Why We Care Series: Animal Welfare

The Huls family has built a 108-year-strong tradition of milking and caring for cows in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Straight talk, from real farmers, in their own words.

Today, consumers have many questions about agriculture and there seems to be no shortage of so-called experts willing to talk to them about the subject. Often, in our crowded world of traditional and social media, it is only the most outrageous headlines that are noticed, but not necessarily the most accurate. So, we asked a group of farmers if they would be willing to speak to you about agriculture. Several producers took us up on our offer. Each month we will feature one of their stories in an on-going series called “Why We Care”. They will talk about everything from food safety to renewable energy. It’s straight talk, from real farmers and ranchers, in their own words. We encourage you to read and comment on these stories and to share them with others.


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As told by Dan Huls

Dan Huls is a fourth-generation dairyman in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Animal abuse makes me angry. Sick even. When I see truthful reports of livestock or pet abuse, be it physical abuse or environmental neglect, it makes me angry an individual would treat their animals in that way?—?without a sense of caring.

The Huls family has been blessed to build a 108-year-strong tradition of milking and caring for cows in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. When I see a video showing animal abuse or neglect?—?no matter if it’s truthful or manipulated?—?it feels like a slap in the face to myself, my family, and everyone I know who dedicates their entire lives to the livestock in their care.

Those videos are the exception, not the rule. You can always find a bad apple, but the overwhelming majority of us in the industry care for our livestock properly and with compassion.

Every time an instance of livestock abuse or neglect occurs and is publicized, it upsets us as humans. But, as business people, it also makes us realize we need to work even harder to educate our customers. We have to tell our stories, our truths. Neglecting or abusing animals, or otherwise providing poor quality of life, is not normal or acceptable?—?or profitable for that matter?—?for us or our peers.

Our customers should be confident in the fact we are committed to providing them with a healthy, safe product of the highest quality from well-managed and cared for animals.

High standards

Not abusing our animals isn’t good enough. It’s our responsibility and in our best interest to make sure our cows receive a very high level of care and are healthy, comfortable and happy. Cow comfort is our mantra. Every decision, every investment, every move we make daily takes cow comfort into account.

We milk around 350?cows, and in 2000?we built a new barn and milking facility. At every turn we consulted university-based studies and designed the facility with cow comfort in mind. They can roam freely throughout the barn, and there is a stall for every cow. Stalls were sized generously to accommodate even our largest of ladies comfortably.

Each roomy stall is fitted with a several-hundred-dollar specialty mattress. It consists of sewn together tubes that are filled with rubber. The mattress is covered with a felt canvas that will breathe and keep the bed dry while resisting water penetration.

All of our restraints are passive and computerized. We’re never out in the barn chasing cows and causing distress. When a cow needs to be seen by the veterinarian for evaluation or treatment, a computer-chipped tag triggers gates to release the cows directly to a catch pen as they leave the milking parlor. They are then fed and automatically caught, no stress.

We maintain a high level of cleanliness. A very slow moving automatic scraper system cleans alleys 12 times per day. Manure is routed to a solids separator, and we’re able to use recycled manure from that process as bedding. Switching to recycled manure from sawdust resulted in a significant increase in herd health and a decrease in somatic cell count. The regular scraping and reduced storage of manure also has practically eliminated fly issues, a bonus for our cows.

Design and construction of the Huls’ new freestall barn and milking facility in 2000 was almost exclusively directed by cow comfort.

Habits for health

We milk three times per day and bed stalls weekly during milking while the cows are in the catch pen. Keeping vehicles out of the barn while cows are in it helps us keep both cows and workers safe.

We provide consistency. Cows are creatures of habit. If everything today is the same as yesterday and the day before, they’re happy. When they’re comfortable and content, they produce more milk, their health is better, and we’re able to be profitable.

The cows also get lots of attention. Their food is carefully controlled by a nutritionist, their feet and legs are maintained twice a year, their health is closely monitored, and they get 60 days away from the facility each year?—?on summer pasture?—?which is about 60 days more than I get.

Though close, we aren’t organic. When our cows get sick, we do everything our vet recommends, including antibiotics. The cycle of life and death is a lesson we learned at an early age, but it’s never easy. When nursing a sick cow, it’s not just a business decision. We give them the benefit of the doubt and try to save them, often going beyond what is economically reasonable to avoid saying goodbye.

We want the best for our cows.”

—Dan Huls

They aren’t just a means to an end for us. Every animal on our farm is raised here, fed by hand for weeks and cared for by a member of our family at all stages of production, day in and day out.

We develop a relationship with those animals and, frankly, we care very deeply for them. We know every tiny detail about them. Their health history, their lineage, their production, is all carefully recorded as it was for their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother over the years.

Our subsistence as human beings comes from those cattle. Our interest is their care and their health. The better life we give them, the better we do. It’s a good life for us all.



Why We Care Series: Animal Welfare


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