They feel. They can be bossy, submissive, empathetic, rammy and affectionate, depending on their personalities. Anyone who has trained a 4-H calf will remember that connection to their project. That 4-H calf became the friendliest cow in the barn, easy to work with, docile to lead and always a barn favourite.
Dairy farming is a business and rightly so. Farms feed families via hard work and management. In dairying, all the profits to be had, and joy in the farming lifestyle, comes on the backs of those cows. They are the breadwinners and those bodacious beauties that deserve the best care possible.
So, yes, we are still the boss of our own farms. We are also responsible for best practices and living in the current climate of consumer awareness, social responsibility and animal welfare. “They” are asking us to do our best by our animals but we shouldn’t need their prodding. I say “be a boss” and “be a man or woman” and do what we, from the beginning of time, should be doing: “take care of our ladies”! ◊