Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.
Animal Abuse on Your Dairy
Jun 03, 2010
By Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today editor
The horrific video coming out of Ohio two weeks ago was extremely difficult to watch through to the end. The video has equally enraged dairy farmers and consumers, and has given animal rights and anti-animal groups a huge propaganda coup.
I’m not naïve to think that abuse on dairy farms never happens. Anyone of us who has been hit in the face by a urine-soaked tail or kicked by a heifer being milked for the first time knows the natural, human instinct is to strike back. Yet even this shouldn’t happen; after all, humans are the adults in the room and need to rise above their instinctual response.
The abuse exhibited on the Ohio video, however, goes far beyond a tit-for-tat response. It is blatant and cruel, and should never happen. It is right that law enforcement has been called; those involved must be held accountable.
At the same time, every dairy farm with employees needs to take what happened in Ohio as a stern, chilling warning that something like this could happen on your farm. To prevent it, Hinda Mitchell, who heads up the Ohio office of CMA Consulting, offers these tips:
• Above all else--do the right thing. Make sure your farm is exceeding all expectations for animal care, cleanliness and environmental responsibility. Farmers have a moral and ethical obligation to be responsible caretakers. “Consumers expect us to exceed their expectations in order to maintain their trust,” she says.
• Set codes of conduct for animal care, and then train and re-train employees to those standards. Require any farm worker, whether they are an employee or family member, to sign a written Code of Conduct. Violations of that Code should be cause for immediate dismissal.
• Hire the right people. Do thorough background and reference checks. “We already know Mercy for Animals investigators have attempted to work undercover at many farms before they get hired at one—and that as soon as they’re done at one farm, they will move on to the next one,” says Mitchell. If a potential hire is suspicious, let neighbors know.
• Empower employees. Ask your employees how new hires perform when you are not present. And tell employees you expect them to report any abuse, strange behavior or undercover activity to you immediately.
• Maintain strict security on your farm. Pay attention to strange vehicles, and get the license numbers of any suspicious vehicles. Alert local law enforcement if needed.
• Stay active with industry leadership. Likewise, share information you gather in your local community about any of these activities.
Finally, resist the natural tendency to blame the messenger in these situations, says Mitchell. “‘They staged it.’ ‘Why did they wait so long to release it?’ ‘They’re just trying to make people vegans.’” These rationalizations miss the point.
“What matters is the visual image our consumers are left with at the end of three minutes of video tape,” she says.
That’s what is so infuriating to every dairy producer and everyone involved in the industry. One ugly, three-minute video can undo all the exceptional work you do every hour of every day providing for the well-being of your herd.
What it comes down to is that you, and every one of your employees, must take personal responsibility to ensure these acts do not happen. “Nothing is more important than doing the right thing,” Mitchell says.