Reality of Dairy Farms?

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Removed posting.

This message was edited Aug 6, 2006 4:30 PM

I can't comment really on the conditions you found the cows in because as I've said before the vast majority (if not all) dairy cattle here are out grazing for most of the year. I don't know how they are kept where you saw them. When they are indoors they are fed hay/silage and other food in a separate alley or in large mangers so they are eating through bars but mainly because it prevents bullying, greediness and stops them from mucking up the food.

Dairy cattle winter housing here is, in my experience, muck is scraped out twice a day, every day and fresh bedding most days with out exception as the less dirt there is on their udder means the less likely they are to get an infection, it also means the parlour is cleaner and less washing/labour is needed prior to the milking machine being applied.

There's a simple fact here though, where ever cows congregate there is a lot of muck, organic or conventional herds have the same. Dairy farms have to have congregation areas just outside the parlours and some farms suppliment feed just after milking and prior to letting them back in the fields.

I've never known a dairy herd to be allowed to raise their own calf, 7 days at the very most. Once the calf is weaned the milk stops, that's the natural order of things but not only that many breeds including the CI are bred to produce more milk than a calf will drink so for her own health most normally producing cows would need to be milked to relieve her udder.

Cows are bred once a year, produce a calf and are then milked until they dry off for 6 weeks prior to calving and the whole lot starts again. Usually the cycle is a little longer than one year since we get attached to the cows, things don't go as planned and we want to keep them producing as long as possible but it's one of the harsh realities both cow and farmer have to face one day.

Calf rearing is part of the job and they are reared speparately from the cows. Cows can become very dangerous when they have a calf and dairy farmers need docile cattle because of the high level of handling they get each and every day. The job is dangerous enough as it is without a rampant cow on the loose! This is beneficial too since the calves need to be well handled and used to the farmers when their time comes for milking. Training a heifer to come into the parlour and accepting the milk machine is not for the feint of heart and being kicked, knocked over, squashed and trodden on is common even with these 'tame' cows. The heifers benefit since, in what is essentially a very scary experience, there is a voice they know and trust to soothe their nerves.

There are many ways in which farming could change for the better and if we could make it more naturalistic and still remain in business, that would be great but it's also worth remembering that sometimes things that look wrong do actually have a very good reason behind it.

Who makes the money? The processors and the main retailers do, that's been the way of farming for decades now.

Shenandoah Valley, VA(Zone 6b)

Tir Na Nog, you might be interested in a cow share. We own a few "shares" of a Jersey cow, and pick up our milk from her weekly, sometimes twice weekly. I skim the milk, and make butter, yoghurt and cheese from what we don't drink. The cows are indeed on pasture, and there are calves in there as well. It's a small operation; on a larger scale, it would certainly not be feasible. I choose to support this farm and pay a little more in cash and time because I believe in what they're doing.

Scroll down to cowshares, or go to the "where" page to see what farms are near you.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Zeppy: Thanks for the link and info! That is along the lines I guess I was hoping to go with this thread.

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

First, before this gets any farther, THERE ARE NO ANTIBIOTICS IN MILK. Federal regulations FORBID antibiotics at any levels. The term ZERO TOLERANCE was coined by the dairy industry in regards to antibiotics in milk and it means exactly what it says. The milk is sampled at the farm before it is loaded onto the tank truck. The milk from the truck is tested at the plant before it is unloaded. If there is ANY trace of antibiotics, all of the milk samples from the farms are tested and the one that comes up positive belongs to the farmer that just bought the entire truckload of milk. The milk is dumped down the drain - it never enters the plant. The American milk supply is the one of the safest food sources in the world.

I'm going to go calm down a little before I reply further, but be assured that organic milk is really no safer than the milk in the plastic gallon containers.

Shenandoah Valley, VA(Zone 6b)

Kathleen brings up a really good point about how rigorous the testing & quality is here.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)


I am not concerned about drinking antibiotics? I never thought organic milk might be safer...I just wondered if the farming conditions for cows producing the most costly organic milk were better. I'll edit my posting above as I did not mean to offend any farmers. I was just wondering where and why my milk comes from is all. Thanks for all the good valid points shared by all.

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

I'm sorry I went off, but statements, however casual they may be, about antibiotics in milk have a tendency to become gospel. We've been down this road before, and it is never anything but hurtful. The dairy farmers, both small and large, work very hard to produce a quality, safe product, and it takes very little to send the public off on witch hunts. The milk industry is very vulnerable to the whims of the consumer.

Dairy farming today in the US is spread across the board as far as size and method. We have a very small farm, having 55 milking cows and 40 head of youngstock. A small farm is, today, considered to be one of 100 cows. A couple of months ago, the Furrow, a free publication produced by the John Deere corporation had an article about a small farmer in Idaho. He only had 600 cows. That will give you some idea of the spread in the size of farms, and the attitude toward the truly small farm.

Farming in the west is very different from the small family farms that everyone wants to have come from. It is a business that is run on the whims of weather and water availability. The cows that you saw on those NM farms were very probably well tended and fed and quite comfortable. It is difficult to raise dairy animals in dry, hot areas without some form of confinement to keep them cool. The recent heat wave in California killed thousands of cows on farms where they were well treated and tended, simply because they are not able to take that kind of heat. Any farmer that doesn't take care of his cows and keep them as comfortable as possible is a farmer on his way out of business. Unhappy cows don't make milk, it's fairly simple. It is just too darned hard to stay in business as it is, without placing yourself in jeopardy by disregarding the health of the animals.

I honestly can't tell you why we are paid so little. Lately, our pay price per hundred pounds is in the $10 to $11 range. The USDA has stated that the average cost to produce a hundred pounds of milk is $16. Multiply the price you paid for your last gallon of milk times 12 and that is what the proccessor is getting for a hundred pounds of milk. The proccessors actually have a whole lot more to say about our pay price than we do. I can't even begin to try to explain milk pricing!

I appreciate everyone's concern with how the cows that supply the milk are treated, and I welcome questions and comments. Most Americans are so far from the source of their food that they have lost a vital contact. It is a very good thing to know where your food comes from. Please keep questioning and searching out all the information you can.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)


I really appreciate your viewpoint AND experience on the subject of dairy farms! You are right to remind me that NM is probably not the best place to try to dairy farm, condition wise. I have seen the news about the California cows (sidenote: there was a cute video clip of a cow happily being doused with a water sprinkler! yet he was panting still). They also mentioned how Calif produces 95% of America's produce and is not going to meet the demand for lack of water. It's a sad thing. I suppose people try to do what they can where they can....seems to me to be a hard prospect for someone to try to farm in an area that cannot support it without such hardships? I am speaking particularly about southern NM (I know El Paso just 30 minutes south of where I was is said to only get 10" of rain per year!). And with a farmer not making much on the milk production I wonder why they would want to stay put and farm in an area that requires more money in resources to maintain their farms. There probably isn't a perfect or even good answer to my questions. I am just wishing I understood more as a consumer.

It's so sad that the farmers despite all they have to buy and maintain make so very little of the profits. DH said for a better price his grandparents farm had to have the machines to homoginize it themselves to for the big companies. I think, "The milk industry is very vulnerable to the whims of the consumer" can be said of almost every industry. Thanks for trying to help me!

This message was edited Aug 7, 2006 8:39 AM

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

This is a milk company I'd not heard of or enjoyed until I moved to Texas (not sure sold elsewhere) but their mission and quality is unsurpassed! Please check them out, it's the "old-fashioned" style dairy farming I was wondering about:

San Antonio, TX(Zone 8b)

tir, I too am curious about farm animals. The wave of interest in free-range meat and hormone free dairy hit me and my dw a few years back. The older I grow the more I think that science development is not in the market of helping us live longer and healthier (they have achieved that if you compare our life span to that of 100 years ago), but in the market of get rich quick and confuse the public so they don't know what they are truelly buying. Okay enough of my opinions they are not needed in DG.

I am curious if the hormones and anti-biotics in livestock and farm animals is passed onto to us little humans after we consume them or their production (eggs, milk). Call me nieve but I believe that I fit into that above category I mentioned "the consumer".

I long and dream about homesteading( self sufficient life style) or something as close as I can get to it. Some land )title in hand), mortgage-free house, chicks, jersey cow(s), ducks, horse, veggies, ect. and would like to try it naturally the least amount of supplementing and injecting and such as possible. I realize there might have to be some medical treatments but the least the better. There are some great discussions in the Homesteading forum.

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Tir-Na-Nog, actually cutting back would just hurt us - at this point there is a surplus! And the WTO is not doing us any favors. And that whole subject is way too political for Dave's.

I have described our farming philosophy several times in the past - we are grazers. We don't grow corn, but we do buy it shelled to grind into a total mixed ration fed in the barn. Our cows go out everyday and graze a different piece of pasture on an intensive rotational system. We don't use any hormones (although as a side note, milk from cows producing naturally and cows given Posilac, the Monsanto manufactured hormone, is identical. Given two test samples and the appropriate tests, you couldn't pick out the "natural" milk.), and as point of fact, if we had a good organic source for the purchased corn, we could go organic if we wanted to jump through the hoops that the USDA has set up. We drink the milk we produce raw, and feed it to friends and family - milk quality and tasted and safety are very important to us. And I know you would find this is true for most dairy farmers, large and small.

I understand the dream of owning property and being self sustaining. Our way of farming is based on the sustainability of this farm into the future. The problem is, that this just isn't a possibility for everyone. The population of our country and the world is just too large for everyone to have their plot. Farm land is under an incredible amount of stress at this point from all sides. The recent Supreme Court decision that eminent domain can be used to take farm land and sell it to someone who can use the land in more economically profitable way is a definite step on the wrong pathway.

I need to quit here or wander into the very confusing politics of American farming. Suffice it to say that the reality of dairy farming in the US is a very broad and often contradictory subject, but that we are all out here doing our best.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Well put Kathleen, well put.

I think it best this thread end on that note.

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