Archive for Tom Hoogendoorn

Dairy Cattle Abuse Video – A black eye for the dairy industry

On Friday, a new undercover video from the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada was released showing abuse of dairy cattle at Canada’s largest dairy farm, Chilliwack Cattle Sales.  The video, shot by a former employee of the farm, shows dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as being punched and kicked.  This totally unacceptable conduct is a black eye for everyone in the dairy industry around the world.

The video is horrific.  To dairy farmers the video is heartbreaking.  A large majority of the people who dairy farm have family run organizations and treat their animals as if they are part of the family.  To see a dairy cow being treated in such a horrific manner is absolutely disgusting.

For their part, the Kooyman family has also expressed their concerns over the treatment of the cattle on their farm and they first suspended all employees involved, pending investigation, and have now fired them.  (Read more: Kooyman family in shock after allegations of employee animal cruelty and Employees terminated, cameras to be installed following release of video)  The challenge is that this should never have happened in the first place.  In watching the video, it would seem that these are isolated cases.  You see multiple employees abusing a cow at one time, even while knowing that they are being videotaped.  This indicates that the employees were comfortable with their actions.  It would seem to show that those actions were generally accepted on the farm.  Even though you, as owner or manager, might never take part in such actions yourself, what happens on your farm and how your cows are treated there is your responsibility.

As very large dairy farms are becoming more common, it often means hiring help that have not come from a dairy cattle or animal handling background, especially when trying to hire works for the night shift on farms that milk three times a day, as may have been the case here.  As a result, they have not been properly trained around dairy cattle and don`t understand animal behavior.  Quite likely, up to the point of being hired, they have not been exposed to the art of dairy stockmanship.  Recently we published an article about the lost art of dairy cattle stockmanship in response to growing concerns, which triggered our alarm bells.  (Read more: The Lost Art of Dairy Cow Stockmanship.  When Push Comes to Nudge.)   With the now firing of the individuals involved, there is potential additional legal action that could be taken by these individuals against Chilliwack Cattle Sales, claiming that this is how they were trained and the generally accepted conduct at the farm, and so firing them for these actions is unfair.

It’s really about culture and engagement

Ben Loewith from Summitholm Holsteins, one of Canada’s top managed herds, comments on the situation with proactive advice.  “Take this opportunity to discuss proper animal care with everyone on the farm.  Create a culture where improper handling is reported to you.”  Having been on Summitholm’s Lynden Ontario farm numerous times, I can attest to the fact that, at Summitholm, every cow is treated with the utmost respect and care.  This practice is a synchronization of the exceptional animal husbandry and people management of the Loewith family that is a priority of their personal management style.  They know that a comfortable cow is the most profitable kind of cow there is.  I have been told by employees at Summitholm, of which some have been there over 20 years, that “If you yell at a cow, let alone kick or hit a cow, you might as well start looking for new employment.”

The handling of this issue reminds me of a quote from Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Enterprises and sixth richest citizen in the UK, where he said, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”  Well, for me, the same is true on a dairy farm.  The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your cows.  Properly trained and respectfully treated employees follow the rules.  They know they are doing a good job, are less stressed, and use their energy toward being more productive. (Read more: 80 Ways to Build a Dairy Dream Team – Employees are what make dairy farms successful today)

The following are some key benefits of properly training and treating your employees:

  • Less risk
    A well-trained and managed employee is less likely to administer a wrong product or treat an animal incorrectly.  One mistake from an untrained or unhappy employee could cost you financially and personally.  Why risk your company’s reputation?
  • Consistency
    Happy well-trained employees are consistent employees.  When you have a good training program, you’ll have a much more dependable output regardless of employee pre-dairy experience.  You’ll see more consistent compliance with protocols, and workers will understand why following these protocols are necessary.  When employees follow protocols, production increases.
  • Better company culture
    While some may think that “corporate culture” is not relevant on a dairy farm, they could not be more wrong.  Workers cannot know if they are doing a good job if they do not clearly understand what the job requires.  Lack of training creates stress and a culture of disengaged employees, which can also lead to higher turnover.  Proper training and treatment help communicate the value of employees’ roles, which drives engagement and motivation for employees to put forth extra effort from the beginning.
  • Increased profitability
    Having fully developed and engaged employees will allow you, the owner or manager, to focus on strategic goals.  You’ll have confidence that employees know how to operate efficiently.  In addition, they too will have confidence, which further contributes to increased efficiency.  Knowing the proper protocols means that no one has to wait on owners or managers for instructions or approval.

Social Outrage

Dairy farmers from across the country took to social media to share their outrage towards the culprits who were caught abusing dairy cows. Many also tried to counter the negative press by sharing pictures and tweets about how animals are cared for on their farms.  Times like these are exactly why we need more dairy farmers involved in initiatives like proAction.  The proAction Initiative is a way of showing our customers and consumers that we have improved the management of our farms over time. That we take responsibility for our on farm food safety, quality of milk, care of our animals, and care of the environment. We are doing things to enhance biosecurity to limit or prevent diseases from coming onto our farms. It’s going to be a way of not only telling our consumers that we are doing a good job but we will have a way of measuring and proving that claim. It will be a way of defending our best practices that we are implementing on our farms. Showing is better than just telling all the great things we as Canadian dairy farmers are doing in the area of sustainability.  (Read more: TOM HOOGENDOORN- Family man, Farmer & Our Face to the Consumer!)  Michele Pay-Knoper, an agriculture agvocate points out that “We have a tendency to be modest, stubborn and independent – and extraordinarily busy milking cows, putting up hay and taking care of business. However, telling your story is a business practice today”.  (Read more: Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture)

It’s times like these that we need to share messages and videos like the one Dairy Carrie – Carrie Mess – produced entitled “Undercover Dairy Farm Video”.    While the title might have you expecting to see something similar to that of the Mercy for Animals Canada at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, instead what you see is what really goes on behind the doors of a dairy farm which is calm comfortable dairy cows, eating and producing high quality milk. (Read more: Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country)

 The Bullvine Bottom Line

As dairy farms grow larger, it is important that the quality of stockmanship does not decline.  It is important to take the time to train your employees on what high quality stockmanship involves. Training and upgrading of animal handling skills is an ongoing priority.  The challenge is that everyone on the dairy operation must recognize the importance of proper treatment and care of the herd. Ideally, the monitoring is everyone’s role.  There can never be an “I didn’t know!” excuse. Ultimately, whether you have 10 or 10,000 cows, you are responsible for the proper care and treatment of your cattle.

For more an proper care and handling of farm animals check out The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Dairy Cattle.



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“Farmed and Dangerous” – The Dairy Farmer’s Never Ending Battle with Public Perception

Chipotle Mexican Grill is not new to pushing the edge with their advertising.  This time they have plans to launch “Farmed and Dangerous,” a Chipotle original comedy series that satirically explores the world of industrial agriculture in America. (Read more: Chipotle to Launch “Farmed and Dangerous”)  When I saw this, ad it brought to light again the constant battle farmers and especially dairy farmers face when dealing with public perception.

There is no question that consumers want their food to be fresh, cheap and 100% natural.  With the emphasis being that, they want it cheap.  All consumers would like to believe that the milk they drink comes from cows that roam lush green pastures and frolic with their friends all day long.  The challenge of course is that it just doesn’t happen that way.  In order to produce the volumes of milk that is needed at the lowest cost, the need for larger “agribusinesses” or the negatively perceived “factory” farms is not a choice but a necessity. The thing is any well run dairy operation knows the first requirement for maximum efficiency and production comes down to how well you treat your cows and how comfortable they are.  Cow comfort is one of the biggest indicators of profitability on any dairy.  If the cows are well fed and comfortable, the dairy is running at peak efficiency, even “factory farms.”

That is why this new “Farmed and Dangerous” video from Chipotle offends me as much as it does.  Over the years, I have had the opportunity to walk among the cows on many large farms.  The consistent management goal found on all of them is maximizing cow comfort.  I recently watched an informative video by National Geographic – Megafactories about a 135,000 head dairy in Saudi Arabia owned by Almarai.

The problem is that messages like the one from National Geographic get lost.  Instead consumers see repeated messages like the one by Chipotle and assume that they are seeing the way things really are.  Since starting the Bullvine, we have tried to do our part to provide consumers with an accurate and positive perception of dairy farming…  (Read more:  Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country, Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture!! and TOM HOOGENDOORN- Family man, Farmer & Our Face to the Consumer!).  Unfortunately, the challenge is that the message is simply not making it through to the general consumer often enough or clearly enough.  Yes large agribusinesses do try to put a positive spin on food production and I get it that it’s not always as sweet and rosie as the image they would have you believe.  Having said that, they certainly don’t need companies like Chipotle undermining these efforts.

I have been fortunate over the years to be exposed to many different cultures and backgrounds.  This has led to a very diverse group of friends on my Facebook feed.  Since I post all the Bullvine featured articles on my Facebook wall, I often get interesting feedback from those who do not come from a dairy background.  While most often questions about arise from them wanting to understand what this whole “Genomics” thing is about, the interaction gets me thinking about the effect our Facebook feeds have on the general consumer’s understanding of agriculture and milk production.

With this in mind, I started looking through my list of dairy friends’ Facebook posts.  For the most part, it was just the same as any other groups, except there are a lot of pictures of cows.  With #felfie’s and other pictures adding a nice touch.  Then I started to see some things that most consumers would just not understand.  One such piece of content was a trend that is going viral, #necknominations.  Necknominations is a drinking game where participants film themselves “necking” liquor, then nominate a friend to do so as well.  This was not the first time I had seen these.  I have actually seen many.  After one such time, a fellow dairy industry member wondered what effect this would have on the general consumer’s perception of dairy farmers.  As I think about this, I find that, while it’s not a “positive” thing for dairy farmers, it certainly is not an isolated event for them either.  It has become viral worldwide.  Unfortunately it even lead to the death of a young man.  This really has me thinking about the power of Facebook on consumer perception.

What I have come to realize is that Facebook does have great power and it can be in a very positive way.  I have seen items like the poem (Just a cow) that highlights just how much dairy farmer’s love for their cows can go viral along with the stories that share the day-to-day challenges that all dairy farmers face in producing clean, wholesome milk.

One video that I think does a great job of  showing  exactly what it means to be a dairy farmer, is the recent video the Canadian Dairy Xpo produced called “So God Made a Dairy Farmer”.  Working off the very viral Super Bowl commercial by Dodge Ram, this video is narrated by the unique voice and great dairy advocate and legendary auctioneer, David Carson.

It highlights the daily challenges dairy farmers face and it is messages like this one that I wish more consumers would see and relate to.  Please like and share this in your Facebook feed, so that more consumers can understand exactly what it means to be a dairy farmer.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that as the world’s population grows, there is going to be greater and greater demand for dairy products.  With that comes the pressure on prices, which will lead to larger and larger dairy farms.  While I understand we all don’t have the time to take up consumer education like Dairy Carrie or Michele Payn-Knoper, there are effective  things that each of us can l do.  On your Facebook feed, be sure to post as many positive images of dairy farming as you can.  Whether  that is a new born calf (yes Jerry Jorgenson, you do this well!) and be sure to let consumers know just how much you love what you are doing and the pride you have in taking great care of your dairy cattle.  Real farmers actively sharing and communicating is definitely the most honest and effective way to give consumers a positive perception.  While it may not seem like much, every little bit helps!?”


To learn how to get your farm on Facebook download this free guide.



TOM HOOGENDOORN- Family man, Farmer & Our Face to the Consumer!

Valedoorn Farm in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley is a family farm.  Tom Hoogendoorn is proud of that designation and how it motivates their family’s business philosophy. We put a great deal of effort into quality of life for our families and employees.”   

This passionate dairy ambassador is set to share his enthusiasm and expertise as a panelist at the 2nd annual Canadian Dairy Xpo in Stratford, Ontario on Thursday, February 6th.  If you’re looking for a “day off” this is the exact place to get recharged and revitalized for the year ahead.  Building on the resounding success of last year’s inaugural event, Canadian Dairy Xpo 2014 organizers have put together a tremendous diversity of products, experts and entertainment in one place at one time (Check out the full Canadian Dairy Expo program).

This Family is Positive about Moving Forward

Tom and Gail Hoogendoorn own Valedoorn Farm with Tom’s brother John and his wife Lan. For the Hoogendoorn brothers it was a logical progression. “My brother and I were born into the dairy industry. Our father died while we were still in high school. At that time I was 17 and John 15 and we worked on the farm with our mother from 1979 till 1987 when we purchased it. We have slowly expanded our land base from 47 to 200 acres and rent another 110 acres making corn and grass silage and currently have 260 cows and 260 young stock.  We employ 3 fulltime staff including my nephew Alex. We also have several part time staff.” The sadness that touched their family in the end has had a positive effect on how they live their dairy lifestyle. “Having our father die early made us realize that every day should be meaningful and enjoyable if possible.”

Optimal Care. Optimal Efficiency. Open Doors.

High standards are also applied to every area of the dairy operation. All of the Valedoorn cattle are registered and classified. “We optimize efficiency in every area of our farm whether it is getting heifers pregnant or getting the most out of our crops.” The benchmarks they have reached record their success at targeting measureable goals.  “Currently  BCA’s run between 245 to 255.  Pregnancy rate runs around 30 percent year over year. We ask our cows to milk a lot of milk but try not to push the grain too hard relying on our forages to do the job.”  There are many fine details of cow management that must be optimized and when it comes to herd health, they can truly be said to be aiming to put their best foot forward.  “Hoof care is a huge part of our management practice. We want our cows walking comfortably and happily to the feed bunk! This is huge!”They also ask a high level of commitment from themselves and staff. The doors are open to everyone. “We have a modern dairy setup that is camera or visitor ready every day or night.  This “open door” policy is opening minds too as people come to Valedoorn. “People are always very surprised on how well the animals get treated.”¦It’s a real eye opener, when they come to the farm, to see how clean it is. We’re really proud of that fact and that’s why we never turn tours away.”

Both Cows and Bulls Must Meet Strategic Performance Parameters

The philosophy of consistent improvement also applies to the dairy genetics of the Valedoorn herd. “Our breeding goals are to have every cow classify 80 pts or higher. We want average sized cows with a will to work standing on great feet and legs with pleasing udders. This has resulted in 75 percent GP or better with us having bred 5 Excellent cows in the last number of years including a Throne who just calved for the 8th time who is 5E 92 Pts. We love good cows who give us no trouble. We work with Alta and Derek Flaman who picks the parameters and chooses the bulls. All breeding is done with their breeding guide. We do use some sexed on heifers and choose bulls for health traits udders and legs. We also like dairy strength.”

The view from Tom's kitchen window

The view from Tom’s kitchen window

Canadian Dairy Farming from the Global and Local Perspectives

Tom`s interest in dairy farming spans local, national and international issues. Locally Valedoorn must always be alert to changing pressures. ““Challenges currently facing me are getting enough land in our area to farm and the start of succession planning.  In Canadian terms he recognizes the unique challenges. “Dairy farming in Canada is different than other parts because of quotas. We are well organized as an industry and can affect change for our own well being. That is a two edged sword as it sometimes breeds complacency and an attitude of entitlement. We have to work hard to keep our system and be responsive to consumer demands. In the industry it’s trying to keep our Supply Management system whole and working for every farmer large and small in every region.

RELATIONSHIPS: Run the Business.  Grow the Business. Transform the Business.

The first priority and one that’s harder and harder to meet is a personal one, “For me it’s getting enough time to spend with the family.” Having said that Tom acknowledges that all the time spent is a main reason that the family farm has been in the family for 34 years. “That’s a great accomplishment arising from constantly expanding our land, cows, quota, and barns.” The family, the farm and the business is constantly changing with three main priorities. “The family working together. We are always meeting the goals we set. We continually set new goals to move us forward.”

Tom has seen many changes in the dairy industry and it has affected his approach to dairying. “Over the years the biggest change has been the size and efficiency of the farms. All our practices and methods are improving at least in the Fraser Valley where I live.” Looking back he is amazed at the progress. “There is a huge change in the quality of our cattle and the efficiency of our farms. It would have been unthinkable 30 years ago.” Once change that Valedoorn farms embraces is genomics. “Genomics for us mean better faster genetic improvement. Simple story. We are getting more info on cattle sooner and can use that for faster improvement. “

The proAction Initiative

Tom doesn’t shy away from the issues impacting the dairy industry. “We must acknowledge that the consumer and government are trying to get more involved with how we produce food in this country. We can’t ignore their questions and expect support from the broad public. People are curious about food since they are getting more and more removed from rural and farm life.” This has led to Tom becoming a spokesperson for exactly those concerns.  The proAction Initiative is a way of showing our customers and consumers that we have improved the management of our farms over time. That we take responsibility for our on farm food safety, quality of milk, care of our animals, and care of the environment. We are doing things to enhance biosecurity to limit or prevent diseases from coming onto our farms. It’s going to be a way of not only telling our consumers that we are doing a good job but we will have a way of measuring and proving that claim. It will be a way of defending our best practices that we are implementing on our farms. Showing is better than just telling all the great things we as Canadian dairy farmers are doing in the area of sustainability.”

Classical music being played for the cows at Tom's farm for the  website

Classical music being played for the cows at Tom’s farm for the website

Opportunities Ahead. Raise Awareness. Hold office.

Tom encourages and in fact urges all farmers to get more personally involved and suggests that communication is the first step. “Farmers should be involved in social media just as they should be involved in their communities. It raises awareness and profile of our industry and hopefully creates a positive link to our consumers. Farmers can no longer sit at home thinking a few select people will move them forward. I always urge frustrated young farmers to organize and get involved and take a run at leadership in whatever form they think they may be effective or like.”

Tom endorses all forms of communication, including digital and once again doesn’t expect others to do something he doesn’t do himself. “Social media for me started as a way to connect with the running world. I run marathons and so on for a hobby and it was a good way to learn and interact. Soon I learned that it is a good tool for farmers to tell our story as long as it is done properly. While I was a Dairy Farmers of Canada board member, I started concentrating on that side of it. Social media for me has been a fun positive experience. You get out what you put in as most things in life.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Tom Hoogendoorn is fully aware that there are many different ways for farmers to set and meet goals whether it’s running a dairy operation or running a marathon.  However, there is one characteristic that he urges everyone to embrace. “Never stop changing.” For Valedoorn Farm and the Hoogendoorn family that means working to move forward.  Tom hopes your forward looking plans include Canadian Dairy Xpo.  If you do nothing more than find an answer to a problem you’re working on or a make a new contact or get an onsite review of a piece of equipment,  Canadian Dairy Xpo might  solve or begin to solve your biggest dairy challenge and that means you will be move forward in 2014.  Catch Tom Hoogendoorn`s enthusiasm and you could go home from your “day off” with a solution that`s “right on!”

Want to learn more about Toma nd the proAction Initiative? Tom will be presenting at Canadian Dairy Expo on February 6th.

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