All For a Glass of Milk

We begin the day at the Jone’s Family Farm, a dairy farm known for their progressive environmental farming.  The operation runs twenty four hours a day, with 1,200 heifers being milked three times a day.  Before stepping foot off the bus we were informed that this farm would impress us with environmental technology ahead of almost any dairy operation in the country. Sean Jones gave us the tour of his family farm which produces 115,000 pounds of milk a day, their efficiency stemmed from some of the top genetics in the world. As we walked around the farm we watched the daily life of these cows, an efficient continuum of eating, laying down and being milked. We then were shown the proactive environmental measures put into place such as the lining of the manure lagoons and the phosphorus removal system. While all this technology seemed extremely progressive we were surprised to here that they are still struggling with keeping up with environmental regulations. If this farm is having difficulties keeping up with these new laws it is hard to imagine how other farms of the region are going to survive.

While the farm’s environmental initiatives are truly impressive I could not help but still consider the lack of intrinsic value towards the cows.  They were of course very healthy looking but live a life like an inanimate resource.  Almost never being outside, their lives defy every aspect of how an animal lived for most of history.  Any attempt for this animal to feel happiness is purely an economic reason of it producing the maximum yield of milk.

As I considered the idea of the intrinsic value of dairy heifers we pulled into St. Brigid’s Farm, owned and run by Judy Gifford and Robert Fry.  The farm is substantially smaller, with only seventy cows milked at one time.  These heifers are milked twice a day by Judy and live outside on rotated fields of green grass except during the winter.  While just as healthy looking, these cows looked substantially less like part of a factory assembly line and substantially more like a living, feeling, individual animal.  Judy petted the cows as she walked by and listed off many of their names to us.  While of course St. Brigid’s was still a business who holds a goal of maximizing the efficiency of profit, there was also a clear love and intrinsic value towards the animals.  Unfortunately, our country’s milk consumption will most likely never be able to be met by these much smaller, grass feed farms.  After these visits I will much further appreciate the effort from the farmers and the cows that all goes into a glass of milk.

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