Country Calendar – Facebook comments

I wanted to make comment on the response to the Country Calendar program that recently featured our farmer Chris Falconer.

As always happens, whenever the topic of leaving calves with their mothers comes up. We receive a lot of negative feedback from farmers. The most recent example was the Country Calendar Facebook page.

Do Most Farmers Disagree With Cow & Calf?

It’s fair to say, most dairy farmers disagree with the practice of keeping calves with their mothers.

That does not mean they are bad people, they genuinely want the best for their calves.

They just think the negatives of leaving calves with their mothers out way the positives.

These farmers tend to think people who want to leave calves with their mothers just don’t understand the realities of farming.

They think people like me and my company Happy Cow Milk Co are pandering to an uneducated public.

On the other hand, many members of the public think it is natural that a baby stays with its mother.
They think farmers who separate calves and cows at birth must have no heart or are simply driven by money.

We all look at the world from our perspective.

Our thinking is limited to what we know and what we have experienced.

We can’t consider something that we don’t know about.

Except, we do exactly that. 

It’s human nature for us to make judgements whether we have all the facts or not.

When farmers debate with me about the practicalities of cow and calf. The real issue is not that it can’t be done. 

It’s that the farmer feels it can’t be done in their current system and they don’t feel the need to change their system.

So, let’s look at cow and calf separation from a farmer’s perspective.

Cow & Calf – A Farmer’s Perspective

New Zealand dairy farmers, farm in the context of a seasonal supply model that supplies a cooperative which then supplies the commodity markets.

That means farmers supply milk in line with the seasons. They want all the cows to calve as quickly as possible at the end of winter.

This way all their cows are milking and ready to achieve peak production in the spring which is the best grass-growing period of the year.

The winter period is when grass doesn’t grow at all, so most farmers don’t produce any milk in the winter.
A tanker comes and picks up their milk. It’s then processed mainly into milk powder and sold as an ingredient to major food companies.

When farmers think of leaving calves with their mothers they think of it operating in this farming model.

To be honest, they have some good reasons why leaving calves with their mothers in this farming system is bad for the calves. 

Below are a few farmer objections.

The calves can suffer in the cold winter

There will be hundreds of calves running around the farm causing chaos

Some cows are terrible mothers and will abandon their calf

Calves grow up to have a wild temperament as they have no human contact

It’s better to separate calves at day one because if you do it at 10 weeks of age, the bond between mother and baby is stronger

These are all valid points. Remember, these farmers have formed these views through their experience. 
Their attitudes and farming system make perfect sense when someone else is selling their milk for them.

But their experience is not perfect. It’s limited to just the production side of the milk business. 

Their perspective and attitudes have been formed without talking to customers or having to compete for sales with competitors.

They only see half the picture.

What Does The Public Say?

Now let’s look at what the public experience is around cow and calf separation.

Many, see the dairy industry as a huge business that prints money.

They’ve experienced decades of farming leaders making bland open-ended statements about changing and nothing really changes.

To their mind, leaving a calf with its mother is just a small change, how hard can it be?

Many think we are all trying to do our best to make the world better. Why can’t the farmers just do their part too?

For some non-farmers, their main information about dairy farming is from documentaries which want to make dairy look as bad as possible.

Of course, these are all valid viewpoints.

But they too are only seeing half the picture.

The result is the Country Calendar comments section.

Everyone trying to defend their point of view but ultimately no one expanding their experience or getting anywhere new.

What Do We Want to Create at Happy Cow?

I’m using Happy Cow Milk, to reach my goal of creating a more caring, kinder and greener dairy.
I really want to create milk everyone can love.

I don’t get involved in specific debates anymore, because they don’t change anyone’s mind.

I’m convinced that putting farmers and customers together is the best way to achieve change.
Because its relationships that enable proper communication.

When a farmer starts selling milk to customers, their experience changes. They now get a genuine insight into what the public thinks.

Farmers begin to receive customer feedback with a positive frame of mind. 

A mindset of, how can we accommodate each other. As opposed to a defensive frame of mind.

For the public, they have access to farmers who are real and tangible. 

Someone to who they can ask the hard questions. Someone who is available and authentic.

A farmer who can give them confidence that they are producing milk they really can love.

The world is a better place if we are all able to expand our experience a little.

Lastly, it’s important to note that change comes after the relationships are formed, not before.

One Last Thing

By the way, If you’re interested. I’ve included my responses to farmers’ objections about leaving calves with their mothers.

The calves can suffer in the cold winter
There are 12 months in the year, don’t calve in the two coldest wettest months of the year.

There will be hundreds of calves running around the farm causing chaos
You don’t have to calve 100% of the herd in a 6-week period. People want milk 365 days a year. Spread calving over the same period.

Some cows are terrible mothers and will abandon their calf
Most cows are great mothers. But you might end up feeding a few every year. Also, another cow will often mother a calf that is not theirs.

Calves grow up to have a wild temperament as they have no human contact
Cows and calves come to the cowshed every day. Give the calves a treat to encourage them to come into a pen and handle them. Do this every day. 

It’s better to separate calves at day one because if you do it at 10 weeks of age, the bond between mother and baby is stronger
Separation should be gradual and on the cow and calf’s terms. The fence line system is a great method. Cow and calf are separated by a fence. They can see and touch each other when they want. Gradually they see each other less and less. Eventually, they go their separate ways. No stress

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