By Susan Harlow
The Northeast Dairy Producers (NEDPA) Conference, held March 3-4, in Liverpool, N.Y., focused on the issues of sustainability and animal welfare. The bi-annual meeting drew 550 participants from the Northeast.
NEDPA’s board of directors presented a set of guidelines for members and other dairy organizations to consider. The standards, developed by NEDPA and Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY, were instigated by n animal-rights group’s undercover video at New York’s Willet Dairy. They cover methods for dehorning, tail docking and handling downed animals.
Decisions about whether to dehorn and/or dock tails should be left up to individual producers, NEDPA said in its guidelines.
NEDPA member Dale Mattoon said NEDPA will be putting even more effort into the animal welfare debate. “It’s not that hard a fight to win, because it’s a believable story and we’re believable people,” he said. “The problem is getting it out to the masses, and you’ll see that happens.”
Candace Croney, associate professor in animal behavior and bioethics at Ohio State University, outlined society’s changing attitude and ethics towards animals. “The public assumes you’re meeting minimal care standards already,” Croney said. “Instead, people want to know if you care about your animals’ quality of life. So what is ‘quality of life’ for a dairy cow? You need to be able to answer that.”
Animal welfare standards must be based on science, she said. But the dairy industry must also take into account public values, since science isn’t necessarily driving current efforts to regulate animal care. Laws mandating space for laying hens, for instance, vary from state to state.
Croney said dairy must use education and communication to face the issue, and the industry must be honest and transparent about how it cares for animals.
Dehorning, tail docking, cow longevity, separating cows and calves and access to pasture are some of the current and future animal welfare issues dairy faces, said Marina von Keyserlingk, associate professor and research chair in animal welfare at the University of British Columbia. She urged dairy to pick its battles – scientific studies don’t support the need to dock tails, but they do justify practices such as dehorning and cow/calf separation, for health and safety reasons, she said.
Housing is a large part of animal welfare. “To improve dairy cow housing, we must accommodate feeding and resting behavior,” said Nigel Cook of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That includes:
• Stall surfaces that allow cows to rest comfortably, and rise and lie down easily. His studies showed that sand reduced lameness by 42% over mattresses.
• Stalls of sufficient size, especially for transition and older, larger cows.
• Minimizing time in stall lock-ups.
EPA, market updates
Curt Gooch, senior Extension associate with Cornell’s PRO-DARY, filled NEDPA in on the progress of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Air Emissions Study. Monitoring of dairy sites in five states has concluded and the final report is due to EPA on May 1. Then EPA has 18 months to develop emissions-estimating methodology and, by 2012, come up with a tool that producers can use to estimate and report any emissions.
Large CAFOs that signed a consent agreement with EPA, which protects them from enforcement of Clean Air Act violations while the study is underway, should be aware of the dates when their agreements end next year, Gooch said.
Ken Bailey, former dairy economist at Penn State and now a risk management consultant with INTL/FC Stone in Chicago, said he is optimistic about milk prices this year. “There are a lot fewer cows than a year ago,” he said. “Meanwhile, Asia is growing rapidly. By the time summer hits, you’re going to see this market turn around quickly.” Producers should lock in prices when they start to see an upturn, Bailey said.
Sexed semen has had little effect on milk prices thus far, but may have more impact in the future, said Albert de Vries of the University of Florida’s Department of Animal Sciences. The technology has put 156,00 extra heifers onto farms this year; that will rise to an extra 237,000 in 2012, he said. A total of 722,000 added heifers are projected to calve between 2008 and 2012, he said.
Conneman, Jensen honored
The Richard Popp Memorial Leadership Award was presented to Dr. George Conneman, a faculty member in Cornell’s Department of Applied Economics and Management from 1956 to 2001. He taught graduate and undergraduate courses in farm business management and real estate appraisal. Conneman was associate dean for 13 of those years. He was faculty director of the NY FarmNet program and helped initiate the program that would become FarmLink.
In 2003, Conneman and his wife, Diane Knack, former director of LEAD, New York (Empire State Food and Agriculture Leadership Institute), received the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Citation of the New York State Agriculture Society.
The Richard Popp Undergraduate Scholarship Award was presented to Don Jensen III.