Misleading Information for the Dairy Aisle, Once Again

I’m on maternity leave. I’m a new mom and have been busy getting the hang of being a new mom and taking care of my baby. I’m also a dairy farmer, together with my husband. I know a thing or two about taking care of cows and the milk business.

I was getting into a routine that included catching the Today Show while nursing my baby. I found most of the stuff on there interesting, helpful and would sometimes share with my husband the info I gleaned from the show.

One morning I shared with him some info that was just plain wrong, and quite frankly insulting to me, to us and our farm.

They were doing a segment on what it was okay to splurge on in the grocery store, particularly during these tough economic times. The first item mentioned? Organic milk. Oh boy, here we go I thought. Each and every point the so-called expert made was exagerrated and/or misleading.

To correct her mistakes:
1. All milk on the shelf in the supermarket is free of antibiotics.
2. All milk on the shelf in the supermarket is free of pesticides.
3. Hormones occur in all living things. Any food you eat was grown because of hormones.

I feel like she may have been nervous, but regardless, the misinformation continues. And in these economic times, it was very irresponsible of the Today Show to make these statements.

As a non-organic dairy farmer, I was insulted. As an informed consumer, I was disappointed.

I’ve stopped watching the Today Show. I’ve got the Early Show on now. I just hope its not just a matter of time before they proliferate non-facts.

And So It Goes

A shot of our girls in the pasture from last summer.

Just caught wind of another video released by the Mercy for Animals group. This time they only let the abuse go on for two weeks. I’m being facetious. The abuse should have been reported immediately.

I’m not sure I can watch it, to be honest. I’ve heard enough about it, I get the picture. Besides, I’m carrying a little one myself and don’t think my hormones can handle it right now.

My story with cows, the short version: I fell in love with them as a kid in 4-H and the rest is, as they say, history. My history.

I have to fall back on the intelligence of the general population. I have to know that most are not as easily led as it appears some are. I have to believe that they know that one bruised apple does not ruin the bushel. Yet, it would not be fair to sit back and let the majority only hear one side.

I’m proud of the dairy farmers who step up and share their stories. I’m proud that they have come forward to take a stand against not only those who would seek to bruise our industry, but those who are the real bad apples. There is no room for their misguidance here.

Interested in more? Check out the Ray-Lin Dairy blog. Ray has collected a list of sites by dairy producers.

http://raylindairy.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/farmers-who-care-about-animals/

Phew, it has been too long!

I can’t believe it has been nearly three months since my last post. I wondered if that might happen. Let’s see, since that time, I got married, moved to Vermont, had some family illnesses to work through and transition my job from 100% in office to two days from home (in Vermont) and three days in the office (in Connecticut).

All in all, its been a favorable transition. I am convinced that the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is truly a magical place. I just need to convince more utility providers of that as it seems they work at their own pace up there. Need a little competition to fire them up!

I’ll get back to more interesting blog posts soon. There is a lot happening in the world. It is an exciting time.

Do You Know About AFACT?

AFACT stands for American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology. Their mission is to “educate, equip and empower all participants in the food chain to understand the benefits of technology and encourage consumers to demand access to high-quality, affordable food with a minimal impact on the environment.” Well, thank goodness!

This week, news broke from Ohio indicating that part of the milk labeling law, that was cast by many as a win for accurate labeling and fair marketing practices with both consumers and producers in mind, had been overturned. Essentially, as I understand it, milk can be labeled as “rBGH-free”, “rBST-free” and “free of artificial hormones.” While other important parts of the law held up, the idea that any of it was overturned is worrysome.

In reading one article about the issue, it reported that more importantly is the court’s acting on information that claimed there were compositional differences in the milk produced by cows treated with rBST vs. those not treated. Didn’t we just see a report about a scientific study that concluded that milk is milk is milk whether its from cows treated with rBST, organically-raised cows, or otherwise?

So I found a handy link to the decision. And I saw that the court accepted information from the The Center for Food Safety regarding the composition issue. Hmmm. Sounds legit enough, no? So I went to try to find the science behind the Center’s information that they provided the court. First, I did not find any science on the Center’s website. Second, the Center for Food Safety is an advocacy group, not a scientific resource. So, holy cow, (no pun intended), are we making laws based on something other than fact-based scientific research?

So, off to itisafact.org I went so I could make sure that I had things straight, sent them my question and voila, I have been enlightened. I then returned to the blog and added my comments, with more confidence.  And another thing – I noticed after my post, a few more dairy farmers stepped up to the plate to add their two cents after being far out-numbered by the ill-informed.

Needless to say I feel satisfied with the whole situation, and am ready for the next.

You Can’t Please Everyone

Recently as I’ve gone about judging dairy cattle throughout New England, I was reminded of the well-know tenet, “You can’t please everyone.”

Judging mostly youth shows that includes both fitting & showmanship and type classes, I’ll admit I’ve gotten used to getting positive feedback. Taking a step back, I can’t think of much someone would complain about when I judge besides just disagreeing with my opinion. I go by the official PDCA scorecards – both Fitting & Showmanship and the  Dairy Cow Unified Scorecard and I know what I’m doing. This is my eighth year judging at shows and I also teach and coach a 4-H team.

I like helping the kids and talk with each one before I give my official reasons on the mic, trying to help them understand my reasoning for placing them as I did. I know I always appreciated that and I think most of the kids now do too.

I will admit, I was surprised when word got back to me that someone was not happy with something about my judging one particular day. Yet, no one had asked me why I had made a particular decision or other. Further, my class placings had been consistent with other judges. So I chalk it up to a difference of opinion – one that could be a rather biased opinion if it is a parent. Having spent several years refereeing girls’ high school basketball, I am no stranger to biased parents either.

So, does it really matter that someone did not think I did a good job? Probably not but it was a good reminder of that tenet because it can be applied elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong – that doesn’t mean we can slack off. Even though not everyone is always happy with decisions that are made, we still need to proceed with the best intentions to please as many as we can.

This past weekend I had a great time judging two more fairs. Some good questions came up about a decision or two that sparked good discussion. Cattle judges don’t claim to know everything or at least this judge does not. But I do know what I know and make my decisions accordingly. As in basketball officiating, you can argue a rule but you can’t argue a judgement call.

The Future of Dairy Farming in the Northeast

Starting my own personal blog has been in the back of my mind for quite some time now. I found lots of ways to let the time pass and not get started. Strange as it may sound, I was nervous, too; mainly that my opinions would be applied to different organizations with which I am associated. So, before I begin, let me make clear that the opinions presented herein are my own and in no way represent my employer or any of the volunteer organizations that I participate in. Phew! Now that I have that out of the way, let me begin. Came across a fitting first-time blog entry the other day…

Recently a friend and colleague asked me (during a youth dairy contest at a local fair, mind you), “So, what’s the future of dairy in the Northeast?” Well, if that’s not the million dollar question for those of us involved in the dairy industry, I don’t know what is! And here I was thinking I would just have to judge a few heifers and kids that day. After a brief hesitation, my friend quickly changed his question to “Is there a future for dairy here?” My quick reply: Yes.

Now, I have been accused in the past of being too “Pollyanna” but I think I have evolved to be what I consider realistically optimistic. Certainly, the dairy landscape has changed and is changing – aesthetically, production-wise and in the way we do business. This is not new. The way things are and the way they used to be is and has always been different. One thing that stays the same though is that in this country we have the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness and in my experience, albeit relatively short, I have seen that where there is a will, there is a way.

That’s not to say that things don’t get out of control or beyond our reach. Unfortunately the stark reality is that we all have bills that need to be paid and for the most part, we rely on an income stream that is dependent upon factors beyond our control. Yet even then, there are folks who are figuring out how to get more control over the price they receive or are supplementing by diversifying their income stream. They are utilizing minimum milk price contracts. They are selling product directly to their neighbors and beyond. They are investing in more efficient operations. They are starting side ventures like agri-tainment. The list goes on.

There’s something about someone telling you “no, you can’t” that makes you want to push harder to make it work, no?

So I think that’s why my reply was so quick in coming to the second question. I have no doubt that there is a future here in the Northeast for dairy. What that future looks like – whether it is a brand new highly efficient free-stall herd or a low-investment pasture-grazed tie-stall herd or both or something else or everything in between, remains to be seen. Maybe it won’t look too different from today. I happen to believe that there is room for all types of dairy farms.

I relate back to my 4-H dairy experience. When my family first started in 4-H 28 years ago there were lots of kids involved but very few, if any, showing dairy calves that did not come from a farm. We were one of the very few. As the years went on, it seemed the number of participants dwindled. I know now that we were going through the Dairy Herd Termination Buyout and that real estate prices soared in Massachusetts, making it tough for dairy farms to compete with houses, among other things. Today, believe it or not, the Massachusetts 4-H Dairy Program is growing again. I won’t say we’ve come full circle, but maybe something like it. Most kids lease or purchase animals, and do not come from a farm or at least one that provides the sole financial support of the family.

Twenty-eight years ago when non-farm kids were a rarity in the 4-H show ring and through a time where dairy farms were being replaced by houses faster than residential construction could keep up, who would have thunk it?

Clearly, the future of dairy here and everywhere is ours for the making.