Top-Rated Free Essay

Farming

Better Essays
The Big Business of Dairy Farming : Big Trouble for Cows June 11, 2007

Most people are aware that dairies in the United States bear little resemblance to the idyllic pastures of yesteryear. As with other branches of animal agriculture, such as chicken and egg production, hog farming, and beef production as well as crop growing small, traditional dairy farms have been steadily pushed out of the business by large agribusiness concerns. Since the mid-20th century, the growth of factory farming has led to the transformation of agriculture, forcing small farmers to œget big or get out. Small farms cannot compete with big agricultural firms because they cannot achieve the same economies of scale.
The American dairy industry annually produces about 20 billion gallons of raw milk, which is processed and sold as butter, cheese, ice cream, and fluid milk. This amounts to about INR 1,739.31 billion in sales each year. There are between 65,000 and 81,000 U.S. dairies, yet corporate consolidation means that about half of the milk sold comes from just under 4 percent of the farms. While the large number of brands and labels on store shelves would seem to indicate a diversity of sources, in reality many of these brands are owned by a handful of large corporations. For example, the countrys largest dairy producer, Dean Foods, owns 40 or so brands, 3 of them representing organic milk.
As the number of dairy farms has decreased, the size of those remaining has increased. Between 1991 and 2004, the number of U.S. dairies dropped by almost half, and the number of dairies with 100 or more cows grew by 94 percent. Because big businesses typically seek continuously increasing profits, production must be maximized, almost always at the expense of the cows in one way or another. The cows must be pushed to produce more and more milk. The production of large amounts of milk has called for changes that affect the animal’s health, including the use of drugs, mechanization, and factory-like housing conditions. Most dairy cows are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); about 10 percent of those are considered large CAFOs, each with more than 700 dairy cattle.
One of the keys to higher production and higher profits is to increase the milk yield while raising fewer cows. Between 1950 and 2000, the number of dairy cows in the United States fell by more than half, yet during that same period, the average annual milk yield more than tripled. What made this possible, and how has it affected the welfare of the animals?

Frequent pregnancy
Cows are like any other mammal in that they produce milk for the nurturing of their young; in order to lactate, a cow must recently have given birth. In her natural state, a cow gives birth after nine months of gestation and nurses her calf for seven months to a year. This is œwasted time that a dairy factory farm can ill afford in addition to the fact that the milk is meant to go to market, not to the calf so calves born to dairy cows, whose primary purpose in being born is to induce lactation, are taken away either immediately after birth or within a day or so. This separation causes great distress to the mother, who would normally feed the calf more than a dozen times a day and, like other mammals, forms a strong bond with her young soon after birth. Male calves are killed or sent off to be raised for veal or beef. Females become dairy cows like their mothers; frequent replacement of herd members is necessary because the death rate of dairy cows is very high. Cows natural life expectancy is 20 years or more, but the average dairy cow lives just 3 to 4 years, exhausted by constant lactation and frequent disease.
Cows on factory farms give birth once a year as a result of artificial insemination. About two to three months after calving, a cow is once again impregnated, and the cycle begins again. Lactation continues throughout, except for a few weeks break in between its cessation (about eight months or so after calving) and the next time she gives birth. Thus, dairy cows are induced to produce milk for most of the year.

High-protein feed and growth hormones

Cows naturally eat grass, which is how the bucolic image of dairy herds grazing in pastures became so well recognized. A diet of grass, however, is high-fiber and of low nutritional density and does not result in a high milk yield. The milk produced from this diet would be enough to feed a calf, but it is not enough to satisfy market needs. So modern dairy cows are fed a low-fiber, high-protein diet of grains such as corn and soy along with animal by-products. As ruminants, they have stomachs with four compartments that are made to process high-fiber grass; partially digested food, or cud, is regurgitated to again be chewed and swallowed, a process that occupies cows for up to eight hours a day. The feed given to cows on dairy farms, however, does not lend itself to this process and is thus difficult for them to digest, causing health problems. In addition, the use of high-protein diets because they contain animal protein, including, in the past, tissue from diseased cows has been implicated in the proliferation of mad cow disease.
Another tool to increase milk yield is the use of the genetically engineered growth hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). This hormone contributes to an average milk prouction of 100 pounds of milk per cow per day, 10 times as much milk as a calf would need. Maintaining such high production for such an unnatural length of time exhausts the cows bodies and depletes them nutritionally to such a degree that even the nutritionally dense feed cannot compensate. Copious milk production causes cowsbones to become severely deficient in calcium. They thus become prone to fracture, and the result is a sharp increase in the number of œdowned cows, or œdowners, a general term for farm and food animals who collapse, unable to stand up again, and must be destroyed.
The use of rBGH causes other serious problems, including chronic mastitis (a painful bacterial infection and swelling of the udder), which is related to overproduction of milk. To treat infections and help prevent them, dairy farms routinely administer antibiotics to their cows. Antibiotics and rBGH find their way into the milk that humans drink. It is known that the overuse of antibiotics, including routine preventative use, encourages the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In addition, milk from cows given rBGH shows an increased presence of IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor, which has been shown to cause cancer in humans. The amount of IGF-1 present in milk produced by cows given rBGH is two to 10 times that in non-rGBH milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for regulating the use of such supplements, not only has allowed the use of rBGH but has also refused to allow the labeling of milk to advise consumers that it contains the hormone. The United States is the only industrialized nation that permits the use of growth hormone in animals used for food.

How dairy cows are housed

In 2001 more than 75 percent of dairy cows had no access to pasture. Cows in many dairies are housed in a combination of outdoor and indoor facilities, such as sheds, outdoor dirt corrals, and stall barns that may not have access to the open air and where cows may be tied up or otherwise restrained for long periods of time. Cows who are restrained in stalls show signs of stress from social isolation and the inability to lie down; further, they are likely to develop teat and skin injuries, lameness, and susceptibility to a variety of diseases.
Over the last few decades, agribusiness dairies have experienced great growth in the southwestern United States, which has a very different climate from the country’s traditional dairy-producing regions, including New England and the Midwest. The Southwest does not have expanses of grassland, and most dairy cattle there are housed in unpaved dirt lots, or drylots. The undeveloped surface of such lots is hard on the cows and causes frequent lameness. Drylots offer inadequate protection from the elements, and heavy rains create layers of mud and manure several inches thick, often making it difficult or impossible for the cows to walk or lie down on a dry surface, which dairy experts recognize as a health requirement for cows. Further, the population density on dirt feedlots tends to be very high. In the southern regions of California, one of the largest dairy-producing states, the average number of cows per dairy was 800 to 1,000 in 2005—more than three times higher than it was in 1972. High density makes it difficult to maintain sanitation, and dairy cows housed this way are subject to frequent illness and infections.

Organic dairies
Unlike the sorry state of most so-called free-range chicken facilities, the majority of organic milk producers do treat their cows well, providing access to pasture and proper feed, avoiding growth hormones, and adhering to ethical standards. However, the growth of the organic milk industry in the 1990s and the early 2000s has attracted the attention of agribusinesses, whose desire to participate in this lucrative market has led them to compromise organic standards and lobby for the degradation of such regulations at the federal level. According to a 2006 report by the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group, some of the countrys leading producers of milk, after entering the organic market, have attempted to transfer their factory-farm dairying techniques to the production of “organic” milk. The study found that nearly 20 percent of the organic-brand milk on store shelves was from producers following substandard practices. Consumers should be aware that some of the biggest names in the business are among those implicated.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Powerful Essays

    Scientific Farming

    • 1169 Words
    • 5 Pages

    Scientific farming vs organic farming - Document Transcript 1. Scientific Farming Vs Organic Farming Class: 2A Group 3 Group leader: Wong Kin Kon, Tony (40) Group member: Chow Cheuk Yin, Tommy (8) Fung Sheung Chi, Simon (10) Hui Ying Kit, Steven (12) Man Wing Ho, Victor (21) 2. Content Introduction P.1 Scientific Farming P.2 Organic Farming P.2 Advantages and Disadvantages of - Scientific farming method P.3 - Organic farming method P.4 Comparison between organic farming and scientific farming P.5…

    • 1169 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Better Essays

    Organic Farming

    • 1992 Words
    • 8 Pages

    health. Organic farming techniques, on the other hand, have recently been introduced as another possible solution to sustainable agriculture. Organic methods, including of crop rotation, pest management, and cover crops, have proven to be less damaging to the environment. Despite the proven benefits, some believe that organic farming methods will not produce enough food to feed the world’s growing population. Therefore, this side of the agricultural debate insists on merging organic farming and industrial…

    • 1992 Words
    • 8 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Local Farming

    • 619 Words
    • 3 Pages

    just looking at this we can see that local farming is very beneficial. But not only it is fresh and cheap, it supports the locals and reduces the environmental cost. First, it is beneficial for the consumers. Typical vegetables and fruits are usually picked 4 to 7 days before the distribution so in this period the products are kept in the freezing facilities. However, when you freeze the vegetables, their quality goes down. On the other hand, local farming provides fresh newly picked foods to the…

    • 619 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    Future of Farming

    • 1419 Words
    • 6 Pages

    The Future of Farming As the world continues to develop and attempts to provide for the ever growing population, more and more land is being diminished, which will eventually destroy the topsoil due to the use of petroleum based fertilizers and other unnatural means of producing vegetation. As this challenge faces us, we will be forced to find other ways of supporting ourselves instead of relying on the farms we have today. It is important that we realize the importance of practicing sustainable…

    • 1419 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Better Essays

    Factory Farming

    • 1701 Words
    • 7 Pages

    Factory Farming is cruel to animals Student 1 PHI 103 Instructor KB 09 July, 2013 Factory Farming is Cruel to Animals It is so amazing that most Americans are so caring of the animals they keep as pets, and yet are so unconcerned about the upbringing or disposition of the ones they cook for dinner. It is amazing how some Americans see themselves as sympathizing folks and animal lovers until they reflect on what they just ate. Society loves animals as pets, adopts…

    • 1701 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Algae Farming

    • 504 Words
    • 2 Pages

    state that the US is currently in, we need an oil alternative, which is both economically friendly, and environmentally friendly. Algae farming tends to fall in both of these categories; what’s more, it is also efficient. For three very important rationales, I stand in a strong affirmation for this bill, in which we will fund algae farming. First off, Algae farming can be farmed realistically anywhere. There are very few requirements for algae biofuel. All biofuels that are created from land plants…

    • 504 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Better Essays

    Factory Farming

    • 1278 Words
    • 6 Pages

    issue has sparked much debate over the years, correlating with the rise of the animal rights movement and intensive farming. Cambridge Dictionaries defines this intensive, or factory, farming as “a system of farming in which many animals are kept in an enclosed area in order to produce a large amount of meat, eggs, or milk as cheaply as possible.” Views differ about this type of farming, some for it and some against it. The large scale production of livestock for food and other products is what is best…

    • 1278 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Factory Farming

    • 483 Words
    • 2 Pages

    People often contribute to the practices of factory farming and ignore the negative effects it produces. Factory farming does not just harm animals, but also the environment and humans. Society tends to avoid the dangerous impacts of the companies. Animals used in factory farms, suffer because the company neglects the welfare of the animals in order to maximize their profit (PETA). They cram as many factory animals as they can into small spaces get more money. Chickens, pigs, cows, and turkeys stay…

    • 483 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Urban Farming

    • 592 Words
    • 3 Pages

    Urban Farming Our country is encountering rapid urbanization, which is increasing urban poverty in countries across the United States as well as in many other parts of the world. A Bill trying to be passed by the U.S. senate states “Dramatic economic, demographic, and land use changes in the United States have created areas where no supermarkets exist and where limited food choice, poor food quality, and lack of affordable food prices impact large segments of the country’s population.” It is…

    • 592 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    Intensive Farming

    • 1258 Words
    • 6 Pages

    Intensive farming is a way of producing vast amounts of crops by using numerous chemicals and machines. These practices include growing high-yield crops, using fertilisers, pesticides and keeping animals indoors. Food production is increased however there are various advantages and disadvantages of this particular method. An example of this method would be conventional chicken farming. This method may be used by farmers due to predators e.g. foxes killing their free range chickens, minimising their…

    • 1258 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Powerful Essays