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Producer panel at animal science event talks consumer education and challenges

WILLMAR — At the Carlson Dairy near Pennock, 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 Tuesday at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. “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 Tuesday. 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, and Chris Huisinga, a general manager for AgForte/Willmar Poultry Company — agreed that the health and well-being of animals are key to the productivity and profitability of their companies.

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 Company’s grandparent turkey herds, Huisinga said. The grandparent herds are the genetic base for the tom and hen turkeys who produce the eggs, which hatch into poults at the Willmar Poultry Company hatchery in Willmar.

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.

“It (pen gestation), is a competition between the sows,” Long said, noting that he started in the hog industry on farms that had pen gestation.

Troy Zuidema, who feeds 800 head of dairy beef south of Willmar, noted that consumers have an idealist image of cattle grazing on green pastures that stands in shape 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.”

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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