Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bessie Provides Milk and Beef

Visitors to our farm frequently ask what happens to cows when they are no longer productive members of the herd. The answer is they leave our herd and are sent to a livestock auction where someone purchases them for meat production.

Our goal is to keep cows as long as possible and everything we do is centered around keeping cows healthy, comfortable and productive. Sometimes it’s necessary for animals to depart our herd - reason for this are; 1) she is unable to get pregnant and/or a low milk producer, 2) she is sick or injured - the most common sickness is mastitis which causes inflammation of the udder or 3) she dies of natural causes. The average age of a cow on our farm is about 4½ years old. The oldest cow on our farm is over 9 years old.

Our cows coming out of the milking parlor
As a dairy farm, we’re in the business of taking care of animals and producing milk. Dairy animals are food animals, with a different purpose then companion animals or wild animals. They have the significant purpose of providing food for people. Female dairy cows produce milk and when their productive life is over they are utilized for meat production. Bulls (males) are raised for beef production from the time they are born.

Cows relaxing on their sand beds
Our animals deserve and receive excellent care. They live a good life and we meet their needs by providing quality food, fresh water, comfortable housing and health care. I realize it’s difficult for some to understand how we can care for an animal and then send her to the auction to be sold for beef production. These choices are not always easy.

Why not keep all the cows even if they are no longer productive? It’s not economically feasible. Cows eat about 100 lbs of feed every day. If you feed a high quality diet recommended by a nutritionist, like we do, it costs about $8/cow/day. Feed is only one of the many expenses we incur each month for the health and comfort of our animals. In turn, they produce milk which we sell in order to provide them with feed, bedding, veterinary care, comfortable housing, electricity, etc. These expenses add up to approximately $7/cow/day. So it costs roughly $15/cow/day to own dairy cows. We can’t afford to keep cows that are not productive, we don’t have that luxury. 

Our cows spend many hours each day consuming feed
We love our cows and understand they serve a very important purpose – providing nutrient rich food for people.

22 comments:

  1. Like any other animal, don't Cows produce milk for their young? Not for humans, because why does it make sense to drink the milk that comes from another animal's breast? And so, this leads to my question, where are all the baby cows? And why are you drinking their milk?

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  2. Dairy cows produce milk for their young and for humans. The calves on our farm drink cow’s milk as part of a healthy diet, which also includes a special grain recipe made just for calves and water. The calves continue this diet until they are about 3 months old. Humans also consume dairy products as part of a healthy diet and have been for centuries. Cow’s produce plenty of milk for the calves and for human consumption.

    In addition to cow’s milk, people around the world consume milk from buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, yaks, reindeer and Ilamas. Milk and milk products are nutrient rich foods.

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  3. Since when did cows make milk for humans? Women don't make milk for other species, so why do we think this milk is for us? Did they tell you about it? My knowledge of biology is that all mammals can only make milk when they have or expect babies, so in order for them to "produce" milk for humans, they should be constantly impregnated, which to me could not be a sign of good care. On average, bovine live up to 25 years, and you say the average on your farm is 4 1/2 years? It may be a good life, (which I'm not so sure of) but it's one hell of a short one.

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    1. Dairy cows are domesticated food animals with the purpose of producing food for humans. They deserve a dignified life and good care which we strive to provide on our farm. Their purpose is producing milk and beef. I understand you choose not to consume animal products and I respect the food choices you make. I ask that you respect the choices that others make as well. Many people, myself included, enjoy consuming dairy products as part of a healthy diet.

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  4. Dairy Mom, thanks for sharing the practices on your farm in such a transparent way. I’m a dietitian and a public health nutritionist and a vegan. I agree that your farm produces a nutrient-rich food but it’s not an essential food. It’s perfectly easy to have a balanced diet without it, as many people throughout the world do.

    To me, that makes it hard to justify the way these cows are treated. I realize that they are well-fed, clean, and comfortable and are probably reasonably content on a daily basis. I don’t think the treatment of the calves is all that great, though. Raising the females in total isolation in cold little huts, and hauling newborn males away from their mothers--knowing that some of them will end up in veal crates--really does sound fairly heartless. So does sending a sick or old animal to the slaughterhouse—an animal you claim to love!—when she is no longer profitable.

    I understand, of course, that it’s not possible to keep all of those cows after they have stopped producing. Nor is it possible to allow the male calves to live out their natural lives. But if milk production can’t be done without this unfair and unkind treatment of so many animals, and if we don’t need milk to be healthy, it just seems awfully hard to justify dairy farming.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

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    1. I realize food choices are personal. People make food choices based on a variety of factors and I respect that. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, A & B12, potassium, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin and magnesium. These nutrients are available in other foods, but the fact remains that milk is a nutrient-rich beverage. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend adults consume 3 servings of dairy daily.

      Regarding animal care, I encourage you to visit a dairy farm to see first-hand how animals are cared for on a daily basis. Dairy farmers choose this occupation because they like cows. We work daily to provide a good lifestyle for our animals. Calf hutches are used to keep young animals healthy, to ensure they get the nutrients they need and to provide them with the individual care they require.

      The majority of people choose to consume dairy and beef as part of a balanced diet. I believe they deserve the right to make that choice.

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    2. But again, the fact that milk is a nutrient-rich food isn't the point here. The point is that it's not a *necessary* food. There is no disagreement about that in the medical field. All major nutrition and health organizations agree that people can meet nutrient needs on a vegan diet.

      And, it's not a question of whether people have the right to choose what to eat. It's a question of the ethics of producing a food that isn't necessary for human health and that requires the exploitation of animals. I am having trouble understanding how you justify taking a newborn calf from his mother and sending him to be raised on a veal farm or sending a sick cow to be slaughtered just to produce something that people like, but don't actually need. That's what I was hoping you would address.

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    3. I’m glad you agree milk is a nutritious food. If dairy isn’t necessary then why do U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend we consume 3 servings each day? As long as there is a demand, we will continue to provide milk for dairy products.

      We feel great pride in both the products we produce and the way we produce them. I realize it’s sometimes difficult for people who don’t work with livestock to understand why we select certain management practices, such as raising calves in hutches. Everything we do on our farm is centered on providing the best care for our animals so they will be healthy, comfortable and productive. We’re making an effort to dialogue about food production through this blog and welcome people to our farm to see for themselves how we care for our animals.

      As a consumer, you should be grateful for all the food choices you have in this country. It’s your right to make your own food choices but not to take away food choices from others who want to consume dairy and meat.

      We look at the big picture and realize the overall benefit dairy and beef products bring to our society. As I’ve mentioned, the purpose of food animals (dairy, beef, hogs, chickens) is producing food for humans. I’m not sure why you want to rid the world of dairy and beef animals. Dairy cattle are great recyclers changing many kinds of feedstuffs, by-products and marginal forages into a nutrient-rich product. What would happen to the by-products of beer, cotton clothing, bio-fuel, soy oil, etc. if not recycled by livestock? I’m thankful dairy cows can do so much from recycling materials to providing nutritious food!

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    4. Many healthy populations throughout the world don’t drink milk. All public health organizations recognize that it’s not a dietary essential. That includes the USDA, despite the fact that their position is strongly driven by a pro-animal agriculture agenda.

      Yes, I would like to see animal farming end because these foods cannot be produced without some cruel treatment of animals. I’m not questioning the treatment of the cows on your farm. They look like they are fine. It’s the back story that concerns me, the things that people don’t see when they visit your farm. The newborn calves sent to auction, with some of them ending up in cruel veal crates. This is an issue you haven’t addressed anywhere on your website.

      I also wonder how far older or sick cows travel to the slaughterhouse with painful, untreated mastitis. And whether you are 100% confident that they are killed in as painless a way as possible. Do you monitor the way in which their lives end?

      And you’ve said a number of times that your calves are housed in hutches for their safety and well-being. Wouldn’t they be safe and healthy and much happier if they were housed in individual pens with their mothers? I understand that this isn’t possible because you need to return the mothers to the milking herd. But, what this suggests is that it’s not possible to offer these calves the optimal situation for a newborn animal and turn a profit at the same time. This isn’t your fault, I know, but it certainly raises questions about whether we can justify animal agriculture at all.

      I’m not trying to take anyone’s choice about their diet away from them. I do want people to know that old animals and baby animals suffer for the production of food and that there are excellent alternatives to milk, eggs, and meat.

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    5. The U.S. dietary guidelines are established by an Advisory Committee with the goal of providing science-based nutrition and food safety recommendations to help promote habits that maximize good health and reduce the risk for chronic disease. For more information about how the U.S. dietary guidelines are established, see this Q&A resource: http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Questions_and_Answers_About_the_Dietary_Guidelines_For_Americans.

      You are using your credentials as a nutrition professional to spread inaccurate information about animal agriculture to scare and shame people into conforming to your vegan agenda. It that professional and ethical?

      Dairymen pamper their cows. Our animals are valued and respected. A profitable dairy farm and good animal care go hand in hand. We can only be successful if our animals are thriving. We do the right things for the right reasons. These reasons are based in experience, science-based research, consultation with veterinarians and nutritionists, economics and the response of our animals. Ninety-eight percent of dairy farms in the U.S. are owned and operated by families. Many of these are multi-generational family farms who are just like my family.

      I have addressed calf raising, cow care, how and why some animals are harvested for beef, and many other topics on this blog. I’m very open about what we do on our farm. You are not interested in learning about animal care, only about furthering your vegan agenda. No information I can provide that would satisfy you because you’ve made up your mind.

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    6. I lived near a dairy farm and when the calves were removed from their mothers I heard the mother cows crying for days...It was heart breaking.

      I also know people who purchase these male bull calves at auction and know first hand that they are placed in less than ideal conditions. I know of bull calves dying, being attacked by a neighbor's pit bull mix, and living in pens that are wet, cold, with manure and very little bedding material.

      People need to be better educated on the care and housing of young calves, and when you buy a calf you are responsible to protect them.

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    7. When you walk through our barns, it’s very quiet and peaceful. The cows moo on occasion, but it’s rare to hear prolonged mooing as you describe. I can’t speak to your experience because I wasn’t there, but my experience is different.

      I agree it’s very important to care for calves and cows properly. They should be in comfortable, safe housing and receive feed and water to keep them healthy and thriving. I agree if you have animals, you are responsible to protect and care for them.

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  5. " Humans also consume dairy products as part of a healthy diet and have been for centuries."

    Whether the milk comes as healthy or not is simply not such an easy question to answer. Plenty of credential, registered dietitians do NOT think milk good for human consumption. There do exist humans who have healthy diets without dairy products. On top of this, even though humans have consumed dairy products as part of a diet for centuries, as far as I know, the evolutionary evidence that we have indicates that for a far longer period of time humans lived on diets without dairy products.

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    1. Please see my answer to VeganForLife and Ginny above. I’m sure you can find people in the medical and dietetic community who support a vegan diet. They are the minority. The bottom line is dairy products are a healthy part of a balanced diet and many people choose to consume dairy products. I’m glad we live in a country that offers so many choices.

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  6. "No information I can provide that would satisfy you because you’ve made up your mind."

    It doesn't seem to me that you have answered all of Ginny's concerns. You may provide great care to the cows that remain on your farm, but the question remains as to what happens to the male calves and old cows who no no longer produce milk. Ginny pointed out that, since the consumption of milk is unnecessary for good health, the treatment of male calves and disposal of "old" dairy calves seems unjustified. Until you address this issue, I am inclined to agree.

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    1. We sell the male calves at the livestock auction each week. They are purchased by others who will most likely raise them for beef production. My blog above addresses why cow’s that are no longer productive leave the herd for beef production.

      I realize you believe milk isn’t necessary, but you are the small minority. The majority of the population counts on meat and dairy as part of a healthy diet and there is science and dietetic and medical professionals that agree these products provide necessary nutrients. I’m inclined to agree with the moral compass and appetite of these folks.

      You are a vegan who doesn’t eat meat or dairy and my family produces milk and beef, so we are probably not going to agree on which diet is best or on specific animal husbandry practices or the purpose of food animals. I believe we can agree that food choices are personal and each person should have the right to pick which diet works best for them. And we both want good and humane care of animals.

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  7. It seems like a group of vegans decided to gang up on you and bully you all at once. Thank you for holding your ground politely. I don't know about the credentials of the "dietician."

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    1. Thanks for the comment and the support!

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  8. Hi, jumping in on this a bit late but I saw the title as *milk and beef* and thought that you might find it interesting that I keep a few family cows which are called Irish Dexters. They are a small dual purpose breed that is super at converting acerage into super quality milk and great beef. I've just gotten started and I use an old surge milker that I pieced together but I just love it!!
    As an aside, I really applaud all that you are doing to feed the masses in your huge, immaculate operation. Your cows do look quite content and my family LOVES milk!!!!

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    1. Thanks for sharing! It's neat that you are raising cattle. Good luck with everything. I appreciate your kind words and your support of dairy farmers by drinking milk!

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  9. Hello,
    I am Rajveer.I just want to ask you that when an heifer or a cow gives calf .What do you do to the calf.........it was the first and the last question,otherwise i am a fan of your dairy farming ....i am also having a dairy farm in India.

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    1. Thanks for reading my blog in India! To answer your question, please see my post Growing Up on our Farm Calf to Heifer to Milk Cow at http://thedairymom.blogspot.com/2010/12/growing-up-on-our-farm-calf-to-heifer.html

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Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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