On farm life and deaths are messy

August 3, 2010

In town life is clean.

Food comes from supermarkets in hygienic packages.

On farms life is a bit messier.

Food comes from living, breathing animals.

Life here is dirty and dusty, muddy and bloody and sometimes it’s not just life but death.

I don’t know any good farmer s who are complacent about animal deaths, whether they happen naturally or by human intervention to prevent suffering. But they can’t afford to be squeamish either.

TV1’s  Sunday evening news story on cow inductions was designed to be squeamish.

 Breakfast yesterday morning added some rational comments (though Pippa’s statement that if a cow didn’t calve in time “he or she” wouldn’t be able to get in calf again in time for next season shows a gap in her understanding of biology which ought to be addressed).

Last night’s news continued the story as if nothing was being done to change the practice.

It is, inductions which happen to a minority of cows on a minority of farms are being phased out and DairyNZ said the industry is united behind its plan:

Dr Rick Pridmore, Strategy and Investment Leader for Sustainability at DairyNZ says earlier this year the programme was revised to move the reduction target from a national herd level to targets at an individual farm level. These targets reduce over a three year period.

“The change to individual herd targets will focus efforts on the small tail of the industry who are yet to reduce their use of the practice. This small tail represents only 4.6% of the nation’s dairy cows.”

Letters were sent out to every dairy farmer in the country in early June telling them of this change. The industry stakeholders backing the programme are the New Zealand Veterinary Association, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers Dairy and the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand.

The industry is collecting data on this procedure from all dairy farms as part of their annual farm drug use audit. Induction records will be sighted and checked, and the percentage of animals induced will be reported, with cross-checks back against veterinary records. In addition, any farm which does not meet the targets will be notified to their supplier through their veterinarian.

Dr Pridmore says the programme is phased over three years so farmers who use the practice can be supported as they change their farm system by making alternative stock management decisions, which is a complex and lengthy process for many.

“The key advantage of this new process is that we will be able to identify these businesses so we can support them with the InCalf educational programme as well as through the dairy companies and local veterinarians.”

Dr Pridmore says the practice is allowable under the Animal Welfare Act and the Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare so long as it is carried out by a veterinarian according to the guidelines set out in the agreed Operational Plan.

“The practice is not an issue of animal welfare, it is an ethical issue and one the industry has proactively reduced since the 1990s so that we are now dealing with the tail-end.”

 That last sentence is important: “”The practice is not an issue of animal welfare, it is an ethical issue . . .”

Ethics change. What was once regarded as acceptable is no longer and it’s being phased out.  Though like rivettingKate Taylor I do wonder what’s the story ? and note a double standard.

P.S.

The people who say they’ll give up milk  milk on the strength of this story should have nothing to worry about. If the milk comes from town supply herds, they calve all year round and wouldn’t normally be induced.


First they came for the pigs . . .

August 2, 2010

Last year animal welfare activists targeted pig farming and they’ve had another go at it recently.

The grapevine warned us they would also be on the warpath during calving and lambing and they are.  TV1 news last night started with a story on inducing calves in dairy herds.

There are differing views on the practice – some vets say as long as it’s done properly it’s not inhumane, others oppose the practice.

Regardless of whether it is humane or not induction is  being phased out anyway.

The  reporter said cows are induced to get them producing milk earlier. That’s only part of the story – if cows are too late calving one season they’ll be later, sometimes too late, getting in calf for the following season.

The story also didn’t explain that cows are induced here because unlike most other countries we have seasonal milking.

Overseas where most of the milk produced is for the domestic market herds have some cows calving all through the year so it doesn’t really matter if the calves aren’t produced at a particular time. That happens with town supply herds here too but most of our herds produced milk for export.

Some farms milk through winter for export but most calve in spring, get the cows pregnant in early summer and stop milking by the end of May. This cycle follows grass growth – cows are producing milk when there’s more for them to eat. Grass growth slows or stops altogether over winter.

Cows which are too late for artificial insemination  or going to the bull or don’t conceive are usually culled.

When inductions stop altogether there will be more dry cows which will be sent to the works and farmers will be likely to increase the size of their herds to compensate.

No doubt some people will object to that too.


Horses’ birthday

September 1, 2008

The climate doesn’t always co-operate with the calendar about the first day of spring, however whatever the weather, September 1 is the official birthday of all race horses.

Calving starts down here in early August so that’s well through. Lambing starts a couple of weeks later and those downland farms which still have sheep now also have lambs.

[Update: A comment from Steve below tells me I’m a month late – August 1st is the horses’ birthday in the southern hempisphere.]


It’s raining, it’s pouring …

July 31, 2008

Just a week ago I mentioned that we were nearly at the end of the seventh month but had had only six inches (about 150mms) of rain. That’s less than a third of our annual 20 inch average.

We had about an inch and a half (40mms) in the next couple of days and it continued drizzling off and on until yesterday when it started raining properly. We had another inch (24mms) overnight and as it’s been pouring all day we’ll have had at least that much again.

Irrigation means the water table is higher than it used to be so we’re getting more run off. Calving is underway, the paddocks are soggy and the tracks are muddy.

We don’t usually say we’ve had too much rain here, but we’ve definitely had enough for now.


Milking before Dawn

July 24, 2008

 

Our heifers are calving and the cows are due to start any day now.

 The tanker began collecting milk a couple of weeks ago, though it’s only coming every couple of days.

 Apropos of that and in the wake of Montana Poetry Day which was celebrated last week, I offer this view of milking which is generally considered a fairly prosaic business.

 

Milking Before Dawn

 

 

In the drifting rain the cows in the yard are as black

And wet and shiny as rocks in an ebbing tide:

But they smell of the soil, as leaves lying under trees

Smell of the soil, damp and steaming, warm,

The shed is an island of light and warmth, the night

Was water-cold and starless out in the paddock.

 

Crouched on the stool, hearing only the beat

The monotonous beat and hiss of the smooth machines,

The choking gasp of the cups and rattle of hooves,

How easy to fall asleep again, to think

Of the man in the city asleep; he does not feel

The night encircles him. The grasp of mud.

 

But now the hills in the east return, are soft

And grey with mist, the night recedes, and the rain.

The earth as it turns towards the sun is young

Again, renewed, its history wiped away

Like the tears of a  child. Can the earth be young again

And not the heart? Let the man in the city sleep.

 

– Ruth Dallas –  


7th month – 6 inches

July 23, 2008

Well through the seventh month we’ve had only six inches of rain for the year – less than a third of the annual average of 20 inches.

(If you prefer new money the annual average is about 500mms and we’ve had only 144mms).

The forecast is for rain which we need, but calving has started so we don’t want too much at once. And isn’t that typical of farmers who always have too much weather. 🙂


Lack of Community in our Communities

July 16, 2008

The headline The Horror Hits Home   with an opening pararpah that asks how two infants can allegedly starve to death in an ordinary looking house in an ordinary looking suburb, could have been written about New Zealand. This story however, is about Australia in the wake of the discovery of two babies who starved to death but the issues our our issues too.

What has happened to our communities and neighbourhoods?

Have we become so self-absorbed, so work-oriented or so crippled by the idea that governments should be responsible for the protection of children that we have become the look-away society, where homes have become boltholes and the most vulnerable among us – the old and the young, the sick and infirm – live in dreadful isolation?

Demographer Bernard Salt sees it as a “loss of connectivity”, a separation from our neighbours, that has been growing for several decades in suburbs that have become increasingly amorphous.

“Within the space of about two generations, Australia has moved from being household-based to being workplace-based, and the result has been that any sense of neighbourhoodness has moved out of suburbia and into the office,” he says.

“Most of us are now more likely to have a conversation about the events of the day over the office partition than the back fence.

“As a result, home has become something of a bolthole, leaving suburbia and its role as a place of community connectedness severely diminished.”

And not only in suburbia, it happens in the country too. It’s six weeks since Gypsy weekend when numerous dairy farm workers change jobs but I’m yet to meet any of the new people in our neighbourhood. 

One of the neighbours and I spoke of having a pot luck meal for our road and its off shoots, before calving when it gets too busy. But the first calves are already arriving and we’ve got no further than talking about it.


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