A big buzz phrase these days in the farming world is “sustainable agriculture”. This essentially means farming in a way that does not harm the environment or animals, or overuse the earth’s resources in such a way as to deplete their availability in the future. It is a concept that will allow farmers to be viable today as well as in generations to come.
The facts show that the dairy industry, through ever-increasing efficiency, is very sustainable. The total number of dairy cows in the country today is one-third the number there were over 60 years ago. This means that dairy cows are consuming about a third of the feed and emitting a third less methane (the gas believed to play a role in the global warming theory). All the while, production per cow has increased allowing dairies to produce more milk with less total cows. Dairymen have accomplished this through advances in technology, increasing levels of cow comfort on their farms, and fine-tuning their cows’ rations to keep them as healthy and productive as possible. Critics talk about dairies harming the environment and our carbon footprint. However, science has yet to prove that dairies are the cause of air or water problems they are accused of. And, with fewer cows, dairies have actually decreased their carbon footprint by 30 percent. Talk about sustainable!
A while back I was asked by a sales representative who came to our dairy, “Why do you dairy? Do you enjoy doing it?” My first answer was of course I do, because that’s what I always said when asked that sort of question. However, this time the question got me thinking more about it. Was I being truthful or was that just the response I was supposed to give?
I began thinking about all the specific things that I like about the dairy. Was it the fact that a dairy is an eight day-a-week, can’t-shut-it-off machine? Or possibly that dairymen are bound to the time-specific routines of each and every day? Maybe it’s that dairies, just like the rest of the world’s economy, saw a financial wreck occur in 2009 like never before? Phrases like devastating losses and hemorrhaging cash became commonly used amongst dairymen and their accountants and bankers. To an outsider, none of these characteristics make dairying sound like too enticing of a line of work to get in to.
Nevertheless, there are many things about the dairy that do make it enjoyable to work on. First of all, it’s very rewarding to see the results of the hard work that is put in – be it nursing a sick animal back to health, watching a calf that you just helped deliver a couple hours ago learn to stand, or seeing a tank full of milk knowing that everyone on the dairy did their own part to help out. I also love being able to work outside. Although the 100 degree temps in the summer can make me sweat bullets, I still like being able to spend the majority of the work day outdoors. I also like the variety of different duties that come with this profession. Whether it be assisting a cow that’s giving birth, fixing a broken water pipe, or shoveling some of that highly beneficial, nutrient-rich four letter word that allows our crops to grow so well, there’s always something different that needs to be done. And, although I lamented about the recent financial woes in the industry, there are times of good milk prices as well. After all, we wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for those times.
All things considered, I realized that any dairyman in their right mind must enjoy dairying or they wouldn’t put up with everything else that comes along with it. And, since I would like to consider myself in the right mind most of the time, I concluded that I must really enjoy it.
We, as dairy producers, love our cows. We spend our lives caring for them. Each day we work to keep them happy, healthy, and comfortable. Why wouldn’t we? These animals are our livelihood, and it would do us no good to do anything but care for their well-being. Specifically, the baby calves are the future of every dairy’s herd. These are the animals that will be producing milk when they mature. From the minute they enter this world, we treat them with the utmost care to ensure they get off to a great start. This includes feeding them with high-quality milk, and making sure they are always in a clean, dry environment.
That being said, I am shocked and deeply disturbed by the recent video showing the abuse on an Ohio dairy farm. The footage is absolutely appalling. The event needs to be investigated and any employees taking part should be punished to the full extent of the law.