I have no doubt that when groups like VOICELESS are formed - it is with the best of intention, and the endeavour to make a positive difference. Unfortunately their message becomes blurred, as it is delivered by smoke and mirrors, because emotion becomes the driving force, rather than reality. It is when reality is blatantly disregarded, they lose my support and respect. This blog is a direct response by myself, to the very flawed piece of journalism that found its way into many publications last week. The RED is the contents of the entire article, verbatim. The BLUE includes many facts, as well as my thoughts and opinions, based on decades of real life experience. Cheers, Farmer Gregie ;) AS YOU sip on your latte or slug back your smoothie, chances are you’re not worrying about how the milk in your drink was produced.
But the grim reality is a far cry from the idyllic green pastures we may imagine.
Most dairy cows in Australia are still grazing pasture nearly every day. But if individual farmers choose to feed their milking herd a mixed ration (of predominantly silage, hay and vitamins and minerals) - a huge focus is still placed on cow health and comfort...as all farmers know, healthy happy cows are more productive and live longer.
As demand for dairy in Australia spirals, cows are paying the price, according to a report by animal protection institute Voiceless.
No actually - any price that cows are paying is due to Corporate Greed, not a growing demand for dairy. Huge corporations (many are internationally owned) have opportunistically pounced on the retail profits in the dairy sector. As the flow of money to the farmer has all but dried up - that will inevitably have a negative impact on cow welfare.
They are often bred to the point of exhaustion to make them lactate, forcefully impregnated so they give birth every 13 months for up to seven years, says the report.
Bred to the point of exhaustion?? Seriously - is that a scientific analogy, or someones opinion, intended to tug on the heartstrings of people who are unaware of the truth? The truth...the more often a cow has a calf, the healthier she will stay, and the longer she will live. Let's face it - in nature, cows will have a calf even more often, because they will be mated by a bull as soon as they start to cycle (usually within a month of their last calving), so it would be common for them to calve every 10 to 11 months. In a modern dairy, if cows go too long between calvings, they'll be converting the food they eat into body weight instead of milk. This means quite literally that a cow with a 3 year calving interval is much more likely to suffer life threatening metabolic issues within a month of finally having her next calf.
The industry is accused of disturbing practices including premature mother-calf separation, slaughter of unwanted calves, painful mutilation (such as dehorning and tail docking) and leaving cows increasingly susceptible to injury and diseases from lameness and mastitis.
"Premature mother-calf separation"...saves lives! Yes, it is true that the modern dairy cow produces a lot of milk. Only one or two days after her calf being born, mum will be producing between 30 and 40 litres of milk. A newborn calf needs to drink 5 litres of milk a day. Surely as farmers, if we didn't monitor and control that intake - we'd be accused of neglect. So yes it is true, we bottle feed our calves, generally from the second day of their life. Do the calves suffer psychological damage? Doesn't appear obvious to us, as they just about knock us over when they see us coming with a bottle full of milk! And their mum? Yes there is an obvious show of distress on day one...but the very next day, they appear to be happily settled back into herd life, eating a specialised ration (we work with a nutritionist), and chewing their cud - which is a tell tale sign of a happy cow.
I thought tail docking was not legal in Australia today? I do not personally know any Queesnland or NSW dairy farmers who have docked tails!! On the issue of dehorning - have the animal welfare experts at Voiceless seen what adult cattle with horns do to each other?
Once a cow’s milk supply declines, they are sent to slaughter.
Great observation and absolutely true. Would they prefer the dairy farmer let the 700kg+ old cows become broken down and crippled, die a slow and painful death - and then proceed to make a pile of dead stinking rotting cows on farm? Again implications of neglect would be fired at farmers, should we choose these actions.
At the end of a cow's productive life, she will go to the abattoir - and yes this is an important piece of the financial puzzle in maintaining profitability at farm level. Our Holstein cows are often worth in excess of $1,000. We need to get them on the truck, as that sideline income will help us survive as farmers.
“For most dairy cows, life is hard, sometimes painful and invariably short,” Voiceless spokeswoman Elise Burgess toldnews.com.au.
“Voiceless’s aim in writing this report has been to bring attention to these (welfare) issues; to lift the marketing and publicity veil and look beyond the photos of happy cows in green fields. Sadly, there is a distorted and inaccurate picture of the often harsh reality of life for the majority of high production dairy cows.”
Voiceless's aim to bring attention to issues - is done through a divisive and often polarising platform, with statements like ...“For most dairy cows, life is hard," ...seriously?? A dairy cow's life is hard?? According to who? Show me the handbook that will enable the dairy cow to have an 'easy life'. These observations are totally subjective and based solely on OPINION not FACT! If you were to talk to generational dairy farmers, most of them would share with pride...the improved life and conditions of the dairy cow in recent decades. There is in fact much less hunger and malnutrition. Deaths due to 'natural attrition' or starvation are virtually a thing of the past - that is my observation.
"sometimes painful and invariably short” is a ridiculous generalization. What does invariably short even mean? It does provide a negative connotation...which appears to be the not so hidden agenda of Voiceless today. The length of a cow's life varies hugely, just as it does for people. We have many cow's today getting to beyond 10 years of age, providing they stay healthy. But any number of things can happen - despite us working closely with vets and nutritionists, illness or injury can inevitably cut years off a cow's life.
Calf welfare is also highlighted in the report, which found that 800,000 calves are killed every year after being labelled a by-product. According to the findings, 35,000 of these will be slaughtered at birth while 623,000 will be sold for slaughter for use in products such as pet food, veal and leather.
The way they are killed was also an area of concern, with calves slaughtered on-farm by means of chemical euthanasia, firearm or stunning by a captive bolt. “Alarmingly, it is legal to kill a newborn calf by ‘blunt force trauma’ which involves striking the head with a blunt instrument,” the report reads.
In many other countries, 'dairy beef' plays an important role - as most bull calves from dairies are in fact reared for meat, adding one or two years to their life. Australia however has a huge beef industry, so consumer demand dictates their 'meat of choice' be provided by beef cattle, not dairy breeds. Yes - the lack of demand for dairy beef as a marketable commodity is consumer driven.
On our farm, I've done the trials. We will invest $400 into our calves, boy or girl, in their first 3 months of life. That cost is reflective only of feed expenses (milk, hay, grain). I have factored no labour component, or medical expenses...so $400 is unrealistically conservative. When we sold those 3 month old bull calves - they averaged $150. Yes we have about 100 bull calves born each year, and would LOSE $25,000 anually should we make that management decision.
Calves are separated from their mothers within 12 hours of birth, “causing pain and suffering to both”. They are also subjected to “disbudding” — the removal of the unformed horn using caustic paste, hot iron, knife or other device — when they are less than two months old.
I pretty much covered this above...we have industry workshops on best practice for dehorning available to farmers on a regular basis. To me, this argument is as flawed as saying, "All vaccinations on children must stop - because children CRY when they get a needle". Really...does anyone out there have kids who love going to the dentist to get a filling? Well don't knowingly inflict pain on your child! (ok...being more than a little facetious now!)
The report also looks at welfare concerns around live animal exports, which results in the export of tens of thousands of Australian “breeder” dairy cows each year.
Yes, live exports of replacement dairy heifers happens. It has in fact been a financial crutch for hundreds of dairy farms around the country. Again, because of consumer decisions to continue to support the $1 milk market - the dairy farmer's core income from milk sales has been eroded by about 20% across the board in the past 3 years. The existing shortage of locally produced fresh milk, will go into freefall, should the export market be stopped - as it is the only saviour for many of my farming friends
Voiceless, which releases its in-depth report into the dairy industry on January 28, said Australian cows have been selectively bred to increase average lactation from around 2800 to 5500 litres a year, double that of 30 years ago. The Life of the Dairy Cow: A Report on the Australian Dairy Industry is the result of two years of analysis of current scientific research, and has been reviewed by five animal welfare experts from Voiceless’ Scientific Expert Advisory Council and endorsed by leading global animal protection groups.
The doubling of milk production doesn't mean cows are suffering. Yes, as farmers we continue to strive for genetic improvement through our breeding programs - because efficiency of milk production is often the difference between survival or otherwise...for the farm itself. A large factor in production increases (our herd were averaging 5,000L/cow 30 years ago...and are now averaging 9,000L) is the fact that animal nutrition, health and welfare have improved so much. All farmers know - happy healthy cows produce more milk. The better we look after the girls, the better they will look after us.
Written with the help of contributing author Dr Deidre Wicks, it contains recommendations for legislators, industry and consumers while “lifting the veil on the silent suffering of the Australian dairy cow”.
Ms Burgess said many Australians continue to consume huge quantities of cheap dairy under the assumption that it is essential for good health, that it is a “no harm” industry and that dairy cows consistently lactate and accordingly “need to be milked”.
“They do not draw the connection that, in order to produce milk, dairy cows must first be continually re-impregnated; that forced and repeated pregnancies increase cows’ susceptibility to painful disorders, like lameness and mastitis; and that some 800,000 unwanted ‘bobby calves’ are killed each year within a week after birth.”
WOW...cows are continually re-impregnated. Surely this would not happen in the wild? I covered this one extensively above. Consistent and regular calving patterns are a healthy outcome that lengthens life expectancy of the dairy cow. If Voiceless have a problem with the concept of reproduction in the animal kingdom...they need to talk to a higher power than Farmer Gregie.
She said farmers often felt stuck in the middle, with domestic and international demand for dairy produce booming in recent years, while the price of Australian milk has sharply declined.
Consumer demand for cheap dairy products has increased pressures on both dairy farmers and dairy cows. To compete commercially, farmers have been forced to maximise milk production while reducing their overall operating costs, Ms Burgess said.
Ahh...finally - some common sense truth. If only these radical minority groups used their 'voice' for good, in a positive way. How about educating the wider community of the true value of fresh milk, so that the poor farmer stops getting bashed from every possible direction? 1990's milk prices...that is what the consumer is currently paying the Australian dairy farmer. That's right - the consumer can buy milk for $2/L (that is effectively the 2015 milk value), but are exercising their democratic right on a dairy basis, to buy the $1 milk, in a free country.
“As part of this process, Australian dairy cows have been bred to produce double the amount of milk they did 30 years ago, exacerbating these welfare concerns.
Again with the sensationalisation!! Happy healthy cows producing more milk does not equal a decline in animal welfare.
“Currently, Australians consume around 107 litres of milk, 14kg of cheese and 4kg of butter per person per year.”
Ms Burgess said the aim of the report was not to make people stop consuming dairy but rather to spark discussion and debate among farmers, industry bodies, policy-makers and consumers about the animals’ welfare.
Voiceless has met with Australian Dairy Farmers and Dairy Australia and discussed some of its key welfare concerns, and where it feels the industry could make significant improvements.
It said that while the industry does have welfare systems in place, they are predominantly focused on issues that impact on production (such as mastitis) rather than cow and calf welfare.
Again - misleading to the extreme. Our industry focuses on mastitis because it also affects animal health. The reason mastitis impacts production, is because it quite literally has a negative effect on the cow's welfare. Like all responsible industry bodies, dairy give priority to the biggest problems farmers face, and mastitis is definitely one of them. There are numerous issues on our radar - and Research and Development within Dairy Australia are actively seeking solutions on a daily basis.
“Voiceless would like to see a collaborative approach between farmer, industry, advocate, consumer and government to make the welfare of the dairy cow a priority, not just her productive output,” Ms Burgess said.
The group said that ultimately the report aimed to shine light on the Australian dairy industry, which has avoided much of the scrutiny that has been leveled against other animal industries because of a false perception of dairy as a benign product.
Actually - Voiceless have chosen to bypass the collaborative approach, by driving a wedge between their organisation - and hard working dairy farmers Australia wide.
Noel Campbell, President of Australian Dairy Farmers, told news.com.au: “We’ve had discussions with Voiceless over the years, and we’ve put forward our position.
“We have a pretty good track record with dairy cow health and welfare. Cows are out in pasture, and so on.
“We’re willing to discuss whatever comes out in the report.”