Cutting Cow Stress Across the Globe

Dairy farmers from Germany traveled across an ocean to learn about improving animal welfare at Waseda Farms.

“We literally met these folks on the internet,” said Tom Lutsey of Waseda Farms. “They found us.”

Tom Lutsey of Waseda Farms discusses the Temple Grandin farming system with a group of German dairy farmers touring his facility. Photo by Len Villano.

The farmers were milk producers for Zott Dairy, a family-owned company in the Bavaria region of Germany. Zott milk producers are small farmers by American standards – most on the tour had around 100 cows, and the average Zott dairy producer has just 30.

“It’s been my understanding that Europeans have more respect for their food than we do,” said Kevin Kiehnau, of Organic Valley Cooperative.

Zott focuses on selling safe, quality products without growth hormones or genetically modified ingredients, and company executives want to push for making safe dairy products from healthy, stress-free cows.

Company director Christine Weber found Waseda Farms when researching Temple Grandin, an animal behavior specialist who designs farms to minimize animal stress. Grandin designed a weaning operation, bull pen and handling system for Waseda Farms.

“In Germany there’s a discussion about animal welfare,” said Johannes Hegenberger, of Zott’s milk purchasing department.

Scandals in the European food system – like in February when trace amounts of horse meat was found in processed beef – cause customers to stop buying certain products, which hurts companies that weren’t even part of the scandal.

Tom Lutsey shows a group of German dairy farmers alfalfa during a tour of Waseda Farms. Photo by Len Villano.

“We have to find a way through all the problems and sell our product,” Hegenberger said.

The tour began in the Waseda Farms market, with Lutsey using his hand as a map of the state to explain how tourism affects his business. He has summer customers that are so happy to see “real farmers” that they’ll buy $1,000 worth of meat to take home to Chicago.

Lutsey, Hegenberger and the farmers discussed the American and German definitions of organic and conventional agriculture, the use of growth hormones and genetic modification, and how to keep cows comfortable.

“It’s our belief that stress, and the lack of it, makes better meat,” Lutsey said. “We want to make [cows] as happy as we can.”

The Zott farmers also remarked at Waseda Farms’s supply of Bavarian meats – bratwurst, mettwurst and and weisswurst.

Lutsey took the farmers on a tour of Waseda Farms, then to other local farms where they saw organic dairy operations that don’t follow the Temple Grandin system. They’ll travel next to Denver to see larger dairy farms.

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