Yet again, the Dairy industry has been ripped into, but this time round they've pretty much got it so jolly well wrong. It's pretty disgusting; what they've filmed, how they've gone about it and who they're blaming.
Firstly - they set up hidden cameras in a private place. On private property. That's illegal, everyone knows that. Yet, somehow these happy little whistle blowers have still managed to very quickly and easily, score themselves a prime position on TV - Sunday.
They've filmed a heap of clips, illegally - claimed animal cruelty and pointed their grimy fingers at dairy farmers because, quite simply, somebody needs to be blamed. Thus trying to make the country, and then the world go into a Strike, refusing point blank to buy any of our dairy products and, quite honestly, destroying our country.
Well, that's the idea they marvel in their minds, but honestly people will get all excited about it tonight and then tomorrow they'll go to work, buy their coffee to go with an extra shot of milk and forget about the whole thing. Fancy that.
So, where to start on this? Yes, OK, I saw the footage, I am disgusted. As a young dairy farming girl brought up around cows and knowing how to care for them properly, I have a lot to say about what was filmed, what was taken from that information and what should be done about it. I certainly don't believe they should've gone about it the way they did. What I saw from the footage is quite simply put. Those people, they're just farm workers, left to pick up the calves from the calving mob. Sadly, farming is one of those industries where more often than not, staff are employed but they're not the nicest of people, they don't care - so long as they've got a house on the farm the family can stay in, and they get a nice healthy wage.
I'm not trying to defend what I saw, seeing a calf kicked across a paddock and then dumped into a trailer. That is NOT normal practice, that is disgusting behaviour that shouldn't be tolerated. If I employed that guy, he would get a written warning for a very good reason, it was animal cruelty. However not all farms run like this, you get a few. But who knows what's going on in that person's life? There could be a number of things, that camera could've caught him on a seriously bad day. I'm not saying that he should be given an easy pass on it, but you can't just take someone on face value.
Moving on, the calves being taken from their mothers, I honestly don't feel the need to explain myself when I know no-one will listen or understand. It is not animal cruelty to remove a calf from its mother - in a beef herd, sure I give you that. But there is a tonne of information you have to understand here, we are helping the animals - believe it or not.
If a small, single calf is left on its dairy cow mother, in the elements to fend for themselves it should be considered cruel. You may say it's natural, but the world has evolved with the use of genetics. You say genetic engineering? No, it's not as serious as it seems.
We breed these cows based on their genetic heritage; to produce top of the line calves for future use and then produce milk to feed the world. One little calf can't simply stay on a dairy cow, not when the cow has been bred for milk production - producing much more than 20 litres a day at her peak. The cow will suffer from mastitis due to not being milked out properly - she has four quarters and more often than not has only one calf. Seems ridiculous doesn't it, that sheep can have triplets but only have the feeding capacity for twins, yet a cow is basically the opposite. Cows suffering from mastitis is horrible, left untreated is a serious offense. Humans mothers can get mastitis too, so what would you recommend there? Exactly, it's not a hard thought to process.
To add to that, calves have been removed from their mothers in the dairy industry for generations. I wouldn't know how long off the top of my head, I'm only young myself. But let me tell you a little secret, you may not know the complete truth after seeing tonight's breakthrough. We don't actually take calves from their mothers as soon as they're born, and if we do we have a reputable excuse for it - for the sake of both mother and baby.
Calves can be left with their mothers for hours, depending on how large the operation is will depend on how often "newborn" calves are taken from their mothers throughout the day. Imagine in the middle of winter, being literally dropped into a freezing environment from the home you had for nine months - you'd be pretty jolly cold, wouldn't you think? Imagine if it was pouring with rain or snow, the ground a big mud bath and you don't know what has just happened to you. Don't you think it may be kind to be taken in, washed and dried, fed some warm milk and snuggled in with some warm calves in a shed? Generally speaking, that's what we do. These animals are our livelihood, we care for them as if they were our own children, we are not cruel, heartless people you make us out to be.
Next on the agenda: bobby calves. You need to understand a few things here too, it seems. Firstly, bobby calves are the end of line, unnecessary by-product of the dairy industry. We can't rear every calf that is born, there is not enough to feed them and they would overpopulate as if this was the dairy cow version of Asia. There is a term we have, in farming there is livestock and deadstock. This may sound awful, but it's the truth - everyone dies sometime and if we kept every animal that was born we would be unintentionally cruel to them because we just can't look after all those calves anyway. It's the same with goat farmers, chicken farmers, sheep farmers, there is always a by-product somewhere. For dairy farming, it's the bobby calves. As someone who has grown up in the industry, I hate the idea of bobby calves. If I could keep every calf and come up with a way to do it, I would. If I could figure a better way, I would do that. But there is only so much this girl can do.
What is a bobby calf? Quite simply, they are the calves who are due to natural mating, they don't have the well known, genetic background and quality to be bred from. We can't spend time DNA testing who their Dad is, we may not be able to prevent inbreeding because we don't have a computer system to tell us what to do - like for Artificial mating.
We sell bobby calves for a pittance. They don't just go as pet food, they're sent to slaughter and sold in the shops as veal, that is a delicacy - so I've heard. The leather handbags you love so dearly, those calves looked pretty cute huh? How about the glue you use on a daily basis? The gelatin in food products, yep you guessed it - that comes from them too, along with other things along the line. But for that pittance, we have very big hoops to jump through. The calves need to be cared for until they are four days old, many are kept for longer than that and treated like any other herd replacement calf, they can't have an ounce of penicillin anywhere near them, so if one gets sick we can't do anything about it, other than to dispose of it. They need to be looked after in the best way possible, with a full belly before they're picked up and they need to be able to move themselves around unassisted (to be deemed healthy in the eyes of the people picking them up) and that's pretty much it for us dairy farmers. While also, the calves were in crates outside waiting to be picked up. In the Waikato - prime dairy land, that footage is very old. Why? Because bobby calf pick ups from the side of the road were binned years ago across the entire country, they are now picked up directly from their pens in the sheds that they are cared for in. Those calves also didn't have bobby tags, which are essential as they are a track and trace method of the calves from that farm, calves can't be picked up without them and should be sent down the shoot at the house.
A contracted stock truck company is asked to pick up the bobby calves and deliver them to the slaughtering facilities, these truck companies are often privately owned and, I'll be honest, operated by monkeys. Those guys you saw, biffing the poor, defenseless calves? They're not farmers, so stop blaming us. We have all said our views on it, but nothing is done, they are employed by the stock truck company who see the calves as something that'll die soon anyway, what's the difference? They are then dropped at the the next point. I've got something extra to point out, what was on TV in the slaughtering facility, they can't be labelled as farmers. It was another privately owned venture - not the typical Greenlea or Affco, who would be disgusted with that treatment. Again, that was illegally filmed footage in a workplace, how are the media getting away with it? We, as farmers, were disgusted with the treatment of the calves in that environment, I sure hope something is done about that as there is absolutely no excuse.
There are many, many "secrets" in the dairy farming industry, like there is in any farming venture, but we're not keeping them from anyone - urban New Zealand just doesn't want to know. To them, we're just filthy rich farmers, living off a nice healthy income produced from animals we treat like slaves, driving around with our nice vehicles and redbands. I think it is sad that these people can do what they do, try and set us up and knock us down. We are the ones who work hard and earn nothing because we're putting the money back into our livestock to keep them healthy - if we get to the stage we can't even do that our lives may as well be turned upside down, hanging in the balance and we're all hoping for a miracle.
It is sad and shameful that a few pieces of footage, illegally taken can be screened in front of the entire country and make us look to be the bad guys - yet again. The whistle blowers certainly are innocent, aren't they? But you know what? We are innocent until jolly well proven guilty! We are a nation of farmers, everyone is somehow related to a farmer. The country should not be turning against us, simply because of few bad eggs. Let's face it - there are rotten eggs in every industry and business, isn't it about time some of them were put in the limelight?
It's about time the media started covering the good parts of farmers. They need to take a step back, come politely knock on our doors and ask us nicely to explain our practices, they need to sit down at our kitchen table and learn and try to understand it. They need to walk in our gumboots for a day or two, then they can go back to their TV or newspaper companies and they can tell the world all the good stuff about us, because I'm sick of all the dramatised, set up, "bad" stories taking precedence over what is actually true.
We need to be shown some respect as an industry. Enjoy your coffee, might pay to ask for soy milk tomorrow, if you remember. But consider, where did the coffee beans come from? That's an interesting thought isn't it?