This is a farm where female cattle (cows and buffaloes) are kept for large-scale milk production. Traditionally each small farm had a few milk-producing cattle. In recent times, with factory farming becoming the norm, specialized dairy farms are run in rural areas, or in the outskirts of cities, to supply the large demands of the dairy products industry, and the demand for house-hold milk consumption.
In the 20th century several measures were developed to enhance large-scale production of milk, reduce production costs, and increase profitability. These have over the years raised serious concerns to do with health, ethical treatment of animals, and the larger impact on the environment.
- Milk production in most countries is almost fully mechanized.
- Cows are kept in stalls and not allowed to graze, but fed from feeding bags.
- They are injected with antibiotics and milk-producing hormones, which get into the system of the humans having the milk.
- They are milked mechanically and not by hand.
- Calves are taken away from the mothers and the milk of the lactating cow is used for commercial purposes.
- Artificial insemination is used to encourage a large batch of cows to calve at the same time.
- The fodder grown on the farms is treated with chemical fertilizers, harming the larger environment, as well as affecting the safety of the milk.
- Cattle are sometimes fed recycled cattle meat and bones, leading to epidemics such as Mad Cow Disease.
- Excrement of the animals pollutes the surrounding area and close-by water bodies.
- In extreme cases, the cattle are treated with absolute cruelty and methods such as docking (cropping tails and ears) are used for convenience and ‘hygeine’.
- Ruminant animals are a large source of methane gas, leading to atmospheric pollution. Cattle are responsible for 48% of greenhouse gases caused by the agricultural sector. (Refer to Environmental Issues Facing Dairy Farmers – Katherine Knowlton, Virginia Tech Dept of Dairy Sciences)
- Factory farms consume enormous amounts of nonrenewable fossil fuel. Producing, transporting, processing, and marketing the milk you have at your table is responsible for many food miles.
The case for small organic farms
Due to the environmental and health backlash of large dairy farms, there has been a conscious movement towards producing organic dairy products from small farms. What are the advantages of these?
- Organic milk necessarily means that it is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
- The animals are not given genetically modified feed or fodder grown with chemical fertilizers.
- The animals are not genetically modified themselves, not are they artificially conceived.
- Small farms ensure the ethical and humane treatment of animals. The cattle are allowed to graze in most cases.
- Manure and farm waste is of a small and manageable quantity, not leading to over-spill and pollution.
- Small farms don’t use an excessive amount of fuel, they are usually closer to the distribution and sales point and do not waste energy on food miles.
- the manure that is used is very smelly
Caution – is the organic milk you are buying really organic?
In certain countries, due to vaguely worded food guidelines, large dairy farms have been labeling their milk as organic and selling it at supermarkets at a premium price. The milk from these farms might be free of hormones and antibiotics, but the cows might still be stall fed and never taken to a pasture. Alternatively the cows might be given fodder that is pesticide-free and grown with organic fertislisers, but they might still never be stepping outside their concrete stall.
You have to make your choices, whether you want to drink milk from cows that are pasture-fed and treated humanely. On the other hand you might be satisfied to simply have growth-hormone and antibiotic free milk. Whatever might be the case, make an informed choice, by asking the retailer for details or by scrutinizing the labels of the products you buy.
- "Environmental Issues Facing Dairy Farmers – Katherine Knowlton, Virginia Tech Dept of Dairy Sciences