A version of this post was originally created for Milk Means More blog, please take a moment to visit their amazing site and the original post here.
In every industry there are quality standards and the dairy industry is certainly no exception. To sell Grade A milk you have to be licensed and inspected — there are quality markers put in place to ensure our product is safe and healthy. If you are active on social media you should be following the actual farmers who harvest your food, here’s a great list of Facebook farmers and Instagram accounts to follow!
Farmers are doing a better job than ever showing what we do, how we do it, and more importantly WHY we do it. On our dairy farm we have 4-5 random inspections a year; two visits from our field rep for the processing plant that purchases our milk, two visits from the state dairy inspector, and one visit every 18-24 months from the federal dairy inspector. These inspectors do a great job interpreting the rules and guidelines of milk handling but OUR mission on this farm is to be ABOVE their requirements. We focus on providing quality dairy by:
We give them attention. Actually, we give them a lot of attention. I have three little farm hands that make it their mission, daily, to shower the animals with affection and help feed them all. Living on the farm is great because there is always so much going on outside that you can’t help but put yourself out there and be involved. Whenever I have a sour attitude on life you can catch me spending a little extra time with the calves; sitting with an energetic heifer will improve your mood and they eat up the attention.
We keep them healthy and happy. My cows see professionals on the regular! They visit with their veterinarian every eight weeks and to be honest are more up to date on their vaccines than my children are. Each family [farm operation] has its own set of environmental germs, so our vaccinations are approved through the council of our Vet. The hoof trimmer also visits our farm multiple times throughout the year; while I’m lucky to get at least ONE pedicure before summer. We make sure to pay attention to our cows feet because if they don’t feel comfortable standing and walking, they won’t get the food and exercise they need. Our cattle have a well-balanced diet that needs to adjust with the seasons and feed quality so we seek input from our dairy nutritionist for these adjustments. The meal prep for my cattle is miles ahead of what goes down in my own kitchen for my family and it’s more fun to feed the cows anyway because they never complain!
We keep them safe. A lot of things have changed on today’s dairy farms over the last several years; we now have a program called FARM which stands for Farmers Assuring Responsible Management. FARM provides us with a standard operating procedure (SOP) for animal care put together by leading industry veterinarians, it helps farmers and processors meet the highest standard on U.S. dairy farms and gives farms of all sizes the same guidelines to follow. The FARM program is a mandatory program for many cooperatives, but has been adopted by many dairy farms simply because we want our consumers to know we are taking appropriate care of our cows. We have a detailed SOP for our operation and though we don’t have many people working on our farm, it’s peace of mind to know that in the event one of us can’t be here for chores, a farming friend could step in for us and operate the way WE do.
We visually inspect our cows during milking. Consistency and routine, everyday, twice a day. We milk at 6:00am and 5:00pm and the girls rely on that. We wear gloves during milking, we use individual cloth towels to properly clean each animal, and we dip each teat with iodide to help protect from dirt when they are outside the parlor. The chores on our farm are not so strenuous that we hire a lot of employees, in fact either my husband or I are in the parlor for every milking. This one on one attention allows us to closely monitor the animal health daily, and generally we notice illnesses before they become a bigger problem. I treat my animals with the necessary treatments like fluids when possible and antibiotics when necessary. When treating or vaccinating any of the animals on our farm we keep a written record of what the animal received and we identify the cow visually so that anyone else will know THAT cow is receiving extra care.
Shelter and freedom. Our calves and cows all have the freedom to move around inside or outside of the barns. They choose when to eat, sleep, socialize, or chill out by the water trough. We don’t pasture our herd because it just doesn’t work where we are located, but that does not mean our cows are missing out on anything or that I don’t love watching farms who do pasture their herd.
Basically, farmers tend to take better care of their animals than themselves sometimes, and we do these things to keep our cows healthy and happy. I mean, EVERYONE knows healthy cows make pretty awesome milk.
Be sure to check out the Facebook and Instagram farmers through the links provided at the top, and tell me who YOUR favorite AGVocate is! Xo, Nicole