Temple Grandin’s challenge to dairy producers

5/17/2014 7:00 AM

In early May, I had an opportunity to participate in an animal care and husbandry forum held in central Pennsylvania specifically for Humane Society police officers. These HSPOs are trained and court-appointed to enforce Pennsylvania’s Crimes Codes dealing with animal cruelty. Temple Grandin was the keynote speaker of this year’s forum. Many of you may have heard of Temple Grandin and would quickly recognize her as one of the most unique individual advocates ever involved in animal agriculture.

Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Temple Grandin received a doctoral degree in animal science and is well respected for numerous essays she has written on animal welfare. She was also listed as one of the Times 100 Most Influential People in the world in the “Heroes” category. Why was Temple Grandin in Pennsylvania speaking to a HSPO group, and why was the Center for Dairy Excellence there?

Our relationship with the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania began a few years ago when their vice president and coordinator of continuing education, Anne Irwin, invited the center to share with the HSPOs the BMPs for animal welfare on a dairy operation. This year, she invited us to reinforce the importance of husbandry and welfare in animal agriculture just before Grandin took the stage.

So, what does the HSPO group know about dairy farming, and what do they want our dairy industry to know? Most of them know very little, but are very interested in the care provided to the animals entering the food chain. This group wants to be assured that we are presenting high quality dairy and beef products to the market. They want to know that best management practices are in place for the entire dairy herd, and that we have pre-harvest management programs in place for cull cows and are providing optimal cow care and management to these pre-harvest animals.

There are lots of financial benefits to providing the highest level of care on dairy operations. Even more reasons become apparent when you sit in a room filled with HSPOs who have little knowledge of animal agriculture, but a high level of interest around what they determine is less than ideal animal care.

One point Grandin made is that she would like to see the dairy industry making faster progress in dealing with and managing lameness in dairy cattle - with clear standard operating procedures (SOP’s) in place when early signs of cow lameness are detected.

The meeting was just one more example of how critical it is that we become our own ambassadors for the industry - in what we say in the public and in what we do on our dairy farms. The group of HSPOs represented a diverse group, not unlike the average consumer in our marketplace. And, unfortunately, their perception of the dairy industry are all too often those few instances where animal care is poor and thus, on their radar.

What an opportunity we have to change that perception. Grandin doesn’t candy coat any of the points in her message. In her words, “we’ve got work to do in the dairy industry, and we have areas of management which need to be improved.” Her challenge to the industry is to re-evaluate our procedures in dairy herd husbandry and to implement programs enabling dairy to represent the beef market with the same goals for quality as we pursue the milk market.

As I look back on this unique but compelling event, I am reminded how our Pennsylvania dairy industry is comprised of 7,200 dairy families, the vast majority who takes great pride in and go to great lengths to provide optimal animal care. Our industry has made big strides in providing animal care certification like the National Dairy F.A.R.M. program among others. Enrolling in one of these programs and challenging your management team to do a walk through with critical feedback of all animal pens might be good ways to re-commit to best management practices for animal care on your dairy.

Editor’s note: John Frey is the executive director for the Pa. Center for Dairy Excellence.

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