Cow Shepherd: a new label for dairy farmers

Cow Shepherd: a new label for dairy farmers


Dairy Farmers Care

Have you ever thought about the power of words, and how they influence your thinking about various topics? There are many people in the world today trying to ascribe negative connotations to dairy farming. But as a dairy farmer, I’m tired of being labeled so this time I’m ascribing my own label to dairy farming.

Language is powerful. Without words, it’s difficult to fully understand anything. Language gives us symbols (words) that we can use to fix ideas, reflect on them, and hold them up for observation. Our vocabulary allows for a level of abstract reasoning we wouldn’t have otherwise. (Source)

For many of us, definitions placed on words are often our own personal definitions that we as individuals attach to a word. Our definition of a word may be different than another person’s definition of a word.

My English teacher in school would always ask us to define a complex word that we “knew.” Very often our definition would be different than the original meaning, and we would often find that our different backgrounds would contribute to our various definitions of words.

Words have connotative power.

Negative connotations vs. Reality

As a dairy farmer, I am often saddened by the connotations that people try to attach to the dairy industry. Animal rights groups try to influence public thinking to be negative about dairies and dairy farmers. These activists attach words like dairy farming like death, forced, manipulated, suffering, and factory farming. Recently, fast food corporations trying to ascribe labels to dairy farming. But little time is spent discussing with real farmers how they care for their animals, and how they would describe what they do. This human element is left out of the discussion.

Reality is far different than described by these groups with their negatively connotated words. I’m here to tell you that dairy farmers really do care about cows. If farmers were evil overlords on their farms, the animals would put them out of business. It’s a proven fact that happy cows give more milk.

**A veterinarian describes that happy cows give more milk**

Many of the farming practices on dairies have scientific reasons for why they are being done. The dairy industry has spent years determining how to make cows more comfortable. A simple search on cow comfort on Google scholar can uncover the detailed research and scientific studies about how to make cows more comfortable. (Source) Here are just a few of the titles:

  • Behavior indicators of cow comfort
  • Assessing cow comfort: effects of two flooring types
  • Bedding and geotextile mattresses: how much is needed to improve cow comfort
  • Monitoring indices of cow comfort in free-stall housed dairy herds
  • Stocking density on indices of cow comfort
  • Benchmarking cow comfort on North American freestall dairies

Besides being extremely technical, and complex, these studies help us uncover more knowledge than ever about cows. Thanks to all this research and observation, we now know more about cows and their preferences than any other time in human history.

Dairy farmers use this data like this to improve their management of cows on their farms. In fact, most of the management practices on the dairy are all about keeping the cows in the least stressed environment possible.

Dairy Farmers Care about Cows

**Some cows sleeping- A dairy farmer’s goal is to give cows a comfortable, low stress environment**

While dairy farmers do use a lot of science, at the deepest level, dairy farmers are just your average animal lovers. If dairy farmers didn’t actually love and care for their cows, it would be hard for them to be passionate about their job. And it’s hard to be in the dairy industry without any passion. Dairy farming is a 24/7 job, it requires a lot of work. There are far easier jobs in this world. But ask any dairy farmer what they do for a living and, they will start beaming with passion.

The reality of dairy farming is far different than the one some people would have you believe.

Cow Shepherd – How a dairyman would describe himself

So this brings us back to our discussion about the power of words. If a dairy farmer could put a label on how they viewed themselves, what would this definition look like?

Lucky for you, I am a dairy farmer so let me describe the definition that I would want to convey to you about how I would want you to see my job as a dairy farmer.

I would start by describing myself as a herdsman. Dairy farmers are usually called herdsman, a herdsman of course being a caretaker of a herd of animals. But even this definition doesn’t carry much weight in invoking the sort of attributes that would be associated with my job and love for animals. It just doesn’t convey that sense of love and dedication that we dairy farmers have for animals.

So instead I would use a more descriptive term – I would use the term “Cow Shepherd.”

Dairy Farmers Care

**Dairy Farmers love their cows – ask any dairy farmer and they will start beaming with passion **

If you think about it for a moment, a shepherd is probably the most powerful description that invokes imagery of love and care. Shepherds are notoriously known for their gentle, awe inspiring love for their sheep. If 1 sheep goes astray, the shepherd goes through great lengths to find that single lost sheep. Shepherds have become immortalized throughout history in art, and sculptures for these types of characteristics.

What’s surprising is that the term “dairy farmer” doesn’t nearly evoke the same type of imagery as a shepherd (a caretaker of sheep). Maybe it’s because sheep are more absent minded than cows. But dairy farmers and herdsmen are very similar to shepherds. They both tend animals. They both have the same awe-inspiring dedication and love for their animals. Dairy farmers too will go through great lengths to save that 1 cow that needs help.

Isn’t it amazing the amount of difference that labels can have on how we can perceive things. It may be a pointless conversation, but I’m tired of being described, and labeled by other people. This time I want to prescribe my own label for dairy farmers.

Let me know

So how do you perceive dairy farmers? I want to know. And if you finished reading this article and realized that – hey, now you’re using words to persuade people to a certain way of thinking. Congratulations you passed the test. You’ve discovered the power of words. But my hope is that my perspective gives you an alternative viewpoint – a viewpoint drawing from my own experience as a real life dairy farmer.



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