Cow hugging, known as "koe knuffelen" in Dutch, has emerged as a new wellness trend, complete with YouTube videos, an international media hype, and plenty of uptake on Instagram. The practice entails hugging a cow and sharing a mutual moment of relaxation with the animal as a way of offering solace to the soul, one encouraged by the animal’s slower heartbeat and higher body temperature.
On one hand, it is great news that cows are being included in pop-culture trends; on the other, we recognize just how extreme this is from the practicality of animal production. While cow hugs may result in lots of likes on Instagram making the human feel great, it does not address that animal’s management and well-being. And it certainly doesn’t equate to the on-farm management teams of farmers, veterinarians, nutritionists, hoof trimmers, and others who are dedicated to ensuring cow comfort and health is top-priority. Over the last 11 years, the National Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care program has provided science-based proof points so customers and consumers feel confident their dairy products are produced in an ethical and humane manner.
The FARM program establishes animal care guidelines written by dairy farmers, animal scientists, veterinarians, and cooperative and processor staff that participating farmers follow for each cow and calf. FARM also provides resources to help enhance on-farm animal care with or without the bovine embrace or social media attention.
A range of topics
Tough topics like fitness to transport, nonambulatory care, and euthanasia are in stark contrast to hugging and hashtags. That does not mean they are any less a part of animal care. The FARM program offers materials, resources, and tools that cover it all and very much recognizes that every aspect of animal care is essential to a farm’s profitability and sustainability.
These resources, like herd health plan templates, are designed to help farmers and their workforce execute excellence in animal care. Cow care agreements help to develop accountability for those with direct animal care responsibilities and offer a backstop if drift occurs. A Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) cements the importance of working with the Veterinarian of Record when making decisions concerning animal health and care.
FARM further recognizes the value of partnerships and works closely with the internal dairy industry stakeholders to create valuable resources. Recently, FARM released the I Care video with support from Alltech, Elanco, and the Animal Agriculture Alliance. This 10-minute video outlines the importance of animal care for dairy employees, and the joint commitment of employees, supervisors, and farm owners to work together to protect their livelihood and the well-being of the animals in their care. It also shares the intent of animal activists, undercover employee tactics, and encourages employees to alert supervisors when something is not right. Dairy farmers interested in incorporating the video into their training programs should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A well-managed dairy involves tough decisions, dedication, and planning. Within the FARM program, participants are expected to maintain documentation for a variety of the day-to-day operations on the farm. This process is critically important for training, accountability, and execution of short- and long-term goals related to animal care.
The FARM Animal Care program comes down to what all farms strive for: The best possible care for the cows on the farm, day in and day out. It helps customers trust that their milk is responsibly produced and ensures the safety of cows and their caregivers. That’s nothing against a healthy hug – for those who seek it, "koe knuffelen" away.
But having a herd health plan is better.