I suspect I am about to make a lot of enemies because there is an elephant in the room and few are in a position to point it out.
Here are the facts:
- the last season has been dreadful
- dairy farmers have free access to lots of information about we can keep cows healthy during fodder shortages
- many dairy farmers who couldn’t afford skyrocketing feed costs have sold a lot of cows at ridiculously low prices so they can feed the remainder of their cows properly
- farmers have gone broke but kept their cows healthy
- cows do not starve overnight and watching them weaken over weeks or months would be more than I could bear yet reports of them dying in their hundreds have hit the national news
I was stunned. Perhaps people who would normally sell their cows off long, long before they reached the point of starvation couldn’t for some reason? Maybe they were hoping for a miracle? Maybe they were in denial?
It just doesn’t ring true, at least not for hundreds of cows as media reports suggest.
And it’s come out today that some published pictures of “starving cattle” were actually the carcasses of cows that had died of other causes. In fact, the vet whose leaked email urging MPs to act sparked the media stories, Dr Mike Hamblin, has since told Warrnambool newspaper The Standard that there is no animal welfare problem in SW Victoria:
“Warrnambool veterinarian Mike Hamblin said there was no animal welfare crisis in the region and that he believed farmers were looking after their livestock well in a difficult financial situation. Dr Hamblin said that while some stock were thinner than normal, he had not seen any starving.”
Yes, people need help. Yes, it is wonderful that the media stories have finally got the Victorian government to reach agreement with the Commonwealth on low-interest loans.
But do we really need to paint already suffering farmers as cruel by presenting pictures of dead cows to our political leaders before action is taken? The reality is that most farmers skip their own dinners to feed our animals. These dirty tactics may have won concessional loans for a few farmers but they have blown a lot of trust and, at the end of the day, we will all be the losers.
There has to be a better way to avert what is a genuine human crisis than fabricating an animal welfare one.
12 thoughts on “A very unpopular dairy blog post”
Thanks for calling that story out for the crock that it was Marian, I had hoped to get the truth!
Thanks for the encouragement. Lots of people are now adding their voices to say that farmers are suffering rather than their animals. I think we have a lot to learn, though, from this shocking situation, which is that people who are in trouble deserve better support than the system offers.
You raise many good points as always and there are a couple of points I’d like to comment on.
1. There will always be ‘outliers’ in any group. In the AR arena, these are the nutjobs like PETA who knowingly lie and distort the truth about animal production and welfare (eg starving cows that aren’t). In the farming community it is the very small percentage of farmers who are lazy or incompetent (or both) who only pay lip service to animal welfare. Both cause harm but in different ways. Farmers and farming groups need to actively condemn both these groups whenever lies, deception or cruelty are exposed. Where were the farmer groups in this specific instance? Rapid response? ‘Trust’ requires farmers to get on the front foot in all communications, to build a bulwark against all sorts of extreme messages. The problem is that the animal rights groups rung rings around the farm groups when it comes to effective use of the media. No point complaining about it; just get your people to do a better job. It aint a fair game.
2. The real elephant in the room that I see is that there are too many dairy farmers (strictly speaking too many dairy cows) and as a consequence, the buyers have all the power. Dry conditions and high feed prices aren’t really the problems as I see it – being unable to deal with these issues is a symptom of a sector unable to cope with variable input costs because the returns are so lousy. The low interest loans are even more galling because they help to prop up loss making enterprises (just like Kodak, or Holden or Ford) that, if they were allowed to fail, would make life a little better for all the remaining dairy businesses.
We do need to do a better job – absolutely. The system has let everyone down in this instance.
Actually reading on what or who is available for the low interest loans, I read that you would need 65% equity to qualify, So a lot wont get it who need it, But Totally agree about the cow condition , I would not know of any farmer that lets his cows get so skinny that they fail to be able to be loaded on a truck, only reason For that to happen is a medical problem to the animal. Yes I understand there will be cows skinner then what people would like but there is no reason lo let them starve before selling some.
Here’s the thing I struggle with James. If you decide to be a farmer, then drought, fluctuating feed prices and variable commodity prices are all known risks in the business. They are foreseeable and part of the business risk involved in farming. Handing out cheap loans to farmers for such known business risks doesn’t make sense.
Ian I totally agree with what you have said , as a dairy farmer who purchased a farm in northern Vic 7 years ago its been a very interesting 7 years with droughts, flood, mice and locust plagues, but I am not complaining I chose to be a dairy farmer and look foreward to the next 12 months with a great mlk price and hopefully climatic and enviromental conditions beingin our favour as well
Australia’s dairy farmers have earned a reputation as being among the most resilient in the world and, along with the Kiwis, we get the least help from government in the developed world (see http://www.farminstitute.org.au/BlogRetrieve.aspx?PostID=77986&A=SearchResult&SearchID=5550803&ObjectID=77986&ObjectType=55 ). Ag is subsidised just about everywhere we compete, so we are always playing on that infamous tilted playing field where just about everyone else is eating at our margins. Sometimes when Mother Nature adds a stiff head-wind as well, it all gets too much and people genuinely need help.
Ian, you might find this interesting: http://www.manmonthly.com.au/features/is-supporting-the-car-industry-so-expensive-compar
We experienced this in Ireland too in March and April – a serious fodder crisis and while the media highlighted it, some of it was blown out of proportions. However, the suicide committed by isolated farmers who couldn’t cope with it all didn’t seem to get much of a mention – images and stories of starving cattle seemed more newsworthy 😦 An incredible amount of hay had to be imported in Ireland. It’s now 2 weeks since we had rain (a long time for here) and there could be shortages again.
Great blog post btw 🙂
Gee, thanks for telling us about the Irish situation, Lorna. It really has to make you wonder where our priorities lie.
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