How do California dairy producers ensure that their cows are comfortable, safe and healthy?

California dairy producers are very concerned about the health, comfort and safety of their cows. They take animal care very seriously and work hard to ensure their cows are healthy and comfortable.

  • Dairy cows must be healthy and well-cared-for in order to produce high-quality milk. Cows under stress produce far less or no milk.
  • Dairy cows receive regular veterinary medical care, including periodic check-ups, preventative vaccinations and prompt treatment of illness.
  • Dairy farmers depend on healthy cows for their livelihoods. Dairy farmers care for their herds by providing a nutritious diet, good medical care and healthy living conditions.
  • California is home to many of the most modern, technologically advanced and efficient dairy operations in the world, financially capable of maintaining systems and best practices for herd comfort and care.
  • In 2010, a coalition of dairy groups announced the launch of a statewide program to promote and verify responsible animal care by adopting the National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, which is designed to assist farmers in demonstrating their ethical treatment of dairy livestock animals and create consistency of dairy animal care practices across the country.

What does the average life of a California dairy cow look like on a daily basis?

  • Dry, fresh bedding keeps cows comfortable and healthy (some dairy producers even have water beds for their cows).
  • Free stalls (also known as individual stalls), communal pens or pastures, all allow cows to move about freely to eat, drink, exercise, groom or rest whenever they like; with all three housing systems, cows also have freedom to interact with their herd-mates.
  • Cows have access to food and clean water 24 hours a day.
  • In warmer parts and months of California, fans and water misters installed in cow resting and milking areas keep temperatures cool. Cows are also provided with constant access to shade.

What are some of the ways California dairy producers are held accountable for the proper treatment of their animals?

  • California dairy producers and processor groups are working together to showcase their commitment to animal care by making the National Dairy FARM program easily available and workable in the state. Producer and processor organizations recognize that at its heart, the FARM program is a powerful tool to assist dairies in documenting the many efforts made daily to properly provide for the health, comfort and care of dairy animals. They also recognize the program provides a way for our dairy farm families to document and verify their responsible animal husbandry practices, while building consumer confidence in dairy products and the families that produce them.
  • The California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP) and University of California have developed a series of animal care and well-being educational classes that are being made available to producers. CDQAP has a successful track record of providing education and outreach to California dairy farmers on critical animal care issues. These workshops are a continuation of CDQAP's mission to provide dairy producers the best scientific and practical information on topics relating to the care, treatment, comfort and well-being of dairy animals.

Was the California dairy industry in support of the tail docking ban?

The California dairy industry does not support the practice of tail docking. Even before Senate Bill 135 was passed and signed into law, the state's industry was at the forefront of eliminating the practice. According to a University of California study at the time, only six percent of the state's dairies were utilizing the practice. Originally thought to have legitimate herd-health implications, once scientific studies demonstrated that tail docking did not deliver on anticipated benefits, the majority of California dairy producers stopped doing it.

Does the California dairy industry use antibiotics to treat its animals, and can these antibiotics make it into the milk I purchase at the store?

All responsible California dairy producers take tremendous care in using antibiotics to treat disease and work closely with licensed veterinarians. Therapeutic antibiotic use is not routine, but targeted when dairy cows are exposed to illness or are sick. California dairy producers use antibiotics judiciously for three key reasons:

  • To keep livestock healthy.
  • To prevent disease transmission from sick animals to humans.
  • To produce more food with less of a carbon footprint.

Sick dairy cows treated with antibiotics for humane reasons go through an FDA-prescribed withdrawal time that varies, based on the antibiotic and the animal's illness. This means that during the withdrawal time, the sick animal's milk and the antibiotics are kept out of the milk supply. The FDA also has set strict standards for the presence of antibiotics in milk, and each and every milk tanker is tested for the presence of the important antibiotics before the milk is allowed to enter the milk processing facility. The milk from the rare tanker truck which has been accidentally contaminated is discarded and does not enter the human food chain.