It’s a hot and dry day, your lips are dry and your throat is parched. You’ve tried water but only got a small measure of satisfaction from ingesting it. Now imagine reaching for that long stemmed glass of chilled yogurt, glazed with fresh or dry fruit and honey as a sweetener; or the thick creamy milk swirling in a glass on the counter before you; or the delicious, milky hot chocolate to soothe you just before bed. You got it right; milk has made our lives richer. No wonder that the term ‘flowing with milk and honey’ often epitomizes abundance in every way!
Dairy farming has been in existence since the origin of mankind and through the ages, families have relied on milk for the production of other dairy products such as cheese, butter, ghee, and yogurt. Historically, families kept small herds for better management of them. As urban centers and populations grew, so did the land on which to farm continue to diminish. Therefore, farmers had to be careful that their herds didn’t grow too large to manage. They also had the elements and wild animals to contend with, so smaller herds tended to be the norm.
Farmers throughout the ages have greatly valued their herds because they produced milk and meat for humans, as well as being of great commercial worth to the owners. A farmer’s wealth was often measured in terms of the quality of the herd that he owned. Therefore, proper animal management isn’t something new, and with vast technological advances, it is a trend which is being emphasized even in today’s world of dairy farming.
Each dairy farmer is aware that there are three basic determinants as to whether the herd will be productive and reach the high potential expected, or will eventually dwindle into just a handful or none. These are, ensuring that the dairy animals get proper nutrition, that they also have good and comfortable living conditions and the animals’ reproductive health is handled with utmost care and skill. Cows need to be well fed, maintained in a comfortable environment and bred in a timely fashion in order to determine high yields and keep the herd healthy.
While cows are resilient creatures, an uncomfortable environment will adversely affect their health and lower their value in terms of productivity. Poor nutrition means a cow cannot properly lactate and this, in turn, interferes with the reproductive cycle.
Allocating time to observe your animals pays great dividends. It will make the difference between a healthy herd and a weak one which requires constant culling. An individual cow is said to be productive when the milk she produces is of high quality, she has healthy calves and should the time come when the farmer needs to dispose of her, her market value is good.
Proper dairy animal maintenance considers the following factors, proper nutrition and facilities, good control of heat and cold, high standards of hygiene observed, prevention of infectious diseases and ensuring that the dairy products are fit for human consumption.
In most herds, managing the animals’ nutrition is the most important factor to be considered and determines how productive the herd is. The synergy between nutrition and productivity cannot be overemphasized and it begins right from the birth of the calves. A calf with a poorly lactating mother will tend to be weak and susceptible to a number of diseases. Many times the calves will probably end up dying. If they live to adulthood, these calves will have poor reproductive cycles and will, in turn, give birth to weak calves, thus diminishing the value of the general herd.
Serious dairy farmers don’t take this lightly and do all they can to ensure their animals have the proper nutrition which includes plenty of clean and safe drinking water and feeds that provide plenty of energy, protein, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Profitable milk and livestock production depend greatly on adequate quantities of high-quality forages. In most cases, these forages are usually home-grown grasses or fodder. Poor quality feeds take longer to digest and therefore, limit the amount of feed a cow can take each day. This, in turn, leads to a cow losing weight which means reduced milk production and an increased risk of disease.
Making a cow comfortable means avoiding situations where the cow has to stand for long hours because she has nowhere to lay down. A dirty and unhygienic environment puts the cows at risk of contracting mastitis and lameness especially when they cannot lie down. A healthy dairy cow should be able to lie down for about twelve hours but that will all depend on how clean the barns or stalls are. Calves born in dirty stalls and barns are at higher risk of mortality and diseases.
In as far as reproductive management is concerned, one of the factors that dairy farmers should be most keen about is the health of the bulls they are using or the viability of the sperm used in artificial insemination. Old or contaminated sperm may lead to poor calves being born and in some instances, aborted fetuses. If a farmer prefers using bulls then they should be properly tested for venereal diseases so as not to infect the cows in the herd. The females should also be healthy and well prepared so they can carry the fetuses to full term and bring forth healthy calves.
When all is said and done, it is also important that milk harvesting is done in the right and proper way. Good milk harvesting means the cows’ teats will not be damaged by man or machine, nor will bacteria and other deadly pathogens be introduced in the udder by the milking equipment or contaminated hands.
Now we can all enjoy that fresh and clean glass of milk or other dairy products, knowing that the animals who have provided this important and nutritious element of our diets are also being well-cared for, even as we celebrate Animal Rights Awareness in this month of June.
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