Today was a very interesting experience. I attended my first livestock auction. Let me tell you, if you are on the fence as to whether dairy products are ethical- go to a livestock auction. I sat as cull cow after cull cow came through the ring. It was horrible. The handling was not a factor in my statement, the cows were treated just fine, but what I saw in these poor cull cows sure is something that bothered me and reinforced my conviction that the dairy industry disgusts me. Cull cows are the animals in a dairy herd who have problems, aren’t milking well, or are injured in some way.
Animals, beings, treated as a commodity is disturbing, and something rarely thought of by the average consumer picking up a tub of cottage cheese or gallon of milk. These cows are literally initially valued by what they contribute to the bulk milk tank, and finally what their flesh is worth- cull cows are headed to the hamburger plant. Cows who gave birth over and over, gave thousands of pounds of their milk. I don’t have a problem at all with taking and giving when it comes to animals, but the auction brought home that the dairy industry is just gross to me. The meat buyers there at the auction were doing something which is repulsive (to me) but necessary in the commodity system- they are buying all the rejects from dairy farms- limping cows, cows with tumourous dewlaps hanging between their front legs, cows with swollen legs, cows with overly engorged pendulous udders, and there were even cull cows that didn’t seem to have anything outwardly wrong with them. These very used animals are not necessarily healthy, definitely not happy, and they are being purchased to go into the meat system. I know this is what is needed to provide milk and cheese and cheap burger to the masses, but damn is it not the hardest thing to actually see up close and personal. I’m renewing my vow to be diligently dairy free unless I have a hand in my own dairy production. Melted cheese on a pizza, a bakery product with unknown ingredients, they are not worth it in my opinion, if you are supporting a system like this and especially if you saw what I had today. So sad.
But, back to being the change you wish to see in the world. I went to the auction not to be saddened by the dairy industry, I was meeting up with a lady who was in the market for a milk cow. And I was curious how auctions worked. Our friends Heidi and John, who we bought our veal calves from last spring, had decided to exit the dairy business and had posted this auction because they were sending their very nice dairy herd there to be sold off. I’d shared it with my Women Farmers group and then this woman (Amanda) said she was interested in going, since I planned to go and I knew the farm the cows were from.
Entering a new sphere is confusing, and the livestock auction sphere is especially confusing. No one is there at the door to check whether you understand what’s happening ahead of time. Here’s what I ascertained- Bidding on any animal destined for meat is bid on by the hundred weight. Not by the pound, not by the animal, but by the hundred weight as a hanging carcass. Then the “functional” dairy cows are sold by price, but even then- have you ever heard an auctioneer? It’s terribly confusing. We met a young lady employee named Candee who, as my new friend and her 8 (!!!!) kids and I wandered around the corrals before the dairy herd was brought up for the auction, helped us decipher some of the auction talk and lingo. She also offered to bid for my Amanda, she said if she knew what her max price was on certain cows she could talk the secret auction-bidding language for her. So in a bit of a rush, as the dairy cow auction was going to begin shortly, Amanda picked out two bred heifers that she liked, and especially the one that had acted friendly to the kids, coming up to smell their outstretched mittenened hands. She was a cute little Jersey with the ear tag saying her name was Dawn, and she was due to calve in April. Her corral mate was smaller but would also work depending on how the auction went pricewise. Candee noted their numbers, and said likely they would go for less than Amanda’s budget. We all went back inside and the auction on the herd began.
Imagine the internal chaos as the first heifer to emerge was the second choice. We saw Candee bid, and the end price ended up way lower than Amanda’s budget. And we looked at each other- she had herself a cow! But then the first choice heifer came through the door. I looked at Amanda and said- bid on her, I’ll take the first one. She sent her son over to Candee to assure her this is what we wanted, bid on this one too. WHAT! I know! This is the frenzy of the auction atmosphere. You don’t have time to really think things through at an auction, you go with your gut instincts and perhaps you put that out there metaphysically, I don’t know. I had wanted a milk cow someday, so maybe it was destiny. Dawn, the 1st choice, went higher in price, as she was larger and more pure Jersey in her looks, but we saw Candee seal the deal with the final bid.
Do you know how it turned out?
Candee came over to where we sat, apologizing and explaining that the first heifer was going for too high a price per pound, and as that heifer was less apt to be an ideal candidate for a first time milk cow for Amanda, Candee had bowed out on that bid. To us it had seemed she’d won the bid on the first one too, and so with a bit of sadness I realized I did not have myself a bred heifer to become my milk cow. But that was OK! I did NOT go to the auction intending to buy a cow ( I promise,) I just wanted to learn and experience what the auction world was like, for better or worse. And I sure did.
But I can say that Candee planted an idea in my head. She had mentioned earlier, while we stood in outside the corrals on this chilly overcast January afternoon, that if Amanda was looking for a nice family milk cow, she had a Brown Swiss for sale. She didn’t want to sell her but also couldn’t keep milking her without a dairy farm of her own. Her cow, also named Dawn, was due to calve in 3 months, with her 5th calf. Brown Swiss cows are pretty big cows, not a lil’ Jersey, although they share similar looks. I just emailed her. So, I may just be getting a milk cow afterall. We’ll see.