Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Temple Grandin visits Wisconsin dairy farm [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

Top animal welfare expert praises animal care, impressed with newest lameness research

“I saw dairy cows who have a wonderful life today.”

That’s what Dr. Temple Grandin told an audience of over 700 people during her lecture on autism at Marian University last Friday night in Fond du Lac, Wis. The dairy cows she saw were those at Vir-Clar Farm, which Temple and I toured together on Friday morning.

The farm tour was a result of the interview I did with Temple two weeks ago. Temple said she was very interested in visiting a dairy farm while she was in Fond du Lac. I asked Katie Grinstead at Vir-Clar Farm if we could visit the dairy farm she owns with her parents (Gary and Rose Boyke) and brother (JR Boyke); she agreed that it would be a great opportunity.

My hope was that the visit would allow us to continue our conversation about dairy cow wellbeing. I also wanted to demonstrate that dairy farmers today are managing cows for higher production – and enabling them to reach their full potential – not "pushing" them beyond what is biologically possible.

Katie led the tour, with Gary and JR joining us at the beginning. I also invited Nigel Cook, a professor of food animal production medicine at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, to be part of the visit. Nigel has done extensive research in the areas of dairy cow comfort and lameness and does a lot of work with facility design on dairy farms.

[Read the rest of this post in the HD Notebook at Hoard's Dairyman.]

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Aurora Borealis [Dairy Star Column]

It's easy to end up exhausted and frustrated when farm chores keep us outside until well after dark. But sometimes these late nights lead to memorable moments.

Tonight after chores, I wasn't nearly as tired as usual thanks to an early Mother's Day gift: a two-hour nap with no interruptions. So as I headed to the house, I kept going past our front steps and went out to the road. At the time, I had no idea why I felt an urge to go for a walk. I realize now that perhaps I was being led.

Photo by Bryan Hansel. Used with permission.

I crossed the paved county road and strolled down the gravel road across from our driveway. I walked for a couple hundred yards before my common sense caught up with me. It was late; Glen had no idea that I was going for a walk; and all I had with me was my cell phone. I turned around to head back. When I did, I was stopped by what I saw.

Flickering across the northern sky were the bright green lights of the aurora borealis. Growing up in northern Minnesota, the northern lights were a fairly common sight for country kids still outside after dark. When I was little, my dad would come get my sisters and me from the house so we could watch the spectacular dancing lights.

Science explains the northern lights as the result of collisions between atmospheric particles. But there are lots of legends about why they exist, too. My favorite legend is that the northern lights are the spirits of loved ones who have gone before us, greeting us from the afterworld.

This was the first time I'd seen the northern lights here in Stearns County, possibly because we have a bright yard light or possibly because I haven't been paying attention. I stood there in the silence of the night, watching the band of lights that stretched across the dark sky, as a memory washed over me.

The last time I had watched the northern lights was a late night in May, over ten years ago.

[Read the rest of this column here.]

P.S. I never even thought to take a picture that night. The photo above was captured by Bryan Hansel, who kindly allowed me to use it. Bryan is a northern Minnesota photographer who has even more amazing photos of the aurora borealis on his website: BryanHansel.com. He also offers a series of highly popular photography workshops and courses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Temple Grandin airs her experience [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

The last thing I expected when I wrote my blog post about Temple Grandin and her comments in The Washington Post was to get an email from Temple Grandin herself.

But that’s exactly what happened. In her email, Temple said that Roberto Ferdman, The Washington Post reporter, left her positive comments about the dairy industry out of his article. Included with the message to me were carbon copies of the email conversation she had with Ferdman, in which she chastised Ferdman for not being objective.

Temple also gave me her cellphone number, so I emailed her back and asked if she would be willing to answer a few of my questions.

Last Friday, what started as an official, recorded interview turned into an hour-long conversation about dairy farms and dairy cow well-being. Many of Temple’s comments while we talked were echoes of those she shared in a statement released last Thursday.

Read the rest of this post in the HD Notebook.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lucy's heaven

The grass is green again. Our yard and pastures gleam like emeralds in an otherwise still-brown landscape.

With any luck (and by luck I mean rain), the pastures will soon be ready for the cows. The cows seem to know that their favorite day of the year – and mine – is quickly approaching. They’re reaching through the fences to nibble off the new blades of grass.

Sadly, though, when we open the pasture gate this spring, we’ll have one less cow kicking up her heels as the herd gallops out into the grass.

Lucy died last week.

Dan asked for a picture with Lucy after I told him she was sick and not getting better.
He also doted on her with extra treats and curry combing.

Lucy was Dan’s favorite cow, the one he befriended after he said good-bye to his first favorite cow, Love. That was four years ago, when he was in kindergarten.

For the past four years, whenever he was in the barn, Dan could be found in Lucy’s stall.

Lucy’s stall was a favorite spot for lots of kids. Monika often hung out there with Dan, the two of them curry combing Lucy, laying on top of her, or playing on the stall dividers. I have pictures of Lucy lying in her stall with our kids and their city cousins all piled on top of her. Lucy never moved; she seemed to love the attention.

It’s never easy to lose a cow, but losing a favorite cow like Lucy is especially hard – for all of us.

There were lots of tears when I told Dan that Lucy had died. There were lots of questions, too, about why the medicine couldn’t save Lucy and why prayers couldn’t save her. We talked about all the good memories and how special it was that Lucy got to spend her whole life on our farm.

The last time I wrote about Lucy, she had just been dried off. Glen had found Dan sitting across the fence from Lucy. Dan said he had been talking to Lucy about the baby in her tummy.

That baby arrived without incident a couple months later. We found Lucy in early delivery during a late night check of the dry cow pen. Our anticipation was too high to leave, so Glen and I napped on a big square bale, waking up every so often to check Lucy’s progress. After the last catnap, we woke up to find Lucy had delivered a pretty little heifer calf.

Nobody was more excited about Lucy’s baby girl than Dan. He named Lucy’s baby Lego and took Lego to the fair that summer.

Lego was Lucy’s only heifer calf. For Dan, the hurt of losing Lucy is tempered some by knowing that Lego will calve in June. He is looking forward to welcoming Lego into the barn and hoping she will be as kind as her mother.

One life ends and another will soon begin. One of the greatest gifts of growing up on a farm is an appreciation for the cycle of life. It doesn’t make the grieving any easier, but it helps to understand that death is an inevitable part of life.

A couple days after Lucy died, I realized that maybe Lucy wouldn’t be as sad as I was that she wouldn’t be going out to pasture with the rest of the cows this spring.

Lucy didn’t seem to care for grazing. When we turned the cows out of the barn after milking, Lucy would stay in her stall until someone chased her out. Then, as soon as she walked out the barn door, she’d turn around and try to come back inside. Midway through the day, Lucy would often come back in from the pasture to lie in front of the barn door.

Lucy’s heaven isn’t a pasture full of knee-deep grass. Lucy’s heaven is a stall in the barn full of laughing kids, all clambering over her as she lies there chewing her cud.

This post also appeared as a column in the Dairy Star.

Other columns about Lucy include:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Did Temple Grandin just say that? [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

A recent interview in The Washington Post with the renowned animal welfare specialist leaves many in dairy circles with unanswered questions.

With all due respect to Temple Grandin, and the research she has done to improve the lives of farm animals, her quotes in a recent popular media report left me questioning her intentions.

Titled "Why a top animal science expert is worried about the milk industry," the report ran last Thursday in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

According to the report, the main beef (pun intended) Grandin has with the dairy industry right now is that we’re using selective breeding to create hyperproductive dairy cows, with little regard for cows’ well-being.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the story yet, I understand. Maybe, like me, you’d rather be out caring for your cows instead of addressing inaccurate reporting. Here’s the quote that really made me wonder:

"I call them the bad dairies," Grandin said. "They make up most of the farms in the United States, and their cows are so wrecked by the time they stop milking they can barely be used for beef."

Grandin defines “bad dairies” as the ones that use selective breeding to increase cow size and milk production, at the expense of cow health.

My first thought was, “Really? Did she just say that?” No dairy farm I know, mine included, is in the business of wrecking cows. On the contrary, we put all of our time and energy into creating the best life possible for our cows.

Then, I was left with several questions.

[Read the rest here – in the HD Notebook at Hoard's Dairyman.]