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Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008

Caring for Cows

Humane dairy production

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As we navigate the current financial climate, word of capitalism’s weak spots fills blogs and newspapers across the globe. Our economic system has inherent flaws, to be sure, but it also has some powerful advantages. Whether it’s a tiny piece of plastic or good ol’ fashioned paper currency, power is in the consumer’s hands. In spending money at a particular business, we are, in a sense, voting to keep that enterprise up and running.

Last February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co.’s slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., for, among other violations, the cruel mistreatment of animals. At the time, the USDA purchased 20% of all beef used by the National School Lunch Program from Hallmark/Westland. Mohandas Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What does the debacle at Hallmark/Westland, which is by no means an isolated case, say about us as a nation?

The only thing keeping some of us from becoming vegans is the assurance that there are people out there working to give consumers an option to buy food that is certified to come from a humane source. Terry Homan says he realized something about small family farms during his 12 years of dairy veterinary practice in rural Wisconsin. “The way these family farms take care of their cows and the quality of the milk they produce, people would love to support this,” Homan explains.

Fueled by a desire to provide more transparency in how milk on store shelves is produced, Homan founded Red Barn Family Farms, the country’s first procurement company to select milk based not only on the quality of the product, but also on the treatment of the animals.

Each Red Barn dairy farm is certified by the American Humane Association, which ensures that the farms meet very specific standards. Red Barn cows are free to express normal behaviors and live in an appropriate and comfortable environment that includes sufficient space, proper facilities, shelter, a resting area and company of the animal’s own kind. They are allowed to live and grow in a humane environment under conditions and care that limit stress. The cows have ready access to fresh water and are fed a diet that is free of animal byproducts. They benefit from disease and injury prevention and rapid diagnoses and treatment that excludes the use of rBST supplementation and performance-enhancing antibiotics.

In addition to the American Humane Association certification, dairy farms working with Red Barn Family Farms must meet the company’s own criteria, the “Red Barn Rules.” These standards involve routinely measuring the physical health of each cow, as well as the quality of the milk leaving the farm. “It’s simple,” Homan says. “The cows that receive the best care produce the best milk.”

The Red Barn Family Farms brand of milk won’t surprise consumers with a completely new flavor, but for some it will taste more pure and full than milk generated from factory farms. “Palates for milk are similar to palates for wine,” Homan says. “Some can taste differences and some don’t.”

The Red Barn Family Farms brand of dairy products offers skim, 2%, whole and chocolate milk by the half-gallon and is available at Sendik’s Markets (Elm Grove, Franklin, Grafton, Greenfield, Mequon and Wauwatosa), the Milwaukee Public Market, Metcalfe’s Sentry and Grasch’s Foods in Brookfield. Don’t see Red Barn Family Farms at your favorite grocery store? Wield the power of your pocketbook and ask your grocer to start selling it.

“What makes brands like ours successful is that we’re not ashamed of anything that goes on at our farms,” Homan says. “We’re completely transparent and we’re proud of the way Red Barn farmers take care of their animals.”

As consumers, our dollar is a vote. If you want a society that calls for the humane treatment of animals, “elect” dairy producers who take social responsibility for both their products and their animals.


For more information, visit www.redbarnfamilyfarms.com, www.americanhumane.org or www.westlandmeat.com.

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