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1608 PD: Stroke of bad luck

Brandon Covey Published on 06 November 2008

After my stories earlier this year about my dad shooting that stray dog and about him losing 10 heifers to lightning, he’s asked me to stop writing about him (or at least write something good.) Unfortunately, I can’t do either. I do know that he took a few days off to go to World Dairy Expo this year. That usually guarantees he’ll start seeing smoke signals for help about the time he gets to his hotel.

Anyway, I have to mention that my hometown was recently in the news for an outbreak of a rare strain of E. coli. It has been speculated that it originated from a local restaurant. Nearly 300 people became ill or were hospitalized, and at least one person died.

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Then there’s Hurricane Ike, which had widespread devastation. During the cleanup, those that survived in the hardest-hit areas were later warned to leave to avoid disease.

I guess what I’m gettin’ at is all the news of disease brought to mind a movie I saw quite a while back called Bitter Harvest. It starred Ron Howard as a dairy farmer, and it followed his anguish in dealing with the government and the public when a disease ran through his herd. I don’t remember much of the specifics, but I often think about it when I see a large number of cattle/dairies in close proximity to each other. Through death loss and quarantine, a region’s economy can change in a snap, not to mention the health concerns to humans.

And what about bioterrorism? I figure most dairymen have heard horror stories around the campfire about someone coming in at night and sabotaging the milk tank. Now, your typical, run-of-the-mill crazy person may not know what to “add” to get through all the tests on the way to the carton. But there are people and groups that will go to great lengths to try to prove a point and gain exposure. You know, the other day, I heard that PETA asked Ben & Jerry’s to start making their ice cream with human breast milk. (Insert your own joke here.) Thankfully, Ben & Jerry’s blew them off, but PETA also has recently released a new and disturbing hog video. (I’m sure you can Google it.) I suspect that footage is usually shot by an undercover activist – one that’s obviously familiar enough with the industry to “fit in.” Maybe it’s the activists paying one of the workers for some hidden camera footage.

Now, before you start going through employees’ lockers and having them followed after work, we have to keep in mind that we’re all responsible. Saving time, money, bullets or whatever is not worth the consequences of animal cruelty. Upon being hired, employees should be informed of a “zero tolerance” rule for animal abuse on all of the dairy’s facilities. Every manager should enforce this rule, regardless of cultural beliefs.

This reminds me of a story from when I was a kid. In 1986, we had Grand Champion at the national show in Louisville. Dad got some pretty nice offers for the cow, but decided to hold out. So it’s probably no surprise to you that she had a freak accident and was unable to walk due to injury to her stifle. At that time, some packinghouses still took downer cows. So, Dad and I loaded her into the trailer she’d traveled many-a-mile before. When we got there, we pulled in, and Dad and I got in the back of the trailer to try to unload her. One of the workers jumped in the trailer with a hotshot, yelling and cussing at her. I still remember Dad shoving that guy into the side of the trailer and telling him that he and I would take care of it. As we drove off, it was one of those times where you couldn’t stop thinking about what you should have done different.

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Given the state of paranoia most producers have to maintain, I’m probably not telling you something you haven’t thought of before. The safety of consumers, our animals and ourselves should still be among our top priorities. Bad fortune can still find us, but there’s no need to make it easy. They say that luck is what you get when preparation meets opportunity. If that’s true, I suppose the opposite is too. Maybe that has something to do with us having to fight all those dad-gum mosquitoes that Ike brought. As always, God does the rest. PD

Brandon Covey Regional Manager
brandon@ progressivedairy.com

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