Animal Welfare Requires Constant Vigilance
That’s easy to say, of course, especially in times of stress when farmers are distracted with paying the bills, meeting payroll or finishing up a late November harvest.
But both cases drive that point home. Animal rights activists can pop up anywhere at any time. And they are unrelenting. In fact, Dairy Farmers of America issued a release earlier this month that at least one animal rights group is actively recruiting “investigators” to go on to livestock farms.
I was hopeful that the dearth of videos over the last 12 to 24 months was a sign that dairy farmers were fully implementing FARM (Famers Assuring Responsible Management) standards. But even then, lapses can happen. And of course, animal rights groups have been known to stage abuse, alter videos to make it look like abuse is occurring or simply show cattle in holding pens or calf hutches that look inhumane when in fact they are not. To the undiscerning eye of the consumer, if it looks like abuse it is abuse.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that farmers need to follow the FARM welfare standards to the letter. Staff needs to be trained, retrained and reminded at every staff meeting that animal welfare is job one. Any employee who witnesses a lapse in welfare (lack of bedding, broken equipment and so on), questionable cattle handling or out-right abuse should report concerns to the dairy’s management immediately.
Dairy owners and managers must be constantly vigilant for any signs of abuse. That means walking the dairy as part of the normal daily routine, but also doing surprise nighttime surveillance to show employees you are both concerned and vigilant that cattle are being well treated at all times.
Any new employees must be thoroughly trained in cattle handling, and if possible, paired with a more experienced employee for a period of time to ensure that the training has been internalized and put in to practice. New employees must also be vetted as much as possible, with any lapses in their background viewed skeptically. Again, this is easier said than done. Unfortunately, new employees have to be viewed with suspicion until they prove themselves worthy of trust.
Disgruntled employees are another area of concern. Dealing with workplace issues is never easy, but issues have to be resolved—one way or the other. The alternative is having festering employee issues set up the possibility of an unhappy employee deliberately abusing animals to get back at the dairy’s management.
The message I take from this latest round of animal welfare videos is that if they can surface on some of the nation’s best managed dairies, they can surface anywhere. No one is immune, and only constant vigilance offers any kind of protection.