Who cares for the dairy animals on your farm and how do you make sure cows and calves are treated right?

Posted: July 11, 2019

Answer: Most dairy farms have family members or employees to milk cows and provide feed and care for animals. As dairy farmers, it’s up to us to train our family and employees to provide the utmost best care for our animals.

Dairy farms typically have several people involved on a daily basis because of the animal care required. Dairy herd size usually dictates how many family members or employees work on a dairy farm.

On our dairy farm with 400 cows and calves, I’m the head dairyman. I have several employees, most of which are high school age students, to assist.

I would like to think I do a good job of training my employees so they know what is expected of them. Afterall, I entrust them with my cows and calves! I am fortunate that my employees have always been very good animal caretakers and genuinely care for the well-being of dairy cattle. I believe I have a good working relationship with my employees and they would come to me to notify me of any mistreatment.

I also use the FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) animal care program, an International Standard Organization. This national dairy farm program establishes a farm animal well-being program and third-party verification system. It concentrates on animal care, environmental stewardship, antibiotic stewardship and workforce development. As the dairy industry changes this program evolves to make adjustments for proper dairy farm protocols to hold itself to the highest standards.

One part of the FARM program deals with animal care. Having good standard operating procedures (SOP) in place is very important. With the help of an employee who also has great office skills as well, we created several SOP’s for taking care of calves and milking. Before being hired on my farm, prospective employees must complete seven training modules and pass a test to ensure they know how to properly handle calves and cows.

Most people have not grown up on a dairy farm so it’s an all new learning experience for them. I supervise the hands-on training, that way there’s no misinterpretation and no excuses. We strive to have the highest quality animal care available on our farm.

As part of our animal care, it is very important to have a low stress environment for our dairy. This includes low stress animal handling which allows animals to be more productive. For example, cows are sensitive to noise and frighten easily – this can reduce milk production by 3 to 5 pounds. Understanding a cow’s flight zone and working the animals properly reduces stress on them and makes my job so much easier.

It is also important if animals get sick that they are treated correctly under the licensed care of a veterinarian. Observing animals and being able to detect if they’re sick and properly diagnosing the problem is something that’s learned over years of experience. We have a weekly visit from the vet to ultrasound cows so this helps us monitor cattle health should a new problem arise.

All dairy farmers know and understand taking care of animals properly has great rewards both personally and economically.


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