What do farmers hide from you?

Faces in the herd

Some of the girls on our team

The other day, my friend Julie emailed me a link to a story about a Kiwi farmer called Tim. Here’s the gist of it:

So convinced is he that farmers have nothing to hide that he urges people to knock on a dairy farmer’s door and ask them about their farm. “They’re welcome to call on me anytime,” he says, then adds: “As long as they come with an open mind, not with any particular axe to grind.”

Animal activists will tell you there is a dark side to dairying and then mostly follow that up with stories about calves being removed from their mothers and forced annual inseminations. It’s true. We do remove calves from their mothers and it’s also true that we hope to get cows in calf every year (although that’s not realistic – we keep dozens every year who don’t fall pregnant). But it’s not cruel.

The point of this blog is to provide a window to another Australian way of living as well as showing you what we do and why. You have a right to know your milk is ethical and safe.

Our top priorities are to look after people, animals and the land while producing the best milk possible and staying afloat. They have to be or we wouldn’t be doing it: we don’t earn nearly as much as Tim does, unfortunately. The farmgate price of milk fluctuates like crazy and in the past three years, it’s varied from 28 cents per litre to 48 cents, so Wayne and I are both working second jobs while we “renovate” the farm (which is, by the way, valued at a fraction of Tim’s).

So, if there are dairy practices you’re wondering about, please hit me with them.

2 thoughts on “What do farmers hide from you?

  1. Yes Marian, what happens to the calves? Are the females kept on the farm to add to your herd or sold? If you have look at the Animals Australia site the unwanted male calves are treated as “waste” and are slaughtered not long after they’re born.
    I’d like to hear from a dairy farmer what happens to them?


    • Thanks for the question, CC.

      I could never call any animal “waste”. Farming is a labour of love for my family. Nor have I heard any other farmer talk in that way. We look after them with as much care as any other of our animals.

      Every time a calf is born, we hope it is a heifer. As you suggested, we keep all our female calves – these little ones are the future of our herd – but we can’t keep the males. One of our neighbours takes them and rears them instead.

      It’s pretty common for beef farmers to take on dairy bull calves and sell them as two-year-olds. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for all dairy farms and, in that case, there are only limited alternatives.

      Using sexed semen to avoid the birth of bull calves altogether will be the answer one day but, at the moment, the selection of female sperm seems to damage its potency and it’s not viable for mature cows – only maiden heifers.

      The bull calves can be sent to market when they are at least five days old and fit. It’s not something dairy farmers relish because we are farmers who are used to looking after our animals into ripe old age. Having said that, calves at five days old are remarkably strong and athletic. They can run much faster than we can and most of ours weigh at least 45kg, making them far more able to cope with transport than you’d think at first blush.

      The alternative proposed by some animal activists is that we euthanase the calves on farm. This would be a tragedy. We are not skilled at killing animals – it’s not what we do – and I just don’t think it’s realistic to expect that thousands of dairy farmers will be able to be trained to the standards of professionals who do it day in, day out.

      I’m really pleased we are able to have our bull calves raised by a neighbour. They travel a total of five minutes and I can see they are very well looked after.


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