One woman’s kindness is another’s cruelty

Animal welfare is one of those things that often falls into the realm of sex, politics and religion. It’s an emotionally-charged topic at the best of times and when standards need to be set, conflict is inevitable. Consider this:

“Rear the calf in safety away from the herd so it can lead a healthy life”
“Take the calf from its mother so farmers can steal the milk”

Both statements put the calf first, yes, but advocate diametrically-opposed practices. Vets say science supports the hand-rearing of calves, animal rights bodies say that’s immoral. So, what’s a farmer to do? At the moment, farmers have a lot of freedom to do whatever we think is right, so long as the calf’s healthy.

But animal welfare is increasingly becoming a political hot potato as vocal lobby groups demand more of a say in, and greater scrutiny of, farming practices. We farmers can’t stick our heads in the sand and hope this will all go away.

And, to be frank, many of the farmers I’ve discussed the issue with would like to see our representatives raise the bar to match the standards almost all of us meet every day. Few choose farming as a career just for the money (that concept never fails to raise a chuckle) – most do it because we love being outdoors with the animals. Why should we let a few rotten apples bring us all down?

But who decides what those standards should be? The dairy community? Well, no, we can’t do it by ourselves because external input is important to progress. The attitudes of the wider community have to be part of the decision-making process.

The thorny question really is: who represents the views of the wider community? Neilson research presented by Courtney Sullivan at the Australian Dairy Conference a couple of years ago showed that most Australians have little knowledge of where their food comes from, that they are aware of their ignorance and that, to put it bluntly, ignorance is bliss. Price was the main driver. Quality was taken for granted.

Ironically, this is a view that is eschewed by farmers and animal welfare bodies alike. It probably comes about because we farmers are trusted to do the right thing – a perception that some animal welfare activists would like to change.

Farmers have the opportunity to be proactive and show the good faith of the community is deserved. Why on earth not?

PS: If you want to know more about how we rear our calves and why, the answers are here on the Milk Maid Marian blog.

9 thoughts on “One woman’s kindness is another’s cruelty

  1. Pingback: How can we meet community expectations if we don’t know what they are | Clover Hill Dairies Diary

  2. Pingback: Yogurt is just a small part of the story | Clover Hill Dairies Diary

  3. “Vets say science supports the hand-rearing of calves, animal rights bodies say that’s immoral”

    On what moral grounds do animal rights bodies say hand rearing is wrong?
    Have you questioned the moral reasoning behind their stance?

    Perhaps there’s a dichotomy between the morality of animal activists and the society we all function in?

    If there is, which side of the debate are you on?


    • I am not on anybody’s “side”, John, except to say that it’s my job to do what is right by my family, our animals, the land and society.

      It’s great to be challenged to do things better and animal activists and I both have a love of animals so, of course, I take what they say on board.’

      Our practices here on our farm reflect a combination of influences: common sense, experience, learning from others, the law and science, all viewed through our family’s moral framework (of course).

      When it comes to the specific issue of rearing calves, please follow the link in the post.


  4. Marion, I don’t need to follow your link to issues surrounding rearing calves. I’ve reared enough to sink a ship. I once entertained Linda Stoner on farm, when she was the chief spokesperson for the animal activists. You mightn’t remember, but it created a storm.

    You say animal activists love animals, that you love animals, therefore you have something in common? That surprises me greatly Marion, because the animal activists are driven by an agenda that desires the cessation of the utilisation of animals for the benefit of humans. Do you know that?

    Their ethic is totally at odds with the underlying ethic of our society and that;’s why I mentioned the dichotomy between the two. As you said yourself, your vet says one thing, they say another. The animal activists are not interested in your welfare, that of your family, or of society generally. You say external input is required for progress, but I would ask ‘progress towards what’? Farmers require greater productive output and that comes from, partly, better animal welfare. The expertise for that does not come from and will never come from animal activists. They are not your friend.. .


  5. Hi Marion, (i met you at the fertility workshop Leongatha)
    I love your blog and have been sifting through your numerous posts. You have covered many times the reasons why calves are raised away from their mothers, but I couldn’t find anything related to the actually process of HOW we do it. What actually happens the day a calf is removed from it’s mother?.
    I remember well my first experience with this task and how I was actually pleasantly surprised that, if done well, the process causes very little (if any) stress at all.
    The protocol on our farm is to bring the cow and calf to the dairy as soon as possible after birth – generally it is by the very next milking, I like to do it early as that is when high levels of oxytocin hormone is keeping both cow and calf calm and they are much more accepting of the human presence. As many of our cows have been well handled since birth, she will generally permit us to handle the calf and sometimes even come over and lick us too. We try to have cows close to the dairy when they calve so that we can either carry the calf there or gently coax it to walk over. If it is too far, the calf may be put into a trailer and towed behind the bike (at a quiet walking pace). Either way the cow follows us softly mooing to her calf.
    Cow and calf are left together at the dairy until the next usual milking time- preferably they have enough time together that the calf has been licked clean and is standing well on its feet which usually means that it has also had a chance to nurse. When the rest of the herd arrive at the dairy to be milked our “fresh cow” is usually ready to walk into the shed of her own accord as she knows there will be feed for her there. If the cow is at all reluctant, as is sometimes the case with a heifer, we will walk the calf into the shed with her. The calf is usually content after having had its first feed and will lie down under the feeder and curl up to sleep. The cow is milked while she eats and generally leaves the shed without fuss – feeling content that her calf has been fed she is usually concerned with feeding herself and getting out to the pasture. I would like to point out, as many city folk would not be aware that it is not at all unnatural for a cow to leave her calf when she goes off to feed. The calf’s natural instinct is to stay put where mother left it knowing she will return again to feed it later. Even when they are older, many calves in beef herds do not stay with their mother all of the time, very often numerous calves are left together in big “kindergarten” groups with just one or two mums doing the “babysitting”. At the end of the day, when you really think about it, us humans on dairy farms are just part of that big herd.
    We become the surrogate “calf” for all of the cows and the surrogate mum for all of the calves. We love them all, and aim to develop a trusting relationship with all of our cows as that is what reduces stress for the workers and in turn the animals.


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