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Published October 07, 2013, 11:30 AM

It's all about keeping animals healthy

At the Carlson Dairy near Pennock, Minn., there is a consistent effort to educate consumers by having farm tours and hosting school field trips to teach people about how milk is produced and that advancing technology helps the family more efficiently and effectively care for the 1,200 cows currently milked at the dairy farm.

By: Gretchen Schlosser, Forum News Service

WILLMAR, Minn. — At the Carlson Dairy near Pennock, Minn., there is a consistent effort to educate consumers by having farm tours and hosting school field trips to teach people about how milk is produced and that advancing technology helps the family more efficiently and effectively care for the 1,200 cows currently milked at the dairy farm.

“It all boils down to educating people,” Chad Carlson said during a producer panel at the third annual Animal Science Conference Oct. 1 at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn. “They don’t understand what we are trying to do.”

The educational effort includes assurance that the milk produced at the dairy is safe and healthy, that care is given to the environment when the cattle manure is spread for crop fertilizer and that antibiotics are only given to cattle when they need such care. After all, Carlson said, it’s all about the cows in the dairy business.

“We have to make sure the cow is healthy and productive, because without her we don’t have a job,” he said.

Panel discussions were part of the all-day conference. Animal science and food industry experts also spoke, and networking is billed as a key part of the annual event.

The other panelists with Carlson — Tim Long, who is director of grow-finish production for New Fashion Pork, based in Jackson, Minn., and Chris Huisinga, a general manager for AgForte/Willmar Poultry Co. in Willmar — agreed that the health and well-being of animals are key to the productivity and profitability of their companies.

All about the animals

The panelists were discussing the biggest challenges and best practices of their businesses, including the hot topics of animal welfare and technology use.

“It is all about the health of the turkeys,” Huisinga said. “People are the key to keeping our turkeys healthy.”

It was the right team of people, who had passion for doing it right, who were the key to eliminating salmonella from Willmar Poultry’s grandparent turkey herds, Huisinga said. The grandparent herds are the genetic base for the tom and hen turkeys who produce the eggs that hatch into poults at the Willmar Poultry hatchery.

In the hog world, Long advocates for single housing of gestating sows, an animal welfare topic pushed to the forefront in that industry. Consumers may not understand that pen gestation, while promoted as better for the sows, is exactly the opposite because the sows fight each other for feed.

Troy Zuidema, who feeds 800 head of cattle south of Willmar, noted that consumers have an idealist image of cattle grazing on green pastures that stands in sharp contrast to the real world, where cow-calf producers lost calves this spring because they couldn’t get their cows inside for calving or don’t have buildings to shelter the cattle from the snow and cold weather.

“It looks great to have cows on pasture,” he said. “But we don’t have the acreage to graze and feed the world. We keep cattle in buildings to control the environment, to take the best care we can.”

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