Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dairy dual (Part 1 of 2): Small scale dairies verses industrial CAFOs.

To say it is a tough time to be a small scale dairy farmer is an extreme understatement. For starters, there is this pernicious drought that is ravishing and altering the American landscape. As the government drops gargantuan agriculture subsidies on big businesses and a few select crops, primarily (GMO) corn and soybeans as well as allowing the centralization of slaughterhouses and meat and milk processing facilities, small farmers are having a hefty price tag to bear.

Factory farms now dominate the milk industry. The average factory farm dairy in Oklahoma has 2,400 cows. The remaining small dairy farmers are having to pay more to ship their milk much farther and finding any corn feed for finishing or to supplement if their pasture has dried up can be an expensive nearly full time job on it's own. This article does a great job of summing up the costs of being a small scale farmer while reminding us of the true costs of large scale industrial farming. If you have already eaten lunch, you may wish you hadn't after checking out the new website and book CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) The Tragedy of Industrial Farm Factories and their image of how udderly painful being a commercial dairy cow is.

In contrast, here are some benefits of small scale dairies:
Image used with permission from The Crunchy Mamacita



1) Small dairies are often more humane to animals
In CAFOs a minimum of 200 animals are kept confined in cement pens that barely leave room for turning, let alone much walking or exercise. Often their tails are docked, and animals can expect a life expectancy of only 3-4 years. They also usually never get to nurse their own babies or even hear their cries. See The Sustainable Table. Consequently, the babies are raised in isolation often at separate bottle feeding factory farms. I commend farmer's like the Crain's at Wagon Wheel Creamery who allow their mother-infant pairs a nursing period.

2) Less waste that is more sustainably managed
One of the biggest problems of CAFO's is that the wast frequently runs off into nearby waterways or gets into local groundwater. This can create all kinds of dangerous pathogens in waterways as well as leading to the  conditions that can cause algae blooms and massive fish kills. Additionally these massive farms create noxious smells for miles around and can adversely affect air quality and public health. The great plains states bare the brunt of these environmental burdens.


Image used with permission from The Crunchy Mamacita

3) Better economics for the farmer
To say that feedlot cows are more efficient, is a false efficiency because it fails to consider the resources and pesticides needed to produce their grain, as well as the energy expended to harvest these crops and transport them to the feedlots. When cows are on a free range dairy where they are allowed to graze or when the land is managed in a rotational grazing system, the farmer no longer is out the time or expenses involved in "cutting, storing, and feeding harvested forages",  according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. For some farmers this has offered as much as six times in profit gain if the cows are pasture and not grain fed.

(However, better small scale dairy economics are adversely affected by the farmer's access to dairy processing and ability to sell his products directly from his farm, in local stores, or across state lines).

Part 2 will include discussions on differences in hormones, antibiotics, and raw and pasturized milk...
Go here.



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