Free range milk in Australia

jamieoliver

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

riversidepage
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 aw.complaint@ecodev.vic.gov.au.
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.

riverside

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?
RiversideStatement.gif

See the full statement at www.riversidemeats.com.au

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.

The hardest part of being a dairy farmer

When we saw her lying flat out from a distance, we hoped that she was just in the midst of calving. She was, too, only the calf wasn’t coming out the right way. Instead of seemingly diving out into the big world, toes first and nose second, the calf had his legs crossed underneath him. We must have missed him by moments because, although he did not stir, his tongue was still pink, wide eyes still glossy.

I called for Wayne straight away because I’m simply not strong enough to deal with something like this on my own. I decided to leave her lying down – Wayne was already on his way and I reckoned access to the big milk vein that runs under the cow might be a good idea, just in case.

While we were waiting, something very touching happened. Watch and see for yourself.

As soon as the calf was out, she sat up bright and feisty – tossing her head defiantly at Wayne as he tried to give her a friendly scratch. We chatted happily as we gave her two bags of glucose, calcium and minerals to help her recover. We’d saved her. The kids and I returned with a bucket of water in a rubber tyre and feed, which she gobbled up greedily.

Moments after her labour

Moments after her labour

But that night, she still wasn’t up and wouldn’t get up despite our urgings. We brought the tractor and lifted her to her feet to maximise her circulation and encourage her to take a few steps. She wouldn’t.

Next morning, her ears drooped a little and she seemed to enjoy a scratch. She was eating but refused to drink the water the kids and I had carted from the paddock trough. Now we knew she was in trouble. So-called “downer cows” that go downhill and aren’t up in 48 hours rarely recover. Still, we gave her some more medicine and lifted her again with the tractor but she simply seemed to hang limply from the hip clamp and chest strap.

During the next few visits that day, we could see she had lost the will to live. There was no fight left and even little Alex could see she wasn’t going to make it. We shifted the other cows from the paddock and, while the kids and I rounded up the milkers for the evening milking, Wayne ended her suffering.

This is the ugly side of dairy farming that you don’t see in the ads. It’s the part that farmers hate, too.

Mastitis, antibiotics and milk

Why do we use antibiotics on our farm? Very simply, because despite everything we do to look after their well being, cows, just like people, sometimes fall ill and need antibiotics to get better.

It’s very rare that any of our 260 milking cows become lame with an infection while digestive problems are almost unheard of here and, in any case, do not require antibiotics.

The number one illness we treat on our farm is mastitis. If you’ve breastfed a baby yourself, there’s a fair chance you’ve experienced mastitis. In both cows and women, the symptoms include swelling, warmth and redness for light cases. Nasty cases bring flu-like symptoms that, in cows, can progress to become extremely serious.

How we prevent mastitis
So, how do we reduce the incidence of mastitis on the farm? We begin even before the calf is conceived by selecting sires whose daughters show a naturally lower susceptibility to mastitis.

At the same time, we minimise the risk of infection by keeping the cows and their environment as clean as possible. Tracks are maintained so there’s less mud around to flick onto teats and cows are happy to walk straight to their grassy paddocks rather than spending their rest times on mucky surfaces.

Cows resting in the paddock

Cows resting in the paddock after milking

The cows are well fed with a carefully balanced diet that is mostly grass and we treat the cows with care to minimise stress. It’s a slow, gentle walk to the milking shed, there’s no shouting and if I see one of our cows run, there’d better be a good explanation!

The hygiene of the dairy is important, too. We clean any dirty teats before the milking machine cups go on and spray them afterwards with a mix of iodine and glycerine to disinfect and protect them. We also routinely test the milking machines to make sure they are gentle and effective.

And we’re vigilant. Not surprisingly, when you spend hours every day with the cows’ udders at face level, you notice a sore cow quite quickly. A sore cow is an unhappy cow and an unhappy cow is an unhappy milker, too. Everyone who milks in the dairy has been specially trained at a “Cups On, Cups Off” course to look for mastitis and put top priority on the comfort of our cows.

Sometimes, cows have sub-clinical infections that don’t show any symptoms, so every few weeks, we collect samples of milk from every cow and have them analysed at the local herd test centre lab.

It’s a lot of work but it’s important work. The comfort of the cows is our number one priority and there are implications for the quality of the milk, too. If there is too much mastitis in the herd, our milk has a shorter shelf life.

One thing we don’t do, however, is include antibiotics in the cows’ feed. Routine antibiotic use is not legal and would mean that none of our milk would be useable.

Treating mastitis
When we find a cow with mastitis, we don’t wait to see whether she goes downhill, we treat her immediately with the medicine prescribed by (and only available from) our vets to help her recover fast. Antibiotics help the cow feel better in a day and we keep on milking her so that her udder is well drained and kept as soft as possible.

Making sure milk is free from antibiotic residues
The milk we collect from a treated cow is tipped out until there is no risk of antibiotic residues in the milk. The antibiotics come with quite precise details of how long they remain in meat and milk. It’s critical information because nobody wants food laced with antibiotics, especially those with life-threatening allergies.

As precautionary measures, we:

  • paint the cow’s udder red as a warning to everyone in the dairy that she either needs more treatment or to have her milk disposed of,
  • write her treatment needs and the time her milk needs to be withheld from the vat on a whiteboard in the dairy for all to see, and
  • record all her treatment details in a quality and treatment register.

After she has finished a course of treatment, we check the cow again to be sure the infection has cleared up.

Testing for antibiotic residues
Even with all these protocols, it’s good to know that if milk contaminated with antibiotics somehow got into the vat, there are more safeguards in place. In the next post, a guest from milk processor, Fonterra, will explain how they test our milk for antibiotics.

The bottom line
Our cows live good, healthy lives and rarely fall ill but when they do get sick, we give them the best treatment available straight away. For people and animals alike, antibiotics are our last line of defence against misery and death, so we use them only when really needed and then with great care. And I don’t want to go back to a world without them.