Do you have the stomach to adopt a heifer?

I was amazed by Mike’s comment suggesting an “adopt a heifer” program following my last post about the impact of falling milk prices on my dairy cows and even more amazed by the responses it generated.

One of my fellow dairy farmers, Jessa, has had the same thought but a few reservations have held her back. The biggie is: “What if the heifer dies?”.

To that, I’d add: “What if the heifer turns out to be infertile, bad feet that send her lame often or gets intractable mastitis?”. The reality is that, ordinarily, she’d be sent to market. There is no ‘fat’ in the price farmers are paid for their milk and, consequently, no room for infirm passengers on farm. How would you feel if your adopted heifer had to go? Especially if I posted a picture of her big brown eyes.

The scenario gets at the heart of what it is to be a farmer. We love animals. But we can only look after them properly if we are profitable farmers and that means some animals are created more equal than others (with apologies to Mr Orwell).

Farm animals are cherished but not in the same way as pets – mostly. I still remember the day 30 years ago when my father sent Queen Bessie to market. For a decade or more, Queen Bessie stood regally at the head of the dairy entrance demanding scratches until she simply became too old to thrive. Dad was shattered for weeks but, nevertheless, she was sold.

It’s only with a philosopher’s eye for the big picture that farmers manage the balancing act of love, business and the welfare of the herd. Could you stomach it or is that where the “adopt a heifer” experiment would come unstuck?