KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The recent release of undercover video footage by Animal Recovery Mission, depicting animal cruelty at a dairy production facility owned by Fair Oaks Farms called into question the Fair Oaks, Indiana-based company’s animal welfare practices and has triggered a proactive response from the company. Founder Mike McCloskey, DVM, has published a series of video messages on the Fair Oaks Farms website, expressing his disappointment in the content of the footage and the company’s plan to rectify the situation, which included terminating the four individuals responsible for the animal cruelty. As part of a series of videos on the company’s website, he also pledged to share the enhancements to the company’s animal welfare practices moving forward.
Animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., a professor of animal science at Colorado State Univ. and a contributing editor to MEAT+POULTRY praised the company’s response to the video and suggested some next steps for Fair Oaks to take. She also addressed some of the underlying issues related to the latest incident that should be addressed by all stakeholders in the dairy and beef industry supply chain. Below is Grandin’s response, emailed to M+P:
Mike McCloskey, the founder of Fair Oaks Farm, delivered an excellent response. Fair Oaks has been a leader in agritourism and his dairy is open for public tours. He admitted that employee training was not sufficient and that video cameras are going to be installed throughout the farm. For further transparency, visitors in his museum and visitor’s center will be able to view the cameras. Therefore, visitors will always be watching.
During its investigation, Animal Recovery Mission representatives followed a trailer full of very young calves to a veal farm that had old-style confined crates. It was a crate design that should have been phased out years ago. The most modern veal farms use a much-less restrictive system.
Meanwhile, the entire dairy industry must address the issue of bull calves. In some parts of the country, they are fed in beef feedlots to produce beef. Holstein steers produce excellent beef, but unless they are fed carefully, they may have severe liver abscesses that cause line stoppages at processing plants. Another problem is that Holstein steers can grow really tall and they drag on the floor during processing. Some fed-beef plants now have a height indicator at the unloading chute. Animals that are too tall are rejected. There is one major fed-beef plant that has stopped processing Holstein beef because they cause too many problems.
The dairy industry must stop treating beef as a byproduct
Additionally, the dairy industry must stop treating beef as a byproduct. Some dairies have already started using beef semen and sell all the calves produced with it for beef. Common choices of semen are either Angus or Angus x Simmental. Some of the animal abuse on the video was directed at weak calves that refused to walk. Beef breed calves are often more vigorous and walk more easily. The ideal beef semen would produce a small, vigorous calf that would not grow too tall. A possible factor contributing to numerous liver abscesses is feeding cattle too much grain to quickly fatten the animals before they become too tall.
To be proactive, Fair Oaks and many other dairies should follow bull calves throughout the supply chain. Loading bull calves on a trailer and pretending they disappear is no longer acceptable. The entire dairy industry needs to change. The silver lining in this is that developing a really good beef business would help offset low milk prices.
Four next steps for Fair Oaks Farms
1. Start using beef semen to produce high-quality beef calves;
2. Create relationships with calf producers and feedlot operators who feed the dairy beef animals. Also, choose feedlots that are well-designed for drainage so steers will stay clean and provide shade for the steers;
3. Use pain relief medication for castration; and
4. Develop an auditing and inspection system for the dairy beef cattle.
The dairy industry can no longer ignore the bull calf problem. They need to take steps to get control of what happens to bull calves. Really progressive managers may have the vision to develop a new specialty beef market, which will enable them to make money when milk prices are low.