How Do Farmers Treat Their Animals?

A couple weeks ago, I decided to go home for the weekend.  After a long four-hour drive, I waltzed into my farm’s office, happy to see my parents and siblings.  As I was giving my mom a bear hug, I looked down on the desk and saw a pink eartag.  Number 777. Otherwise known as DD, this was the tag to one of my favorite cows – a good milk producer, a beautiful cow, and mother to several of my herd.  I broke down crying.  You see, an eartag on the office desk means that that cow has died.  It’s more often that I see a yellow tag – the color of my parents’ herd; However, as my herd has aged, this is becoming more common for me too.

DD's Eartag

DD’s Eartag

Tears streaming down my 22-year-old face, I asked my mom what had happened to DD.  Looking just as sad I felt, my mom said that she thought it was probably bloody gut.  This is the kind of ailment that sneaks up on a cow and takes her down really quickly, no matter how closely you watch your herd.  Not knowing that DD was even sick, she hadn’t been put into our hospital pen for treatment.  She didn’t show any symptoms, and then it was too late.

I share this story because recently, I’ve heard several accounts claiming that farmers don’t care about their animals.  This not only saddens me, but quite frankly I also find myself offended when someone claims to know how my family treats and cares about the animals on our farm.

Because this is how much our animals mean to us:

I well up with tears and feel a deep sense of loss every time one of my cows dies.  My dad can’t stand to put cows down, so he has to call someone else every time we have a cow who can’t be cured of what ails her.  This isn’t because he can’t physically do it, but because the cows under his care mean so much to him that ending one’s life, even if it is the humane thing to do, is more than he can bear.  My mother has spent countless hours on her stomach, in the cold and muck, helping a cow who is having difficulty giving birth to ensure that both mother and baby come through safely.  One time my brothers lost it when they saw a couple truck drivers mistreating our cows as they got onto a truck to be beefed.  Yes, the cows milking years were over and they were leaving our care, but it didn’t matter…our cows, from their first breath to their last, are treated with dignity and kindness.  Anyone who acts otherwise is immediately fired, or, if not in my family’s employ, but on our farm (such as those truck drivers) are told politely not ever to come back.

These cows are our livelihood, and if not cared for properly, my family’s business will suffer.  But for us, and for many of our agricultural friends, we care for animals not because we have to but because we love them – it’s our chosen lifestyle.  From our first steps in the barn, we’ve known…animal husbandry is in our blood.  We want to ensure that the animals in our care have the best, because in turn these animals take care of our customers…you.  We want the best for you too.  So please, next time that you hear someone say we farmers don’t care, send them my way.   It’s possible they’ll encounter me giving my cow one last hug before it’s time to put her down because she has served my family well, but now it’s time for her to go.  As they watch my tears, perhaps they’ll reconsider.

My cows - Skye and DD

My cows – Skye and DD

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The Great American Milk Drive

Hunger in America – What’s it Look Like?

1 in 6 Americans, including more than 12 million families, face hunger, and many rely on food banks for nutrition assistance. While Americans are generous with food donations and national feeding programs serve 37 million people, food bank clients aren’t always getting what they need. Food bank directors say milk is one of the products their clients request most often, but they cannot always meet demand because milk is perishable and difficult to donate.

Hunger in America

What Can We Do About Hunger?

Today, April 2, 2014, America’s dairy industry is coming together to help solve this problem and get milk to those who need it most.  Dairy farmers (through the National Dairy Council) and milk companies (through the Milk Processors Education Program – MilkPEP) are partnering with Feeding America to launch The Great American Milk Drive. 

You can be part of the action. Tune in today MilkLife.com/Give at 9:45am MT to watch the campaign’s live launch.

Stay tuned for more about what’s going on locally in Utah and Nevada as we form partnerships with our local Feeding America food banks to bring the Great American Milk Drive to our local market.

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A ‘Lax’ Story About Chocolate Milk

Guest Post by, Beth Coffey-Curle

If you would have told me that cartoons of chocolate milk could bond a team, create a cheer, and put a positive spin on a lost game, I would probably have smiled and moved on. It did, it does, and the energy created by the efforts on behalf of our local lacrosse high school teams by the Northern Nevada Dairymen, the Nevada Dairy Council and Model Dairy is amazing.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to see first hand how the Northern Nevada Dairymen invest in our local community, especially if the activity was centered around children. I approached them during the winter to see if there was any willingness to associate with my children’s high school lacrosse teams. Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport across the country, and it is taking off in leaps and bounds here locally in Northern NV. Still recognized as a club activity and not a varsity sport, the parents raise finances to fund all of the high school club’s expenses including field rental, uniforms, game referees, and game balls. The Northern Nevada Dairymen responded to our request with an offer to provide post-game chocolate milk for the athletes. My initial reaction was “what a nice treat,” but a bit of education later, I learned that chocolate milk is the new “recovery” drink. Put down the sugary energy drinks, welcome back milk!

Chocolate Milk Recovery

Recovering with Chocolate Milk post Lacrosse

If picking up 350 cartoons of milk to cover the first four home games – all played over three days time – was comical, finding refrigeration space for it all was down right hilarious. Some went into coolers with ice, others shared space in my husband’s beer frige and still more was stacked on top of kegs in the beer cooler. (My husband is a zymologist!) I headed to the first game with 150 cartoons of TruMoo split between two rolling ice chests. The head boys’ coach knew what was stashed in the coolers but nothing was said to the boys. When I was asked if I had enough milk to cover both teams, I replied “I have milk for Africa. Model Dairy has me covered!”

In a very physical game, the Galena Boys team beat the North Tahoe Boys team 12-2. At the end of the game, I opened each cooler that was positioned behind the team’s bench and offered the boys a drink. Their faces lit up, and I got out of the way. The boys were grabbing and tossing cartoons to each other like baseballs. The smiles on their faces were perfect. One older boy, who I recognized as the goalie from last season walked up to me. He had graduated and was home from college on spring break. He asked very politely, almost shyly, if there was milk available for a team alumni. I smiled and said I was pretty sure there was milk for returning players.

I walked over the North Tahoe bench and all the boys all came over to thank me. Before they left the field, I offered one of the straggling players another cartoon. He said he’d already had had 5 them. I said “Well, it’s a long drive home, let’s make it six,” his smile would have lit a room. On their way off the field, one young Truckee player walked over to me and said “We lost today and that was bad but the chocolate milk made it all right again.”  These kids are  teenagers – each one feels the pressure to have the coolest clothes, listen to the hottest music, and have seen the latest instagram post but push all of that aside, they’re still just our kids and a simple gesture like chocolate milk can turn their day around fast.

By the third game, the boys’ head coach said, “You know Beth, there’s something to this post-game chocolate milk. They’re too young to have a beer together after the game but to watch them post-game bond over cartoons of milk is something to see.” I knew the Northern Nevada Dairymen and Model Dairy had hit one out of the park when in a post game team huddle, the team chant was led off with “TruMoo! TruMoo! TruMoo!”

Blog post author Beth Coffey-Curle is a mom in Northern Nevada, she says, “there is a new success story for every game!”

For the past 3 years, The Northern Nevada Dairymen have partnered with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association to name chocolate milk the official beverage of high school sports.

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Celebrate National Nutrition Month for Cows!

March is National Nutrition Month – a time when we traditionally think about healthy eating for humans and recognize registered dietitian nutritionists – Happy RDN Day – March 12, 2014! But what about animals? The study of animal nutrition has evolved considerably, and when it comes to dairy cows, their diet has a significant impact on the animal’s health and the quality of her milk. Matt Leak is a dairy nutritionist in northern Utah who works with dairymen across the country to formulate a balanced nutrition ration for their dairy herds.

It’s not something we think about everyday – a cow needs a nutritionist!? But dairy cows have the important job of producing high quality milk on a daily basis. With every dairy herd he works with, Matt is looking to keep the cows as healthy as possible. He says, “Healthy cows, and well-fed cows not only produce more, and higher quality milk, but they have an easier time reproducing.” His goal is to help the dairymen he works with maintain the health of their herd while helping them produce the highest quality end-product possible.

So what does it take to develop a balanced diet for a cow?

Step 1: Determine what’s available

stored feed

Feed stored in these bags will remain fresh for over a year.

Matt works with many of his clients weekly to determine what the best mix of feedstuffs (in dairy-speak, a cow’s food is referred to as “feed or feedstuffs”) will be for that particular dairy. He starts by pulling samples of what the farmer has available – these can be stored crops that the farmer has grown and harvested or crops that the farmer has purchased. Matt sends the samples to a lab for analysis. He is looking for the total energy content of the feed as well as its specific protein & mineral content.

Step 2: Identify appropriate supplementals

Given what the farmer has on hand, Matt then considers what other feeds should be added to create a balanced ration for the cow. He considers things like…

  • What breed of cows does the farmer have (Holsteins, Jerseys or another breed)? Factoring in the breed will help Matt determine the type and amount of feed to give.
  • What ingredients are available at the best price? Given time of year and location, crop availability changes. He is looking for the right balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat at a price that makes sense for the farmer. (Read more about what a cow eats)
  • What minerals should be added to help balance the ration?

Step 3: Determine the amount.

Once the feed types and balance has been established (the basic recipe), Matt has to determine portion size and proper ratios, and this can vary considerably based on the life stage of the cow. On any given dairy, a farmer will be tweaking the basic recipe and mixing up at least 5 or 6 different rations. (This is a bit like making 5-6 different meals for your family). Here is a general breakdown of what those different meals look like and who is eating them.

mixing feed

Farmers measure feedstuffs and mix each ration in a feed wagon

  • 1st time moms – these younger cows are still growing and learning, so the protein in their diet has to be a bit higher than veteran milk cows.
  • “Far Off Cows” refer to cows within 2 months of having a calf. These animals are are no longer being milked, and they are given a special diet, which is then tweaked just before she gives birth
  • “Close-Up Cows” are cows within 3 weeks of giving birth. At this point the cow’s diet is tweaked again to help boost her immune system and transition her to the type of food she will be getting when she rejoins the milk herd.
  • “Fresh Cows” have just given birth, their energy demands are extremely high, and they are also transitioning back to the milk herd
  • “High Cows” are peaking in milk production and their needs are sightly different than the others.
  • “Mid-Lactation” energy demands are not quite as high as “high cows” and these cows are transitioning to giving birth.
  • Young calves and heifers (young cows before they have calved) have different needs still…

Matt knows that he has the recipe just right when… 

  • The cows’ milk is full of great nutrients – protein & butterfat
  • The cows look and act healthy. (Dairy nutritionists routinely give cows a body condition score to assess weight and physical appearance, which depends heavily on a balanced diet).
  • The poop looks good. Just like humans, your gut will tell you when something isn’t quite right. Proper consistency and color help nutritionists identify a proper nutrient balance.

Dairy nutrition is a science and an art. Proper training, degree programs, certifications, and lots of field experience help professionals hone their ability to feed cows with care and precision. Matt works closely with dairymen, veterinarians, feed companies, and mineral distributers to ensure the best possible nutrition for the herds he serves.

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Home (Farm) Improvements

Our New Commodity Shed

by Guest Blogger – Jennifer Olsen

New Commodity Shed

The New Commodity Shed at Sage Hill Dairy

Our family purchased Sage Hill Dairy in the Fall of 2006. This dairy and its cows are our life, our livelihood and our future, so despite a tough economy over the past 8 years, making improvements has been an integral part of our operation.

So…over the past several years we have been busy! Here are a few things we have been working on:

We have updated how our cows eat. When we bought the dairy, the cows ate their feed off the ground and now they eat off concrete, a clean and consistent way for them to munch away.  We added canopies to the corrals so that now all of the cows have shade to help keep them cooler during the hot summer months and dry when it is raining or snowing. We have made some improvements to the milk barn, and our latest improvement has been the construction of a new commodity shed. Our old one was working great but we were running out of space and a giant wind storm had blown off the roof, so instead of rebuilding, we decided to construct a new one.

A commodity shed is basically a storage area for our feed sources, such as rolled corn, cottonseed, almond hulls etc. It is important to properly store the feed sources to ensure the best nutritional quality, which is essential to each cow’s health and her milk production. We work with a cow nutritionist to mix these various feeds into a balanced ration and mix feed from each portion of the shed in a large feed wagon. We then distribute to the cows.

Commodity Shed

Loading the Feed Wagon

My husband and brother-in-law continue to make great decisions by simply investing in their COWS – our livelihood and our future.

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What is a Factory Farm?

A Farmer’s perspective by Katharine Nye: Utah State University Dairy Science & Agricultural Leadership Student. 

Factory farms.  Just those two little words elicit such strong emotions in us, and depending on your perspective, those emotions might be a little bit different.  For some, it might evoke images of confined animals or automated milking machines being attached to cows.  For me, those words are a call to action – a call to share knowledge, perspective, and experience, to talk with people about what life is really like in large-production agriculture.  You see, I am a 5th generation dairy farmer, and I grew up on a 3,000 cow dairy farm.  I’ve been told that my family runs a factory farm, that with such large numbers of cows, it’s impossible to be a family farm.  Did I mention, I’m the 5th generation? Yes, we’ve grown quite a bit since my great-great grandfather started out in a small barn in New England with 4 Guernsey cows.  Growing our herd has meant that more of my family can stay on the farm – often larger operations can support the livelihood of more family members. It has also allowed us to take advantage of advancements in farm technology, monitoring devices, milking equipment, and barn design to improved cow health and longevity as well as our farm’s sustainability.

Katharine Nye

Katharine Nye

According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, more than 98% of United States farms are family owned. Corporation-owned farms make up less than two percent of the farming landscape in our country.  Just because a farm is big, doesn’t mean that the people who run it don’t care.  In fact, it’s in our very best interest to make sure that the animals in our charge are treated like kings, because unhappy animals don’t produce well.  A cow who is sick can’t make milk.  If my cows were cramped and not fed very well, they wouldn’t make milk, and my family’s livelihood would go down the drain.

But it’s not just about the money.  We genuinely care for our cows.  We like the lifestyle of dairy farming, and we find joy from having happy, healthy cows.  Cows are fun, and we enjoy being around them.  My cows have more people taking care of them than I do.  They have a nutritionist, a hoof care specialist (yes, our cows get pedicures!) two veterinarians, and a team of 6 people to make sure their corrals are clean, dry and fluffy every single day.  Then there’s my family and our employees.  We ensure that the cows are fed a balanced ration twice per day, that they are milked with care, and that they are monitored daily to make sure that no one is sick. In our pregnancy pen, the cows are checked on every half hour to ensure that no new mamas are having problems.  If our cows do get sick, they go to our hospital barn, where they can rest and recover before rejoining the main herd.

Mountain View Dairy

Mountain View Dairy

It takes a lot of people and a lot of coordination to care for 3,000 cows. Each and every single person on my dairy wants to be there.  You have to want to, because the patience and time isn’t always easy to give.  But we do, because we care, it is what my family has wanted for 5 generations. Dairy farming is about caring for the cows and building their trust in me.  It is about creating a sustainable livelihood that is good for our cows, our family, and our community.  Most especially, it’s about making sure that you, my customer, has the safest and tastiest milk that we can possibly provide.

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My Experience on the Farm

by Dawn Reed – Utah State Dietetics Student

I recently had the chance to visit the Wisers on the Circle B Dairy in Lewiston, UT and wanted to share my experience…

The Wiser Family - 3 generations on Circle B Dairy

The Wiser Family – 3 generations on Circle B Dairy

This was a great opportunity that let me see the everyday happenings of a dairy farm. I grew up in Idaho and always lived within a mile of some dairy or another, but I’d never been too familiar with how they were actually run. Going to the Circle B Dairy gave me some insight as I was shown the milking parlor and got to see the process from start to finish with some of their cows. I was amazed when I was told that they generally produce 6-8 gallons of milk every day. Brad then discussed with me the daily routine on a dairy farm. To me, the job of a dairy farmer is the definition of  commitment and hard work. There are so many aspects of the job including animal care, development of feed rations, milking the cows, upkeep of the farm, growing crops (seasonally), managing finances, and not getting a single day off all year. I’m so grateful for dairy farmers who are committed to providing the rest of us with quality dairy products through their hard work.

Cody Wiser feeding calves

Cody Wiser feeding calves

Brad continued the tour and taught me about the lifecycle of a dairy cow, what the cows are fed, and how they are cared for. I never realized there was so much science involved in dairy farming! We then walked around the farm, and I got to see where the cows bed down, look at what’s in the food they actually eat, and my personal favorite, got to play with the calves for a few minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the Circle B Dairy and felt like I learned so much from this experience. It was a great chance for me to see what really happens on a dairy and to be reminded of where my milk comes from. It strengthened my appreciation for dairy farmers everywhere and made me appreciate all the hard work that goes into a gallon of milk, a block of cheese, butter, yogurt, etc. Thank you to Brad and Cody for taking the time to show me around!

Brad and Cody Wiser

Brad and Cody Wiser

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