Aguiding principle among Arps Dairy farmers is that happy, content cows give more milk, and better quality milk, than cows that are unhappy. So, much of what happens on Arps Dairy farms… from the physical layout of the farm to the milking cycle, from meal planning to housing design, from bedding arrangements to veterinary care, from noise-control to barn ventilation — is designed for cow comfort. Normal practice for maximizing animal welfare on Arps Dairy farms can be grouped into five essential categories.
In general, an Arps Dairy consumer can rest assured that the dairy in which they consume comes from local dairy farmers who practice the highest standards of animal care. Not just because great cow care is the right thing to do for the animals; but because it’s also required by Arps Dairy in order to be an Arps Dairy supplier, and it’s also good business practice for our dairy farmers. It comes down to self-interest: their animals are their income, and happier cows make more and better milk; and more and better milk means bigger rewards for the dairy farmer. Thus, because Arps Dairy milk comes from local, relaxed, comfortable, happy and healthy cows, we have the best milk. And because we have the best milk, we have the best dairy products.
A clean, comfortable and safe environment in which cows feel secure enhances the health and well-being of our animals. Cleanliness protects expectant mother cows and their calves from harmful bacteria and other risks, facilitating growth in the calf and recovery from calving for the cow.
A separate calving area allows for closer observation, provision of assistance in birthing and avoidance of injury to animals and farm workers. Calf hutches allow young calves to grow in an individualized environment free from contagious illnesses that may be present in the herd as well as physical injury from adult cows; they also ensure proper nutrition for hungry calves.
Housing that is appropriate to our local climatic conditions (hot summers and cold winters) promotes health, growth and contentedness among our animals. Housing design emphasizes sufficient space for cows to move about and express normal behaviors while obtaining access to food, water and resting space without competition from their herd mates. Cows do much of their best milk-making when they are resting in a place where they feel comfortable and secure.
While some Arps Dairy farmers have acres of pasture for grazing, other Arps dairy farms have moved increasingly to free-stall housing arrangements that allow individual cows to choose their preferred place to eat, drink or rest. To comfortably support the 1,500 pound weight of a resting cow, most of our Arps dairy farmers make use of sand bedding, rubber mattresses and even waterbeds. These help to minimize injuries to knees and hocks when the cow lies down or stands up; they also keep her cleaner, which minimizes bacteria. To further reduce the chances of injury, flooring is designed and maintained to avoid slips and falls.
Adequate ventilation within our Arps Dairy farm barns promotes good health among both animals and farm workers. Frequent removal of manure and changes of bedding materials promotes proper animal hygiene and positive udder health. Appropriate lighting and temperature control contribute to animal contentedness.
Cows are habitual, sensitive animals and stress reduces their milk-making efficiency. Routine schedules and the minimization of fear sources keep them in a positive mood. Most of our Arps Dairy farms utilize a systematic milking machine which helps ensure a calm and consistent milking experience to further ensure that all Arps Dairy cows are relaxed and content, even during their milking process.
A typical Arps Dairy cow will eat about 75 to 100 pounds of food and drink about 35 gallons of water each day. The food she eats — together with the water she drinks — provides her body with the energy and nutrients it needs to make milk. Ample food of the best quality is therefore essential to producing large quantities of the highest quality milk.
Arps Dairy farmers work closely with certified animal nutritionists to develop dietary plans for their herds and to monitor the results. The nutritional status of individual animals is evaluated through “body condition scoring,” a process that assigns values to animals on a scale ranging from thin to fat — and is adjusted for breed, stage of development and lactation status. Diets are also adjusted on the basis of milk production volumes. For example, diets are higher in protein for younger cows as they have growing to do, higher energy for higher producing cows, and higher fiber for cows not producing milk.
Common diets for Arps Dairy cows consist of 60% forage, meaning grass and alfalfa. The other 40% is made up of fiber, energy protein, minerals and vitamins (soybean meal, corn, etc.).
The health of Arps Dairy farm cows is maintained through a combination of preventive care programs and the rapid diagnosis and proper treatment of illness, when it appears. The foundation of animal health is the relationship among the dairy farmer, their animals and their veterinarian. All Arps Dairy farms are expected to maintain a written, updated Herd Health Plan, developed in cooperation with a veterinarian. The Plan includes standards for the following:
- Newborn Calf Health and Care
- Disease Prevention and Management (including routine vaccinations)
- Hoof Health
- Udder Health
- Non-ambulatory Animal Handling
- Biosecurity Measures
- Animal Mortality Management (including humane euthanasia protocols)
- Emergency Contact Information
Medications are used only when necessary to reduce animal pain and to prevent or cure illnesses. As with humans, when dairy animals become sick they are sometimes treated with antibiotics. Because antibiotic residues can be passed into her milk, an Arps Dairy cow undergoing antibiotic therapy is segregated from the herd in a hospital pen on the farm.
For her comfort, she continues to be milked but her milk is kept separate and immediately discarded to prevent it from entering the Arps Dairy supply chain. This process continues after antibiotic therapy has ended — during the so-called “withdrawal period,” when the medication has worked its way out of the cow’s system. That cows milk is not allowed to enter the Arps Dairy supply chain until samples of that milk have been certified antibiotic free from a third-party laboratory. At the plant, Arps Dairy also tests each milk supply to ensure that the milk supplied from our dairy farmers is 100% antibiotic free.
Heard Health Plan
Special needs animals include those that are sick, lame or non-ambulatory. Herd Health Plans require treatment for these cows that protects them from other animals (including wild predators) and provides appropriate shelter and access to food and water. Medications may be used to manage pain. Humane euthanasia may be used to deal with chronically ill or injured animals or those experiencing pain that cannot be relieved.
Herd health plans are expected to include protocols for the timely and humane euthanizing of dairy animals. Euthanasia is to be performed by trained and competent animal handlers in a manner consistent with standards established by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (Practical Euthanasia of Cattle pdf).
Arps Dairy farm animals are all handled, moved and transported in a manner that avoids unnecessary pain or distress. The key to appropriate animal handling is farm worker education. Proper training and re-training of employees on Arps Dairy supplier farms ensures that animals are moved in a manner that prevents cows falling as they go to or from the milking parlor. In addition, all Arps Dairy farms have buildings and handling facilities, including vehicle trailers, that are well maintained and free of objects that could cause injury.
Rarely a cow on an Arps Dairy supplier farm becomes non-ambulatory (or a “downer”) and is unable to walk due to acute injury, attenuating illness or severe lameness. These animals are assessed for their recovery potential. Animals that are likely to recover are removed to an area of appropriate shelter with adequate access to bedding, food and water and with no risk of trampling by other animals. Non-ambulatory animals that cannot recover are dealt with under the Herd Health Plan’s humane euthanasia protocol. Non-ambulatory animals are never to be pulled, dragged, pushed or otherwise moved via the direct application of force to the animal as doing so is a violation of Arps Dairy standards.
Appropriate training and supervision of farm employees ensure that animal care and handling standards are being met. Written and verbal training in the employee’s native language helps farm workers to do the following:
- Recognize and understand basic animal needs
- Rapidly diagnose and treat animal illnesses or injuries
- Handle, move and transport animals in a manner that minimizes animal distress and is safe for the animal and the caretaker
- Perform humane euthanasia procedures competently
- Understand and implement biosecurity measures