You’d wonder, really, how it came to this.
Dairy farmers sitting on county milk committees from across the province, congregated in March for three days in Alliston, being lectured on the plethora of new regulations on how to care for their animals and document it all. There are 11 required environmental rules coming down, plus a tightening of the quality standards.
I have all the meeting documents of what exactly needs to be done, when it needs to happen and the harsh consequences if you don’t comply. Quite simply, you don’t ship milk if not certified.
They were lectured on it all by a gentleman who never milked or owned a cow in his life, wearing a grey suit coat and a shirt that was either mauve, purple, or pink, depending on who was tweeting it out that day.
A number of farmers present mocked the new regulations with their fingers, but very few, if any, objected with their mouths.
Apparently, such people lecturing — though non-farmers — know best. One must, you see, bow down before the animal rights activists and environmentalists to be on the right side of history. Perhaps even, in the eyes of these self-appointed moralists, to be on the undisputed right side of God.
All just to stay in business. Thus, it is written.
The animal care portion of the proAction initiative kicks in on Sept. 1 and the ramifications on a farm-by-farm basis — nothing to do with the bacteria level of your milk — have had producers contacting me long before this meeting.
There was the group in Quebec who called, wanting to do interviews on their opposition to the end of docking tails. My wife, a native born Quebecer, translated by phone.
I’m up front these days with folks wanting to publicly buck this system, not as to what could potentially happen to them, but rather what will happen to them, because the system will make a public example of their dissent. With this advice, these Quebec farmers stayed silent.
There are Ontario producers with slatted heifer barns — the more heifers on the slats, the cleaner they stay — who now have to construct bedded areas, rendering the slats unworkable without total liquid manure and crowded heifer bodies.
Environmentally, probably the supreme method is storing manure in a cement pit underground, but heifers need to lie on bedding. There is no peer reviewed research showing longer cow life if not on slats. But science, which brought this industry so far forward in efficiency, be damned. Slats without bedding are not allowed, because it has been decreed.
That bedding “requirement” also puts a kink in gravity flow manure systems, which have cows lying on rubber free stall mattresses, with just a skiff of shavings to keep things dry.
It also puts a kink in those who let heifers lie on such mattresses without bedding, therefore saving some coin.
I visited a farmer recently, with all his cattle in tremendous shape, but he’s selling this spring because he’s not in compliance.
The cow barn is a virtually new tie-stall with side-opening ventilation, along with a new milk house. The heifers and calves are crowded into the attached old tie-stall barn. It’s the end of winter so numbers have increased and some are tied along the wall. It’s extra work during the winter, but that’s when there is extra time.
Within weeks, they’ll all be outside kicking up their heels and lying on green grass, but somehow that’s a no, no.
“I have to build a new heifer barn,” the producer said. A six-figure bill for sure. But raising heifers with good, plentiful feed in as cheap as a facility as you can is what makes money.
Plus, by 2021, he’d have to spend another six figures upgrading his manure storage. So, he’s selling the herd.
If you stay milking, prepared to be insulted. “What do you mean I have to take this course,” my 61-year-old brother blurted, after mentioning getting several “notices” in the mail, about the animal care seminars for producers.
Those in the Ayrshire breed know what has been in and out of that barn over the years. It’s like being Gordie Howe and getting a notice to take a mandatory course on how to play hockey.
Pick on these individuals as they will, it won’t appease the activists. Tie-stalls are still legal.
Ian Cumming is a former Glengarry County dairy farmer and now farms with his son in northern New York state.