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?
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...
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