I grew up on a dairy farm. The experiences and values I gained from that experience have been invaluable to me. I have learned the value of hard work, perseverance, but just as importantly, I learned how to properly care for a cow. I realize this isn't a commonly sought after education, but it is one that I am proud of.
I have a strong connection to dairy cattle, especially Holsteins. I milk cows and I've shown cows and there is a definite bond I've developed with the animals. Of course, it's a different bond than you might have with your pet because these cows are my family’s livelihood.
At home, someone gets up to milk the cows at four in the morning and then milks them again at four in the afternoon. Yes, it is hard work, but sometimes the harder work is caring for the cows. Of course we treat our cows well simply because they deserve it, but also because if the cattle aren't healthy, they aren't producing as much milk. That milk is putting me through college! As a farmer, you learn to keep this perspective ... yes, you love the cows and you take care of them but also, they are animals and not humans. You cry over the loss of your favorite cow, but in the end you know that you treated that animal with unparalleled care while they were with you.
This is a fundamental difference - the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. I believe in animal welfare and I can't think of a farmer that doesn't. Animal welfare means that your animals are cared for when they are sick, provided housing in the winter, soft bedding to sleep, feed and water and a clean barn. Animal rights are about animals having rights, literally, much like human rights. That, I disagree with.
I am thankful for the animals, especially dairy cows, because they provide us with such wholesome products and I am grateful for the role that they play on earth. It is said well in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Though I know an animal’s place on this earth, I still believe that like anything else in life, the better you take care of something, the better condition it will be in. I have a strong connection to the cows, as does the rest of my family. We see it as more than a job, but rather a passion for dairy cattle. It takes a lot to want to do the incredible amount of work that it requires to raise healthy high producing cows. Animal welfare is a great priority when dealing with dairy cattle and with any livestock operation.
The difference between animal welfare and animal rights is often one that goes unnoticed to consumers. As a consumer, an American, it is your job to know the difference. I believe in animal welfare, and I am sure that you do too, but supporting groups like PETA and HSUS is supporting animal rights, NOT necessarily animal welfare.
As producers, we know the value in animal welfare. As consumers, we hope that you know the difference.
University of Illinois student
Daughter of a dairy farmer
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