Ask farmers: Rely on experts for information, not Google

I think in this day and age, it’s safe to say that most people love movies. And part of being a fan of certain movies is watching to see how they do at the annual Oscars celebration.

The 2019-’20 Oscars premiered at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9. The 92nd Oscars had many notable moments, including “Parasite” becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture and Joaquin Phoenix winning Best Actor for “Joker.”

As a college student without cable, I did not watch the Oscars, but I did pay attention to who won awards, as some of my favorite movies from the last year were up for awards in multiple categories. So it took me until Monday afternoon to hear the entirety of Phoenix’s acceptance speech.

Most of the websites that shared the video on Facebook just described it as an emotional speech, and my first thought was simply that it was nice. But when I saw a few farming pages that I follow discussing it, I had to watch.

I have many animals at home. My family has been farmers for generations, and that includes dairy farming, along with alpacas, ducks (at one point), cats, dogs and a few rabbits. But our biggest farm is the dairy farm. And as a dairy farmer, I had a severe problem with a certain section of Phoenix’s speech.

When I first went back to watch it, I did not see the problem. He had many good points along the lines of working together and helping groups that are commonly discriminated against to make a better humanity. I began to get a bad feeling when, amongst the list of certain rights, he included animal rights.

Then the bomb dropped. About halfway through his speech, Phoenix went off on a small tangent that did not seem to have much to do with the rest of his speech.

“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby,” Phoenix said. “Even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. And then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”

This section of his speech came after he talked about being disconnected from the natural world, and then he went back into things along that line. All in all, this part of the speech was extremely random to me, and it’s been annoying me over the last few days.

As a dairy farmer who is frequently on social media, I think I’ve probably seen all of the stories that people like to put on the internet. For a long time, probably dating back to my grandparents’ generation or even further, farmers were very quiet about what they did — therefore, dairy farming practices are often misunderstood or labeled as abusive. And out of everything I’ve seen, the most common misconception is about artificial insemination and taking calves away from the mother cows, as Phoenix referenced in his speech.

This last year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to work on advocating for agriculture through social media to stop the lies that are often spread by people who don’t know much about farming, except for what they see on the internet. And I think so far I have been doing a better job than I used to.

I grew up on the farm, but I did not fully learn about the business and help with the cows until a few weeks after my 13th birthday, when I met my first cow, Katy, who I would show at the county fair with my local 4-H club a few months later.

I will not get into the whole story of Katy and me; if I did, this article would take up the entire newspaper. But I will say that when Katy and I met, there was a connection that sometimes I myself cannot even explain. If you’ve seen “How To Train Your Dragon,” I often compare Katy and me to Toothless and Hiccup, so that might give you a sense of how our relationship works.

Eight years later, I still refer to Katy as one of my best friends. This is the main reason that when I see people spreading lies about dairy farming or trying to claim that farmers do not care about their cows they spend most of their lives caring for, I get worked up.

One of the errors I saw in Phoenix’s speech was artificial insemination. The simplest definition of this is that farmers inject semen from bulls into cows to ensure they have a calf every year. And yes, I can see why to some this might look bad.

But there is a reason behind what we farmers do. When it comes to artificial insemination, otherwise known as AI, it is actually the best option to breed a cow. Every three weeks or so, starting from when they are about a year-and-a-half old, cows enter a stage which is referred to as “coming in heat.” It’s kind of like puberty — they moo loudly and want to breed with a bull.

Another factor that comes into the AI controversy is that bulls are, in fact, very dangerous. That’s not to say that cows are not also very dangerous. I’ve been injured so many times by a cow I’ve lost count, and that includes having a cow take off the big toenail of my right foot. But that’s a different story.

There’s a reason why a common form of death in any industry involving cows is being gored by a bull. Bulls grow to be much bigger and much more temperamental than cows, no matter what breed they are. This is one of the main reasons most farms do not keep them. The need for AI goes further than that, though.

When cows come in heat, they often jump onto other cows around them if they get the chance as a way to reproduce. I have also been jumped on by some while not paying attention to them when I’m in their stalls. It does not matter if the other cow wants them to be jumped on or not; if they get near enough, the cow in heat will jump.

One of my cows was injured because of this, and she had to stay inside for a majority of the summer one year because it hurt her back. She even has a bump there that will never go away. So when it comes to cows being in heat, they will try to reproduce one way or another until they are bred. AI is the safest option to prevent injury on a farm.

The next part of Phoenix’s speech focused on people taking the calf away from its mother and drinking the milk intended for the calf, despite the cow and calf crying out for each other. I cannot completely understand where this story came from in the first place, but it is one I’ve heard many times.

Oftentimes, people who are against the dairy industry will try to claim that cows and humans are exactly the same. Often when I see people claim this, it is to say that they have feelings. I’m not saying that they are wrong in that sense, because cows definitely do have feelings. But besides that, cows and humans are a completely different species. And that means that cows and humans do not mother their young in the same way.

When a cow gives birth, she will often not know what is happening. I’ve seen other farmers on Facebook claim a cow giving birth believes she is just going to the bathroom.

After a calf is born, the cow is supposed to lick it and clean it off to start stimulating the blood flow. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen cows not even give their calves a second look. Dairy cows simply do not have mothering instincts anymore, if they ever did in the first place.

So if someone compares cows to humans, yes, it might seem terrible to take a calf away from the cow. But in reality, when the calf is moved, it is to a cleaner and more spacious spot in the barn. Cows often grow to be approximately 1,400 pounds when they are fully grown, and 1,400 pound animals are big and bulky — adding a second animal in the stall next to them decreases the amount of space and serves to make both calf and cow extremely uncomfortable.

Another thing about 1,000 pound animals is that they do not always watch what they’re doing. Earlier, I mentioned losing a toenail after a cow stepped on my toe. If a cow can do that to a toenail, imagine what might happen to that calf after one wrong step.

Just this morning on Facebook, I saw a post from a fellow farmer about a calf that might not survive because it was kicked multiple times by its mother. So when a farmer moves the calf away, it is to keep them safe and to give them a better life than they would have if they stayed there. And like I said before, cows have absolutely no mothering instinct, and I have never seen a cow cry out for its calf after it has been moved. It’s just not in their nature.

For up to three days — sometimes longer — after a calf is born, they drink milk called colostrum, which is what a cow produces after it has given birth. So when people say calves do not get the milk from their mothers, that is also not true, especially since colostrum is not fit for human consumption and will make humans sick. After that, calves drink what is called milk replacer until they are up to three months old, when their stomachs have developed enough to be able to eat other food. I’ve heard of cows giving up to 20 pounds of milk a day. Each day, cows produce too much milk for any one single calf to drink. And each cow is milked only two or three times a day for a total of 10 to 15 minutes. The rest of the time they spend eating, hanging out with their friends and sleeping. Sounds great, right?

I always find it interesting that people like to believe celebrities or the internet about farming instead of information that comes from actual farmers. If you had the flu, you wouldn’t go to a celebrity to ask about the right medicine. So why do people do that when it comes to farming?

Now, I’m not saying all celebrities know nothing about farming. There are a few out there who do know and live on their own farms. But oftentimes, if someone has any views about farming, especially dairy farming, it comes from lies spread through social media.

I think a lot of those lies come from farmers not being as vocal as they should have been on social media until recently. These days, plenty of farmers across the world are working to spread the correct message and are more than willing to tell everyone about their lives. I don’t know about everyone else, but I think I would rather listen to the people who know what they’re talking about than the internet or celebrities who live in Hollywood. I’ve seen how misleading the internet is with this information, both on social media and through Googling information myself.

I know a large number of celebrities take the Oscars as a time to spread their own views and opinions. They’re human beings, and they’re allowed to do that. And I’m not condemning anyone’s way of life here, either. I do not care what other people choose to eat or drink. I only care when they tell me something that I’ve dedicated my life to is wrong or harmful when I know it’s not.

If you want to know more about farming, get your information directly from the source. Plenty of farmers out there are completely willing to show the world what they do. If you have a question, do not ask the celebrities, and definitely do not rely on the internet. Ask a farmer.