When I started my internship, I came straight from my degree with very little understanding of the importance of animal welfare.
My knowledge went as far as things like placing bird feed in your garden during winter, volunteering at an animal shelter or simply petting every dog you encounter! Everyone enjoys keeping our animals happy, I thought.
This soon changed as my internship began. I learned that a happy and healthy animal isn’t just ‘fun’ — it is intrinsically linked with our own health. Whether we are talking about livestock or pets, we need animals in our lives to provide us with both nutritious food – like milk, meat and eggs – and essential emotional comfort.
As the human population continues to increase, keeping our livestock healthy will only become more important.
Why? Because a healthy cow isn’t just a happy cow, it also produces more milk. This negates the need to bring more animals into the dairy industry, which in turn mitigates the ecological consequences of doing so.
And so finding the right balance between demand and supply of animal protein in a sustainable manner is essential. While the demand for food will increase, the availability of natural resources will not.
The same goes for pets, which have been consistently proven to benefit human health in many ways. From increased levels of physical activity to stress and blood pressure reduction, they also help us build new friendships and social support networks. In other words, healthy pets mean healthy people.
I realised this is the concept of One Health, where animal, human and environmental health are ‘all connected’.
During my internship, I also discovered that many of my assumptions about animal welfare, based on things I had seen and read on social media, were open to challenge.
Just one example was when I joined one of Elanco’s veterinarians on some dairy farm visits in the Netherlands. To be honest, I did not know quite what to expect, but I found these farmers truly cared for their animals.
The cows had a lot of space to move around, were often able to go outside and could choose freely when they wanted to be milked, thanks to some pretty high-tech milking machines the farmer had installed.
Even though this has been only a glimpse of the dairy industry, it made me realise that we all need to question our own assumptions and what we read on social media. My message to my fellow millennials is that you shouldn’t simply believe everything you read on that little screen in your hand.
Looking back over my three-month communications internship, I’ve learned a lot and developed many new insights. Not only have I been able to challenge my views on animal welfare, I also learned a lot about animal medicine and how important it is to always keep an open mind.