I grew up in suburban New York but always dreamed of being a farmer. I followed this passion to Colorado State University where I studied animal science and for the past 36 years have lived and farmed in Wisconsin.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see that aside from learning how to feed, tend and market animals – specialized animal care practices were not a part of our course work. I distinctly remember my animal science textbook being titled “The Science of Animals that Serve Mankind.” Today, at higher learning institutions across the U.S., entire disciplines are devoted to specialized animal care practices focusing on animal comfort; from bedding, breeding and health protocols to proper loading, handling and even optimal housing design and structure.
These focused teachings are beyond value – both to students and the animals for which they will ultimately care. Despite its absence from any formal learning docket decades ago, animal care has always maintained its position as priority #1 of farmers and ranchers who raise animals. What excites me most is that animal care practices are continually improving, stretching far beyond simply monitoring for illness.
At dairy farms across my home state of Wisconsin, cows are monitored closely by nutritionists. Some cows even have their own trackers, similar to a “Fit-bit”, that monitor their eating habits. I personally believe that most dairy cows eat better than humans because their diets are frequently evaluated and adjusted by certified nutritionists to ensure the right balance of fiber, protein and vitamins. With every new bag of feed opened, their meal’s nutrients are carefully measured, noted and rebalanced. Plus, innovations in research and design are allowing farmers to build or renovate barns to properly size and position sleeping, walking and lounging facilities based on how cows lay, ruminate, stand and move.
Farmers increasingly implement new and improved hoof health programs with routine preventative care from skilled hoof trimmers. Heat abatement and ventilation in barns today are also top priorities, using improved methods in temperature control, air movement and evaporative cooling. Specialized professionals also analyze cows and match them with the best possible bulls, taking into consideration everything from feet, leg size, stature, strength, body capacity, and many other characteristics in addition to milk production.
It’s important to note that the animal technologies used in the U.S., focused on improving animal welfare practices, are being used in animal facilities across the globe. During my extensive travels as a volunteer in agriculture, I’ve had the opportunity to see and compare some of the most innovative farms and ranches around the world, including dairy farms in Japan and hog farms in China and Vietnam. And it’s remarkable how much they replicate our facilities and technologies. In fact, in several cases the global farmers I’ve met, both here and abroad, knew of Wisconsin and had visited farms here in order to learn and adopt the latest animal care technologies.
It makes me proud to know that, living in America’s Dairyland and serving as Chairwoman of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, our animal welfare practices are a model for the global agricultural community. Additionally, one thing always remains constant: The moral responsibility we as farmers and ranchers live by ensuring the latest science-based standards are used to raise our animals.
*This article originally appeared in the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen on April 15, 2016.