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Tackling Tough Topics: Euthanasia

May 19, 2016

Tackling Tough Topics: Euthanasia

Krista Stauffer runs a first-generation dairy farm with her husband, Brandon. Stauffer Dairy -- located in Washington state -- involves roughly 140 Jerseys, Holsteins and Crossbreds. Krista typically blogs about her experiences on the farm on her website, www.thefarmerswifee.com. Here, Krista talks about a tough subject all dairy farmers have to deal with – though they hate to do it: euthanasia.

You wrote about your experience euthanizing a cow for Huffington Post. What made you decide to write so publicly about the subject?

I sent the editor several pre-written blog posts as examples they could use, and he picked that specific one. Not exactly something I would have started out with trying to establish myself as a blogger on their site, but also not a topic I shy away from.

And speaking more generally, why is it important that all farmers discuss this subject?

Simply put: It’s part of farming. We should be talking about all aspects of what we do. It is so easy these days for an activist to film daily routines on the farm – and this task could easily be taken out of proportion. Talking about it, making the public aware that sometimes it needs to be done, the fact that it’s the most humane thing to do for a sick or injured animal and the process in which it is done, can help the conversations we have with consumers. It’s all about transparency.

How did you reach the decision to euthanize one of your animals? What went through your head?

Between my husband and me, we can tell you every animal we have had to put down and why. It is the hardest decision you ever have to make on the farm, yet it is also the easiest. Ending the life of an animal you raised from the time they were born, even if they are being raised to feed this growing population, is not easy. But when you know she’s is sick or injured beyond getting better, or in any way, shape or form she is hurting - your job, your responsibility and your No. 1 concern is ending that suffering.

One time, we had a cow that had an aneurysm. I remember, once we determined what was wrong and that the brain damage was actually causing her pain, it felt like forever before Brandon could retrieve the gun to put her down. But it was only a minute or two. I just sat down next to her, holding her head in my lap, crying and talking to this big, black-and-white cow, waiting for him to get back. It was a horrible experience and one I will never forget, but the choice to put her down was an easy one. No animal deserves to suffer. Ever.

What are the actual, procedural steps in euthanizing a dairy cow?

  1. Determine if euthanization is necessary.
  2. End their suffering immediately by euthanization. On our farm, we use a firearm.
  3. Confirming everything was successful and that the animal has passed.

Why did you choose that particular method to euthanize your cow?

We choose to euthanize with a firearm because it is something we can keep on hand if needed immediately, and we know that we can end the suffering with a single shot.

What is the lesson to be learned from euthanizing an animal?

One can hope that there is something to be learned in how to prevent or treat something differently in the future so that you don't have to put another animal down. There is usually a lesson to be learned in everything, but sometimes there isn't and accepting that is hard to do.

How did you explain this situation to your children?

We are open and honest about farm life with our kids. We tell them the facts, but keep it simple. When they ask why we had to put an animal down, we explain it to them. They know that it’s never OK to allow an animal to suffer and that it is our job as farmers to make sure that doesn't happen.

What is something you wish more consumers understood about euthanasia?

Ending an animal’s life is not something we take lightly. To raise an animal from birth, then have them get sick or injured, thus resulting in you having to put them down, is hard. I have cried over many cows, be it by euthanasia or by leaving the farm to enter the food supply chain. As farmers, we take great pride in the care we provide our cattle while they are on our farm, in our care. We know that they had a good life and that is what keeps us pushing forward.