Even though we are all somewhat skeptical when the consumer tries telling us what to do, we are finding that we have to pay attention or we might not have a market for our milk.

This becomes more evident when the market tightens and milk supply is in a surplus. Required processor audits are becoming more common. These audits are an extension of the consumer demanding to understand where their milk comes from.

It might not all be bad. Maybe it is time for us to look at things from the cow’s perspective rather from our own. Many of these suggested changes that come with the audits are actually benefiting the cow with little effect on the bottom line.

As the dairy industry struggles with what animal welfare really means, the companion animal industry has developed a new approach that seems like it could apply to cows as well. In the dog and cat world, there is a new concept called a Fear Free initiative. It focuses on reducing stress, anxiety, and fear in animals. Increased stress means less ability to fight off infection and less productivity.

Instead of focusing on what the owner wants, the focus is on what the pet experiences or needs to reduce stress. Instead of making sure the owner is having a pleasant experience during the veterinary visit, we now focus on making sure the dogs’ and cats’ comfort is taken care of first.

This might involve providing separate areas for dogs and cats, providing slip-free surfaces, removing noxious odors, provide plenty of treats, and staying calm in all situations.

Cats and cows

How does this relate to our industry? As we approach the topic of cow welfare, maybe we should look at how we can provide our cows a Fear Free experience. This would mean looking at it more from the cow’s point of view and less from our own comfort.

All of a sudden we are looking at slip-free surfaces, environments where the cow can keep her tail, moving cows with a gentle attitude, providing beds we could lay down in, decrease standing time at milking, providing cool air f low with sprinklers and fans, scrape alleys often so cows are not sloshing through manure, provide adequate lighting, fresh and adequate feed all day long, the list goes on and on.

Most farmers are already doing many of the right things, but I hear all the other excuses on a regular basis. Often times, the pain or discomfort of the cow is considered second to the convenience of farmers.

I recently diagnosed a broken leg on a cow. Euthanasia was elected. Before leaving, I asked the farm herdsman whether he knew the proper protocol. He said he was not allowed to shoot the cow inside the barn so he would tie a chain to her leg and drag her outside before euthanizing her.

I was able to teach him to look at it from the cow’s perspective. She needed to be put out of her misery immediately before being moved. We proceeded to peacefully, humanely euthanize her with IV medication.

This is just one example of what it means to look at a situation from the cow’s perspective. Let’s be proud of how we do things. Let’s not feel we need to hide things, but share our humane approach to cow comfort. After all, without a healthy, comfortable cow, we wouldn’t have much.