Even at a time when high cattle-feed prices are making it difficult to turn a profit in the dairy business, local producers said Wednesday they’re unwilling to cut costs in one area of their operations — animal care.
The dairy industry has only seen one decent year for margins during the past four, but three Weld and Morgan county milk producers said during a presentation at the Colorado Farm Show they’ve continued spending thousands of dollars to hire “top-notch” workers, to design their facilities to reduce stress for the animals, routinely clean their facilities, and provide their livestock plenty of preventative and emergency veterinary care — particularly to calving mothers and newborn calves.
Those producers — Garrett DeVries, veterinarian and owner of Monte Vista Dairy near Gill; Beth Atwell veterinarian and herd manager at Long Meadow Dairy near Greeley; and Mike Veeman, owner of Veeman & Sons Dairy near Wiggins — said they spend the extra money because there’s a moral obligation to give livestock “that give so much back a good life and a good death.”
Additionally, healthy cattle generally lead to more efficient operations and better business.
“Taking shortcuts may help with profitability in the short-term, but will come back to hurt you in the long run,” Veeman said. “It can certainly add to your costs, but good animal care is a necessity.”
Such details were music to the ears of Temple Grandin, the animal sciences professor at Colorado State University, bestselling author and consultant to the livestock industry on animal handling, who, three years ago, was listed in Time magazine among the 100 most influential people in the world.
While commending the local producers, Grandin, who also spoke as part of Dairy Day at the farm show, stressed to the local producers to spread their message of excellent animal care.
Far too often, she said, only the message of the few providing poor care to their animals is what’s on display to the public.
Grandin encouraged DeVries, Atwell, Veeman and other producers to share their daily operations through Facebook and other social media avenues to educate urban populations.
She also recommended that producers give tours to students.
Showing facilities to students would provide more incentive to keep facilities clean and operations in order, she added.
Veeman noted that educating the public is also important in setting reasonable standards for animal welfare rules and regulations.
“People have an image in their heads of three cows grazing on a mountainside, and anything other than that is viewed as abuse,” Veeman said, adding that, while larger operations are viewed in the public eye as negative, they’re more than capable of providing good care to their animals.
Furthermore, large operations are needed to feed a growing world population, Veeman said.
Grandin said a Kansas State University study of feedlots in that state showed “very good” handling of its animals, but those numbers were never put out in the media.
“There’s this perception of ‘big is bad,’” Grandin said. “And there’s not much fighting back from the ag community.”
The need for producers to communicate with the urban population was a popular theme at this year’s Colorado Farm Show.
On Tuesday during the Beef Day discussions, CSU professors Dale Woerner and Larry Goodridge also encouraged farmers, ranchers and others to be proactive in spreading their message of efficient production, quality, animal welfare and safety to the media and public, and using the scientific data that’s out there to help tell their story.
The industry often waits until there’s a crisis to try telling its story, Goodridge and Woerner said.
It can certainly add to your costs, but good animal care is a necessity.\n
— Mike Veeman, owner of Veeman & Sons Dairy