Treating animals with respect and compassion is part of every dairy farmer’s heritage. Simply put, no dairy farmer can succeed without healthy and content cows. Farmers recognize that good animal welfare practices lead to the production of high-quality, safe and wholesome milk, and they’re constantly seeking ways to improve the comfort of their animals.
Dairy cows are indeed the stars of the farm, and they are treated as such. Maintaining a healthy and comfortable herd of cows is job number one. Dairy cows receive regular visits from veterinarians, and farmers work to assure their cows’ comfort. Many dairy farms feature bedding made of white sand that makes for a clean and cool area where the cows can rest. Large barns provide shade from the Florida sun, and the combination of fans and sprinkler systems produce a cool mist. Farmers also make sure cows have their hooves trimmed, something they call a “cow pedicure.” Cows have all-day access to fresh water, and an animal dietitian creates diets to assure a cow gets exactly what it needs to function at its best and produce wholesome milk.
Dairy farmers rely on experts in nutrition for advice on feeding their cows. Dairy nutritionists recommend scientifically formulated and balanced diets that consist of hay, grains, protein sources and other vitamins and minerals. Sometimes the nutritionist incorporates recycled ingredients such as citrus pulp, brewers’ mash and whole cottonseed, which add valuable nutrients to the feed. Much of the feed is a byproduct of another industry. For example, Florida leads the nation in orange juice production, and all of that citrus pulp makes for tasty and nutritious feed for the cows, instead of ending up in a landfill. Another important part of a cow’s diet is water. Cows get thirsty and can drink anywhere from 25 to 50 gallons of water a day. As a result, farmers make sure their cows have access to clean water at all times.
Many of Florida's farms utilize free-stall barns, meaning the cows are free to move about to eat, drink or rest whenever and wherever they like. These barns also provide shade and protection from the elements. Inside these barns, farmers provide comfortable bedding for the cows in the form of sand, wood chips, recycled shredded rubber or water mattresses. Most Florida farms also use a system of spray misters and large fans to keep the cows cool.
During milking, dairy farmers and their employees are constantly checking and monitoring their animals. Nutritious diets, comfortable living conditions and solid medical care are all part of taking good care of their animals. That includes regular veterinarian check-ups for the entire farm to keep an eye on the wellness of the herd. Vaccinations and prompt treatment of illnesses are among the many practices used by dairy farmers to ensure healthy herds. Cows are no different than people in that they sometimes become ill and require medical care. Farmers work with large-animal veterinarians, who can diagnose and treat an illness with the proper medication. Any cows that receive medicine to aid in a speedy recovery are removed from the healthy herd and won’t rejoin it until their milk tests free of antibiotics. Milk that tests positive for antibiotics is not permitted in the food supply and is immediately discarded.