During Food Dialogues: Dairy Forum, panelist Jim Mulhern (president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation) talked about a program that ensures dairy farms are meeting animal care needs.

The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program™, establishes an “on-farm animal well-being program and third-party verification system that demonstrates that commitment.”

Most farms are doing everything right and are eager to prove how well they’re taking care of their animals. On dairy farms, cow comfort takes great importance – in part because the healthier, more rested, and relaxed a cow is, the more milk she gives.

As a result, farmers keep trying new methods and materials in order to make them the most comfortable farm animals around. Those include:
 
  1. Housing – Cows ideally like it to be 50 degrees. Modern barns have curtains on them that open and close, allowing farmers to regulate the temperature inside.  When it’s hot, they turn on misters.  There are also fans to increase ventilation in the wide-open barns.  On our farm we also have them out on pasture. I love walking past the pasture at night. It’s so quiet you can hear the cows chewing.
     
  2. Bedding – Farmers have a variety of options for cow bedding. The panel talked about waterbeds.  Yes – some farms use waterbeds!  Other farmers use sand bedding, which gives cows good footing and a soft space…like the beach. Sawdust and compost are also popular options, and those materials go on top of thick mattresses.  All the options have their pros and cons, but the farmers all have the same goal in mind – comfort.
     
    When our cows are inside the barn, we use mattresses. First, there’s the mattress, which is crushed up rubber – it looks like an air mattress, but is very dense. The next layer consists of a another foam piece that resembles carpet padding. Then there’s a top cover that goes over that to keep it all dry. On top of that, we bed them down with sawdust.
     
  3. Rest & Relaxation – Cows don’t all have the same personalities, but they all have one thing in common – the calmer they are, the better their milk lets down.
     
    Milking parlors (specialized areas on the dairy farm where milking is performed) are designed to be inviting and efficient, so that the cows can be milked quickly and return to the barn or pasture - back to eating, lying down, and hanging out with their favorite cow friends.  They really do have favorites. The same groups of cows always hang out together, even in the same spots. Cows are creatures of habit and they have a social order. They even choose the same free stalls to lie in – even though they’re all the same.  Sort of like how we all sit in the same church pew or seat in class!
     
    Making their milking experience –and their barn experience – calm benefits everyone.   

As the panelists discussed, it’s a winning situation. Healthy cows give milk, and farmers want the healthiest, most comfortable cows around. The FARM program already evaluates 80% of the milk supply in the US, and by 2017 it will be 100%. And who knows what innovation will come next? Waterbeds are so last decade.  Let’s see when they start making remote operated adjustable cow beds.

Carla Wardin, a member of the second class of Faces of Farming & Ranching, is a dairy farmer from Michigan.

Carla and her husband, Kris, are the sole owners of Evergreen Dairy in St. Johns, Michigan.  She is the sixth generation to be farming on her family's farm where they milk 400 cows, and grow crops to feed their cattle on 850 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture.

To learn more about Carla's farm, you can go to:

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