Weird farm facts: what does a cow and a hair dryer have in common?


Yep, it’s a heatwave. Dairy cows hate heatwaves. How much? Take a look at some of these weird facts from Dairy Australia’s Cool Cows website:

  • Each of our dairy cows gives off body heat equivalent to a 1500-watt hair dryer on a hot day.
  • Cows eat 10-20% less when the air temperature is more than 26°C.
  • A cow making more milk is more easily heat stressed.
  • Each dairy cow can drink 200-250 litres per day in hot weather – double the normal intake.
  • A heat stressed cow makes less milk for one to two days afterwards. If she’s heat stressed for two days in a row, milk production can be affected for a fortnight.

Suffice to say, the weatherman has our attention. Farmer levies fund a Temperature Humidity Index (THI) forecast that gives us a heads-up on just how tough it could be on the cows.

A THI of over 68 has a measurable impact on milk production, not to mention our cows’ wellbeing. As you can see, the forecast has us reaching a THI of 83. Nasty.


THI Dairy Forecast

We’re onto it. To help keep the cows cool, we milk earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon when the sun is low.

The cows have a paddock with enough shade and water for everyone that’s close to the dairy. We serve up a light meal of silage just beyond the trees, so they can sneak out from the shade, have a nibble and go back where it’s cool for a nap.

The dairy yard is sprinkled with water, giving the cows a welcome shower while they wait to be milked. Inside the dairy, ceiling fans whir above the cows for maximum comfort.

There are three water troughs on the way to the night paddock, which is a juicy crop of emerald-green millet. Better than being at the beach!



Of course our cows are sentient

Heifers and Zoe reach out

“You can trust me”

Any dairy farmer who does not know her cows are capable of feeling pain and suffering, or pleasure and comfort, should be stripped of her licence.

Yet this simple concept, called sentience, has created one hell of a ruckus after the Victorian government released its Animal Welfare Action Plan this month. All sorts of farm leaders have railed against the use of the term, calling it a “slippery slope” and claiming it could actually hurt animals.

“…the introduction of sentience will cause adverse welfare outcomes for animals as production systems are thrown into chaos. It will render some farm businesses unviable, causing job losses and untold economic damage to regional communities and cripple the supply chains that rely on these businesses.” – VFF media release, January 5, 2018

As a farmer who works with cows every day, I have no idea what’s prompted this outrage but I do know it’s got nothing to do with whether cows are sentient or not. Of course they are.

Farmers are animal practivists: we balance what’s best for the welfare of our cows all the time. How long do we keep treating that downer cow or should we euthanase now? And the big one: should we rear the calves with the herd or away from their mothers?

I get the feeling that our agripoliticians are on the offensive because they’re worried what the animal activists rather than practivists out there will do with the inclusion of sentience in welfare law.

The problem is that everybody knows cows are sentient. To deny it makes farmers look either cruel or willing to say anything at all to avoid being accountable. How we achieve the best outcomes is certainly very debateable but the need to consider cow comfort is not.

The importance of cow comfort is already well accepted in dairy circles. Cows and farmers do better when animal health and wellbeing is a priority. Goodness, it’s practically a science of its own! A quick Google reveals dozens of research papers on the subject.

The minister is being very courageous. It’s about time our leaders were, too.


Free range milk in Australia


Jamie Oliver has a new cause – free range milk. Of course, his focus is on the UK but what about here?

There are housed dairy cows in Australia but I’ve never seen one because they’re very rare – so rare, I don’t even know how many hours I’d need to drive to show you one.

When we talk about the “cow shed” here, we mean the dairy. Aside from milking time, our cows spend their days out in the paddock grazing pasture and munching silage or summer crops.

Dairy cows are much more commonly housed in difficult climates. Teats exposed to snow in Europe or the USA can freeze, while cows exposed to desert heat in Saudi Arabia can die of heat exhaustion. Keeping cows indoors in those conditions not only makes sense, it’s the only humane thing to do.

There are some cases, though, where cows are kept permanently indoors, just to make the most milk possible. Advocates of housing say the cows live lives of luxury and are not forced to walk long distances and endure the discomfort of bad weather.

I’ve got some sympathy for those arguments. On the other hand, studies suggest that cows prefer access to pasture and then, there are videos like this one showing Dutch dairy cows being let outside for the first time after winter.

Really intensive farms are popping up around the globe where thousands – even tens of thousands of cows – are housed and milked up to four times per day.

I’ve never been to one of these places, so find it hard to pass judgement on them but it’s even harder to forget watching a cow leap for joy as she greets the great outdoors.

The response to animal cruelty

Following Milk Maid Marian’s recent post discussing animal cruelty at Riverside Meats, the Victorian Minister for Agriculture’s office has provided responses:

What are the laws surrounding animal cruelty and what are the penalties for abuse?
In Victoria the relevant animal welfare legislation is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (“the Act”). A copy of the Act is available on the Victorian Law Today website.
The Act sets out who can enforce the provisions within it and what powers inspectors, such as officers from the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), have to enforce the laws. In addition, the Act makes it an offence for a person to do something that is likely to result in the unreasonable pain or suffering of an animal. This enables inspectors to intervene and prevent cruelty occurring.
The penalties for an offences in the Act are considerable, with fines of up to $38,865 or jail for up to 12 months for animal cruelty, and up to $77,700 or jail for up to 2 years for an act of aggravated cruelty, which is cruelty that results in the death or serious disablement of an animal.

What can people do when they see animal cruelty?
Animal cruelty can be investigated by Inspectors authorised under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) Inspectors primarily investigate matters concerning commercial livestock. Complaints should be directed to the Animal Health Officer at a person’s local DEDJTR office. People can contact the DEDJTR customer service centre on 136 186 or email
Further information on reporting cruelty can be found on the Agriculture Victoria website.

If you are concerned a neighbour is not coping and animals are suffering but do not want to see them get in trouble, what are your options?
It is the primary responsibility of owners or persons in charge of animals to ensure that their welfare needs are met at all times. DEDJTR staff can provide a range of extension materials and advice to assist farmers in managing the health and welfare of their animals.
If a person is concerned about the welfare of neighbouring animals, they can contact their local DEDJTR office to report their concerns. Not all complaints about the welfare of animals result in prosecution, often the most appropriate response is to provide farmers with education and advice.

What is the process for dealing with animal cruelty allegations and who is involved?
DEDJTR inspectors have powers to investigate complaints about the inappropriate treatment of animals and prosecute those responsible where there is evidence of cruelty.
When a complaint is alleging animal cruelty is made an Inspector will examine the available evidence and determine whether an offence under animal welfare legislation is likely to have occurred or not.
Following a complaint an Inspector has the power to undertake any one of the following actions depending on the outcome of their investigation:
• take no further action
• provide education and advice
• issue a formal notice to comply
• seize the animals and collect evidence including requiring information from relevant persons
• begin a prosecution
During an investigation a person must comply with the requirements to give information to Inspectors as detailed in the Act. It is an offence to give false or misleading information. It is also an offence to assault, hinder or threaten an Inspector. Complainants are able to enquire as to the outcome of investigations but the investigating organisation may not be able to reveal the outcome in all cases.

How can people who trigger animal abuse investigations feel confident their call is being acted on?
Cruelty in any form is completely unacceptable, it is illegal, and is a blight on both our hard working farmers and the broader industry.
DEDJTR takes all allegations of animal cruelty seriously. All complaints that are received by DEDJTR are assessed and an appropriate response is determined based on the nature of the complaint.
Complainants are able to enquire as to the outcome of investigations but the investigating organisation may not be able to reveal the outcome in all cases.

Are people found guilty of animal abuse allowed to continue working with animals?
If a person has been found guilty by a court of an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, the court has the ability, if it thinks fit, to order that a person be disqualified from owning or being in charge of animals. This can be for a period of up to 10 years for a first offence. For a person that has previously been subject to a disqualification order, a permanent disqualification on owning or being in charge of animals can be imposed by the court.

Riverside has a history of animal abuse allegations. How can repeat offenders be stopped?
Non-compliance was previously identified at the Echuca abattoir when regulatory oversight was increased, and stayed in place until the facility could demonstrate that it complied with the Standards. The corrective actions put in place by PrimeSafe at that time have been maintained. While there is some overlap of previous and current allegations, the current substantive non-compliance is different.

Why did it take almost a month for the minister to become aware of the Riverside abuse footage? How does the Minister plan to respond?
The Minister’s Office was advised about this complaint on the day it was received by PrimeSafe. PrimeSafe is an independent statutory authority and as such it was appropriate that its investigation was carried out independently.
The initial response from PrimeSafe to the complaint occurred within 12 hours of its receipt. As PrimeSafe obtained new information it was acted on. The video evidence was investigated and actions were taken as new information and allegations were made available to PrimeSafe. For example, after the receipt of the first videos, four abattoir staff were immediately removed from their roles. Regulatory directions and sanctions are in place, with ongoing regulatory oversight to ensure animal welfare is maintained in accordance with Standards. PrimeSafe had adequate resources to manage the issues as the information became available and used the powers available to it within the Meat Industry Act 1993.
Minister Pulford has now also asked that the CVO, Dr Charles Milne, lead an additional investigation by Agriculture Victoria to identify whether any breaches of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 have occurred and if so, to determine what further action should be taken to hold those responsible to account.

Are animal abuse cases becoming more frequent?
Agencies that have responsibility for enforcing animal welfare legislation including DEDJTR and the RSPCA have seen a trend of increasing complaints about animal welfare. This does not necessarily mean that there is more frequent abuse. An increase in abuse complaints could occur for a range of reasons including, increasing community awareness of animal welfare issues and increased expectations from all members of the community, including farmers, for the humane treatment of animals.

How can farmers feel confident our animals are not suffering at abattoirs?
Abattoirs in Victoria are licensed under the Meat Industry Act 1993, which requires compliance with the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption. This requires that animals are handled and slaughtered in a humane manner.
The management of animal welfare at meat processing facilities is controlled and monitored. Incidents of cruelty or poor welfare outcomes at meat processing facilities in Victoria are initially investigated by PrimeSafe, and where those incidents are substantiated, details are passed on to the DEDJTR for further investigation under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

A big thank you to the Minister of Agriculture’s office and that of the Chief vet for responding to Milk Maid Marian’s questions.

A farmer’s trust broken at the abattoir and why it’s taken me so long to write about it.


Footage obtained by animal activists at Riverside Meats via the ABC

It left an indelible mark on me as a child watching Dad wiping away tears the afternoon his favourite cow, Queen Bessie, left the farm. She was getting old and arthritic, the last cow to reach the dairy. He couldn’t bear to see her fail or to pull the trigger himself.

And so it is for me these days. I hate watching trucks roll out the farm gate with any of our cows on board. A dairy farmer is in fact a shepherd, watching over our cows and willing each a long, healthy life in the herd.

We see off every threat imaginable, from making sure she gets enough colostrum at birth to making sure she has the right diet before and after giving birth herself.

It matters to me that cows sent to market have a gentle ride on the truck, so I choose a driver I know takes care. But once at the yards, all I have left for these cows we have raised is faith in the system. That we have done everything we can to give them a good life that ends without fear or pain.

So you can imagine how it felt to read of horrific cruelty at Echuca abattoir, Riverside Meats. Worse still, Riverside is a repeat offender. How could this happen?

I rang Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford’s office and asked if I could send in some questions. Her advisor was keen. Ten days later, my questions remain unanswered despite assurances.

In an online statement, Riverside Meats says it will “support the installation of 24-hour CCTV surveillance of its Echuca meat processing facility, with independent monitoring” and that four workers “have been moved to other roles”.

Now that Riverside has rolled over and the media has moved on, I guess there are higher priorities than answering questions about abattoirs and animal cruelty. But this farmer certainly has not forgotten and the thought of sending another cow to market leaves me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I do hope the minister’s office provides answers so I can post them for you here. In the meantime, here’s the list, which I will now also send to our local MP. Will you do the same for your cows, too?

  • What are the laws surrounding animal cruelty and what are the penalties for abuse?
  • What can people do when they see animal cruelty?
  • If you are concerned a neighbor is not coping and animals are suffering but do not want to see them get in trouble, what are your options?
  • What is the process for dealing with animal cruelty allegations and who is involved?
  • How can people who trigger animal abuse investigations feel confident their call is being acted on?
  • Are people found guilty of animal abuse allowed to continue working with animals?
  • Riverside has a history of animal abuse allegations. How can repeat offenders be stopped?
  • Why did it take almost a month for the minister to become aware of the Riverside abuse footage? How does Ms Pulford plan to respond?
  • Are animal abuse cases becoming more frequent?
  • How can farmers feel confident our animals are not suffering at abattoirs?

See the full statement at

The ethics of profiting from animal welfare

Lino Saputo (pic: ABC)

Earlier this week, dairy processing giant Saputo announced it was getting tough on animal welfare. Well, more precisely, it was getting tough on the dairy farmers supplying it milk.

Saputo toughens stance on animal welfare @ABCRural.

The announcement was greeted by farmers on Twitter, both in Saputo’s native Canada and here in Australia where it owns Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, with a degree of skepticism.

The common theme of the discussion was that farmers were already meeting the standards trumpeted by Saputo. The exercise was simply one of a processor profiteering off the backs of dairy farmers, yet again. But it’s worth remembering that Saputo’s move followed a case of a farmer doing the wrong thing as Lino Saputo told the ABC:

Mr Saputo said an incident in Canada motivated the work behind this new policy.

“One of the farms that was supplying us milk had a recorded incident of animal abuse. Here in Canada we are buying milk from the milk marketing board, and typically we don’t know where that milk is coming from,” he said.

“As it turns out, the milk from that farm that had some abuse was being delivered to our plant. “We tried to rally with the dairy industry to have some stronger practices in place, but quite frankly we found ourselves alone in this process and we felt like we needed to take a leadership role.”

Saputo is not on its own. Fonterra has quietly begun animal welfare audits on the farms of its suppliers. Perhaps coincidentally, its own customer, Nestle, threw its considerable global weight around earlier this year, demanding a set of welfare standards from suppliers that has already seen scores of Australian dairy farms whose milk eventually reaches Nestle inspected.

I’d be willing to bet the farm that Saputo, Fonterra and Nestle are the tip of the iceberg. As farmer Shelby Anderson (@cupslinga) tweeted, “it’s society, not a foreign Co” that is demanding transparency and rigour around the way we farmers care for our cows.

The RSPCA is already considering accrediting milk for animal welfare, as it does with eggs. The idea is rejected by peak dairy body, the Australian Dairy Farmers, because it fears the RSPCA marketing will imply most dairy farming is not up to scratch. It’s a fair point that leaves me feeling conflicted because, on the other hand, it’s great to put a value on good animal care (err, beyond having healthy, productive animals and being able to sleep at night).

Just as the quality of Australian milk is taken for granted by Australian shoppers, they expect the cows to be treated well. I for one am pleased that Saputo and Fonterra have been proactive to protect that reputation for kindness.

I only hope that the way we care for animals is marketed with the same sensitivity. A ghastly adversarial marketing campaign might make a quick buck but would leave everyone a loser.