2017-05-03 / Opinion

In My Opinion

Debunking myths about dairy farming
BY MARIANNE BUZA,
DAIRY EXTENSION EDUCATOR
Sanilac County

In today’s world there are many misconceptions about agriculture. So I would like to clarify a few common ones that impact the dairy industry by debunking myths about dairy farming.

MYTH: There is pus in my milk.

TRUTH: This rumor was started because cows can have an infection in their udder called mastitis. This not only impacts cows, but all mammals, including humans who are breastfeeding. Mastitis is inflammation of breast or udder tissue usually due to infection. Mastitis occurs when white blood cells are released into the mammary gland often of bacteria of the teat canal. Mastitis can be identified by abnormalities in the udder such as redness, hardness, swelling, heat or pain. It can also cause abnormalities in milk like a watery appearance, flakes or clots.

Knowing this information, it is easy to understand why people would be confused about pus being in the milk. The truth is, cows do get mastitis, and it can be painful or even life threating. Dairy farmers look for signs of the disease. They have tests they can do cow side to see if she has mastitis. Once a cow with mastitis is identified, her milk is taken out of the milk supply. She will be treated and occasionally given antibiotics to help her fight the bacterial infection in her udder. Only once she is healthy again and the antibiotics are free of her system will her milk enter the milk supply again. This means that infected milk never reaches the store or the milk that you and your family drink. Farms actively fight to prevent mastitis in their cows. They do so with dry clean bedding, clean barns, cleaning the udder, maintaining clean milking equipment, and applying an antibacterial teat dip to help stop bacterial entry.

MYTH: There are antibiotics in my milk.

TRUTH: All milk (organic and conventional) is tested for antibiotics. If antibiotics are found, the milk is not allowed to enter the milk supply. Samples of milk are taken from each farm before it is loaded onto a tanker truck to be taken to the processing plant. Each tanker truck is checked for antibiotics before it is unloaded. Occasionally a milk processing plant does find antibiotics in the milk. If antibiotics are found, the milk does not enter the milk supply and is discarded. The farm that is responsible for the antibiotics in the tanker truck must pay for the cost of the entire milk load. This creates a large incentive for dairy farmers to stop antibiotics from entering the milk supply.

When a cow gets sick with mastitis or another bacterial infection, she can be given antibiotics. This cow is still milked, but her milk is not put with the other healthy cow’s milk. Her milk will be separated until the antibiotics are out of her system. Milk is tested for antibiotics because occasionally mistakes are made and sometimes a cow who received antibiotics is accidentally mixed with the healthy cow’s milk. When this happens, all of the milk is then discarded.

MYTH: It is cruel to take the calf away from its mother.

TRUTH: Dairy farmers regularly take away the calf from its mother within hours of birth. As people our instincts tell us this is wrong but the truth is, it is beneficial to the cow and calf to separate them.

The dairy calf is born with no immune system. The calf receives all of its immunity for the first few weeks of life through the first milk called colostrum. The calf only has a short window of time where it is able to absorb the immunity passed along in the antibodies in colostrum. The current industry recommendation is one gallon of colostrum within the first six hours of birth. If a calf is left to drink from the cow on its own, it will likely not get the recommended amount. Also the colostrum must be clean. Often right after birth, a cow’s udder is not very clean. Scientific research has shown that the calf consuming bacteria reduces antibody absorption, decreasing the immunity benefits in the colostrum. Cleaning the cow’s udder and milking the colostrum into a clean storage container allows for better quality of colostrum for the calf. Removing the calf from where it was born also removes it from an area with bacteria and other pathogens. We can then take the calf to a clean area where it can receive individual attention, very similarly to babies being kept in the NICU or neonatal intensive care unit in a hospital.

MYTH: Cows have uncomfortable housing and bedding.

TRUTH: Dairy farmers go out of their way to make sure the cows on their farm are comfortable. Facilities have carefully designed ventilation for optimal air quality. They also have well thought out bed designs. Farms provide their cows with multiple types of bedding. A few examples include rubber water beds, mattresses, or deep bedded sand. Comfortable cows produce more milk. This fact creates an additional incentive for farmers to go out of their way to make them comfortable. In a research study it was discovered that for every hour over seven hours of rest a cow will produce an additional 3.7 pounds of milk. Dairy producers strive to provide their cows with the opportunity to rest for 12-14 hours a day.

Cows also have freedom in many of today’s facility designs. They are able to walk around and socialize whenever they like. They can also rest or eat whenever they want to. The only thing a cow is asked to do each day is to be milked, the rest of the day belongs to her. Cow enjoy being milked. It provides relief in the udder just like a woman feels relief after pumping breastmilk. Cows are still able to exhibit all the normal social behavior that they would if they were on pasture inside of a free stall barn.

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