Undercover video is the latest tactic used by animal rights activist groups to pressure farmers into abandoning common management practices. One major dairy product manufacturer is being targeted for accepting milk from farms where cows are dehorned. If your operation is among the majority that practices dehorning, be prepared for a call or visit from the media seeking comment on this issue. A calm, measured response can go a long way to help consumers see beyond the sensationalism, and paint a much more realistic portrait of animal agriculture. These points can also be used in farm social media to connect directly with consumers.
Key points to keep in mind when talking about dehorning:
Dehorning is necessary for human and animal safety.
Cow horns are dangerous for dogs, horses, other cows and all animals and people on a farm.
Many calves are dehorned early in life, before horn buds have a chance to attach to the skull. This procedure is called “disbudding.”
Early-age disbudding is preferred to minimize discomfort.
For older animals, dairy farmers and veterinarians work together to ensure horns are removed safely and humanely.
Dairy farmers are highly motivated to take very good care of their cows. All dairy farmers work regularly with veterinarians to keep their cows healthy.
Some cattle are bred hornless, but this is not practical for dairy cattle. It takes many generations (decades) to ensure cows inherit the proper traits, and may adversely affect the animals’ overall health.
Anyone can be victimized by an undercover video campaign. This excellent article posted on Dairy Herd Network, Are you ready for the cameras?, offers practical suggestions for dealing with the aftermath of a public relations crisis, including lining up resources and support to help your operation survive. It also offers great advice for any producer ready to step up and proactively present a more balanced viewpoint on animal agriculture.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote my first blog post for Horn Talk -- the first and thus far only blog dedicated exclusively to the subject of dehorning. Since then, Horn Talk, which is part of the Dehorning.com website, has logged thousands of page views from people all over the world. We’ve covered topics ranging from pain relief during dehorning to food traceability, and explored the perspectives of producers, veterinarians, activists and consumers on two continents. We’ve also been fortunate to feature guest blogs from the some of the brightest minds in the industry. Along the way, some posts seemed to have struck a nerve more than others. Here, in reverse order, are the 10 most popular posts to date on Horn Talk.
#10: Top 2 Consumer Misconceptions About Dehorning. This post had something for everyone: dairy farmers, beef producers, veterinarians, animal rights activists and, of course, consumers.
#9: UBC Survey: Is Pain Relief Needed When Disbudding Or Dehorning Calves? Dehorning is an invasive procedure, and pain relief is a topic we've returned to time and again on Horn Talk.
#8: New Mercy For Animals Video Shows Animal Cruelty And Dehorning. There’s no excuse for abusing calves. It’s especially unfortunate when a procedure like dehorning gets swept up in the scandal and forces the industry to repeatedly defend standard management practices that reduce the risk of injury to humans and animals.
#7: A Step-By-Step Guide To Using Dehorning Paste. It's not difficult to apply dehorning paste, but instructions should be followed carefully for best results. This post featured both a video and written instructions.
#6: Dr. Aurora Villarroel: My Experience With Dehorning Paste. Dr. Villarroel, an Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University, has been one of the industry’s most passionate proponents of humane paste disbudding.
#5: PETA Proposes An End To Dehorning. Which organization has more credibility when it comes to advising dairy producers on the subject of dehorning? An animal rights group with a vegan agenda? Or the association representing more than 80,000 veterinarians in the United States?
#4: New McDonald’s Ad Campaign Features Suppliers. McDonald’s new focus on beef and produce suppliers got mixed reviews from consumers, but Horn Talk readers seemed favorably impressed.
#3: Managing Infection In Dehorned Calves. Apparently, a lot of people are searching the Internet for ways to prevent infection during dehorning (Hint: Try caustic paste disbudding). Quite a few of them are landing on this post.
#2: Why Paste Disbudding Is Preferred At CY Heifer Farm. Horn Talk readers were intrigued by the story of a crew member’s painful encounter with a butane dehorner, and the switch to a new disbudding protocol for this upstate New York calf raising facility.
#1: How Caustic Dehorning Paste Works. One of our briefest posts ever, this straightforward explanation of how dehorning paste prevents horn growth continues to be the most popular blog post ever on Horn Talk.
Animal activists have released another undercover video showing what they claim are abusive practices at a New York dairy operation. The two-minute video released last month shows workers herding animals with poles and electric prods, inseminating cows, tail-docking and includes a close-up photograph of a cow’s prolapsed uterus (a common, easily treated condition following calving). The video also shows a worker disbudding young calves with an electric dehorner; the group’s website claims workers “lop[ped] off” the horns of older calves, although there is no video shown to support this.
This organization is now urging the public to email one of the dairy’s customers, a cooperative supplier, and request the company adopt the group’s own “reasonable” animal welfare guidelines. These guidelines call for the elimination of a number of industry and management practices, including dehorning.
The dairy in question has been welfare-certified by the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHA) (a process in which every animal on the farm is examined by a veterinarian), and we will not debate its welfare practices here. What we find distasteful is this activist group’s purported interest in advancing farm animal welfare when its real agenda is promoting a vegan diet. Sensationalist undercover videos are less about improving the ways animals are cared for than about supporting legislation that will eventually drive food animal production overseas.
What’s more, proposing a total ban on basic management procedures like dehorning is both unrealistic and unsafe. Animal with horns present a very real threat to humans, other cows, dogs and horses. The American Veterinary Medical Association knows this, and has long endorsed the practice of dehorning, provided steps are taken to minimize pain and distress.
Animal activist groups might better advance their objectives to “improve the lives of cows and calves on dairy farms” by meeting farmers halfway, i.e., encouraging the adoption of early-age disbudding with caustic paste. This practice has been shown in studies to cause significantly less pain than dehorning with a hot-iron, and helps improve the safety of both humans and animals.
In our last blog, we looked at attitudes toward food traceability among Americans and Europeans. We concluded that all consumers want reassurances their food is produced in a safe and humane manner. This week, McDonald’s addresses these concerns with a new advertising campaign focusing on beef and produce suppliers.
One supplier is Steve Foglesong, owner of Black Gold Ranch, a cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operation in central Illinois, who talks about his ranch’s commitment to quality and sustainability. The McDonald's campaign also features potato and lettuce growers. You can see all the suppliers at www.mcdonalds.com/suppliers.
This emphasis on suppliers represents a shift for the world’s largest restaurant chain, which previously focused on the quality of food rather than its source. According to U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Neil Gordon, the campaign is part of a larger initiative to improve transparency and communication with consumers. In an interview with Advertising Age, Golden said, “We acknowledge that there are questions about where our food comes from. I believe we’ve got an opportunity to accentuate that part of our story.”
Providers like Black Gold Ranch are secondary sources for McDonald’s. According to Advertising Age, the company works directly with 250 suppliers, including Cargill, Lopez Foods and Golden State Foods. In November, McDonald’s dropped a Cargill egg supplier, Sparboe Farms, following a Mercy For Animals undercover video depicting animal mistreatment. Sparboe has since conducted its own investigation, fired the employees involved and retrained workers in animal handling techniques.
What do you think of the new McDonald’s campaign?
Ohio Dairy Farmers recently released an excellent public education video on the importance of humane dehorning. The 3-minute video, Dehorning: A Humane Practice Focused on Cow Safety, is narrated by a veterinarian who explains the rationale behind dehorning, advocates early-age disbudding and the use of pain relief, and demonstrates butane dehorning on a young calf.
We applaud Ohio Dairy Farmers’ for their efforts in educating non-ag audiences about the practice of dehorning, and for their support of humane, early-age disbudding and pain management.
Caustic paste is another humane option for early-age disbudding. Caustic paste disbudding with a local anesthetic (such as the one administered to the calf in the video) has been shown to be less painful than hot-iron disbudding with both a local anesthetic and a sedative. What’s more, when disbudding is performed at 3-5 days of age, there is usually no need for squeeze chute; just mild restraint is necessary.
What do you think of the Ohio Dairy Farmers’ dehorning video?