Today we returned to Sainte Hyacinthe market to observe their sale of culled-dairy cows and to check if this market, that previously had a very bad reputation, really was indeed much better than in 2004 (see old photo).
Culled-cows can often be in very poor shape and are fragile to transport, as they have spent their short lives repeatedly pregnant and producing enormous amounts of milk, leaving their bodies frail and sometimes sick. We did see one cow slightly limping, and a few that were thin, but the rest were walking well and had a decent body condition. We did not observe any downer cows at the market or ones showing signs of serious suffering when walking. The handling again today, like on Monday, was calm and without aggression. One gate door of the auction ring sometimes made a bang when closed shut, but the rest of the market was quiet. We did not hear any employees hollering or beating the animals. The entire floor of the market pens was again covered in woodchips and saw dust, including the auction ring. We did not see any animals slip.
We presented ourselves to the director to give him our feedback. He took over the market in 2009 and made a point that the market, while under his ownership, was not going to tolerate any more rough handling nor accept animals in very poor condition. He says things are not always perfect, but everyone is striving towards being good. He has all the employees trained by Gestbeau in animal behavior and gentle handling techniques, and this must be working because indeed the employees now are so much better than before. The roof has openings in it to let out the hot air in the summer, plus big fans on the sides. After the animals are sold they enter a barn where water troughs are found, so the animals can drink before being loaded onto trucks. If an animal arrives sick or lame, they have a captive bolt pistol to put the animal out of his or her misery there where he or she lies. The market does not have a mobile milker, but the director said he will consider investing in one so that an appointed employee can milk any cows in lactation that arrive with full udders.
The official inspectors from CFIA are regularly at the market, as are the Quebec Ministry ones. Despite the market being muchbetter than before, it is unfortunate that many of the cull cows are loaded at night to be transported all the way to Better Beef in Ontario (10 hours approx.) or to plants over the border in the USA, on average 6 hours away. Ideally they would not have to go so far.
We would like to thank the new owner of this market for taking animal-welfare seriously and greatly improving it.