Without the Cows, There’s No National Dairy Month 2017
By Darren Turley
Since 1937, June has been either National Milk Month or National Dairy Month, a way to promote the drinking of milk and to observe the contributions by the dairy community. This year, the Texas Association of Dairymen would like to use the opportunity to recognize those who are really responsible for the dairy products we are celebrating – our cows.
Let’s face it, without the cows – without their milk – there wouldn’t be a National Dairy Month. So, on behalf of Texas’ dairy farmers, I’d like to share a little bit about how our dairy community cares for about 487,000 dairy cows that last year produced about 1.25 billion gallons of milk.
For many people, those gallons of milk in their local grocery store are as close as they’ve ever been to a dairy cow.
It’s important for these families to understand that raising healthy, comfortable cows using safe and ethical practices are both vital to a dairy farmer’s business and a moral obligation.
Therefore, dairy farmers have a vested interest in the health of their animals so that they give as much high-quality milk possible. Dairy cows have access to feed and fresh, clean water 24 hours a day and eat a balanced, nutritious and scientifically diet developed by a nutritionist. While in the pasture, they have access to shad and shelter. In free-stall barns, cows are frequently provided fresh bedding and are able to eat, drink and sleep whenever they choose.
In the summer, cool cows are happy cows. To beat our Texas heat, barns are well ventilated and are equipped with fans and misters that blow cool air through the structure.
Veterinarians are frequent visitors to dairy farms, whether for checkups or to treat illness. It’s important to note that any medicines are given to dairy cows only to treat illness. In that case, the cow is moved to a separate area, and her milk does not enter the food supply. In fact, milk is strictly tested for antibiotics both on the farm and at the processing plant – if it tests positive, it’s thrown out.
Our dairy farmers not only care for their animals, they care about them. On family farms, cows are part of the family.
No dairy farmer I know would ever tolerate the abuse of their animals. Our dairy community strongly supports the National Dairy FARM Program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management), an industry-wide initiative that has set high standards of quality care provided to animals and the environment on dairy farms.
Sometimes, no matter how hard farmers try to nurture their animals, Mother Nature has other plans. When Winter Storm Goliath hit the Texas Panhandle shortly after Christmas 2015, record snowfall and hurricane-force winds caused the loss of about 15,000 dairy cows, despite the fact that dairy farmers took every precaution possible to protect their herds. It’s unfortunate that some extremists used this disaster as an opportunity to criticize the farmers when they were down.
The losses were devastating to dairy farmers. Dairy farmers are passionate about farming and their animals, and losing cows that they raised and cared for took an emotional toll. As one dairy farmer hit hard by Goliath told a reporter, “I hate to watch the cows suffer. I’d keep them in my living room if it was big enough.”
So as you enjoy milk and dairy products such as ice cream or cheese this month, please keep in mind that they are all thanks to the “girls” our dairy farmers care about so much on the farm.
Darren Turley is executive director of Texas Association of Dairymen (www.milk4texas.org).
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