Seeing cow care and antibiotic use in livestock for myself

Being in the nutrition field, I often come across questions regarding different types of food safety concerns, especially when it comes to dairy products. The scare tactics and flood of information presented to consumers can be overwhelming. Being able to tour a dairy farm with Illinois Farm Families shed light on antibiotic use in livestock and humane treatment of cows.

Cow Care

As I arrived on site, farmer Sarah Lenkaitis discussed many myths about the dairy industry. She clarified that through their high-tech robotic milking machines, the cows are never over-milked. Cows are free to visit the robotic milking unit whenever they want!  The machine is specialized to identify each cow by her chipped collar and adjusts the milking device to fit her udder perfectly. Cows are provided with a snack for their good deed and then allowed to go back to their open pens.

The cows always have access to food and water as well as a temperature-controlled, clean environment. It was interesting to learn that having a cool, comfortable environment is especially important for the health of cows because they overheat quite easily since they primarily only sweat through their noses! The farmers showed care for their cows’ safety and humane treatment by creating a perfectly tailored environment, tracking their health and even giving each cow a unique name, like Starbucks, Magnolia, Rebel, Drama and many more.

Fun fact: At Lenkaitis Holsteins, the daughters of a cow will all start with the same letter. For example, Starbucks has a daughter named Spice. Dream has a daughter named Drama.

Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Another concern that has recently been voiced by the public is the potential presence of antibiotics in dairy products. The farmer had great insight about antibiotic use in livestock. She described how they take extra care to make sure their cows stay healthy through the specially crafted barns as well as tracking devices in each cow’s collar. The farmer is able to detect deviations in eating or activity levels to help diagnose problems with the help of their veterinarian.

In addition, the milking machines are so advanced that they can be programmed to dump out milk and wash the entire robotic milking unit when a cow is being treated with antibiotics. This ensures that no antibiotics ever enter products that are collected for distribution. If that wouldn’t convince you enough, it was conveyed that after the milk leaves the farm, the milk processors specifically test the milk for antibiotics and will charge farmers for the entire milk truck that was discarded due to antibiotic residue. Not only are farmers inherently concerned about the welfare of the consumer, but the manufacturers also take an added step to hold any farmer accountable for any irresponsible antibiotic use in livestock.

Overall, seeing how this particular dairy farm operated provided me with a great deal of knowledge that I can use to help the public make informed decisions about the safety of dairy products and the humane treatment of dairy cows.

Brianna Sommer, Northern Illinois University Dietetic Intern