I just wanted to thank the readers who responded to the blog entry where I told about having to sell three of the oldest cows in the herd.[See November 10 entry.) I was touched by your words, and I found that many of your thoughts and ideas are ones that I share with you. I thought I would talk a little more about how we come to a decision about when to sell a cow, and where that cow goes after leaving the farm.
First of all, I wish I could retire my cows here on the farm and let them live out their days where they were born. Unfortunately, I don't have the space--either pasture or barn--to do this, and the economic cost would be very prohibitive. This idea has popped into my mind every once in awhile, especially when I have to sell a cow that is 10, 12, or even 14-years-old. A cow like that has given so much to our farm that I really feel they don't owe me anything more and their life should have a better ending.
When I cull a cow because of medical reasons, I like to think I have exhausted all the treatment options for that particular animal. The herd health products I use are ones I have learned to use often on my own by reading books or attending seminars. Since we do not have a veterinarian in this area practicing on organic herds, I find I sometimes lack the support and knowledge to be successful treating a sick animal. As more dairy farms in our area transition to organic production, hopefully a veterinarian well-versed in working with organic farms will set up practice here.
Finally, what about the stress of sending the animals to slaughter? I know when we send animals to use in our organic beef business they are treated very humanely by the slaughterhouse we use. The men who pick them up are calm and quiet, and the owner of the slaughtering facility keeps the animals as calm as possible at his facility. There is talk of getting a mobile processing unit (mpu) up and running in the state. This would put the least stress on the animals to be slaughtered since they would never have to leave the farm they were born on while still alive. As for culled animals, I hope to soon start sending these animals to a recently opened facility in the southern part of Vermont. I have spoken with the owner and he seems to be a concerned, caring individual that understands the benefit of handling animals calmly and humanely.
I never enjoy having to send and animal to slaughter, whether it is a 2-year-old Angus steer or a 12-year-old Jersey cull cow, but this is part of the reality of running a dairy farm. I strive to treat my animals well, and when it is time for them to go I hope the animal is treated well by the truckers and facility owners. I hope the animal's final gift, nutritious organic beef, is appreciated by the consumer. Thank you all for your thoughts.
--Jonathan, Howmars Farm
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