I watched a really interesting documentary called Milk Men: The Life and Times of Dairy Farmers the other night. If you have any interest in where your milk comes from I recommend watching this film. The film does not take a stance on the issues surrounding the dairy industry or factory farming. Instead it opened the doors; letting you see the cows, the facilities, and meet the people. It gave me room to really think about my own opinion on the dairy industry.

We drink a TON of milk here at home: close to 10L milk every week. The idea of going vegan is almost laughable. But I do want to be informed of the ethical issues surrounding this industry.

I google searched the pros and cons of dairy factory farming and there are a lot of issues that came up. These include:

  • Social – larger businesses have more buying power and can push out small, family farms; factories supply jobs to small communities
  • Technological – automation leads to a decrease in human labor needs; development of technology; expensive equipment forces farmers to specialize in an animal/crop
  • Sales – factories can extend productive seasons and have increased quantities leading to  regular product availability for consumers; high volume means lower costs
  • Animal Health – use of hormones/antibiotics to extend animal productivity; animal abuse; animal stress and overcrowding; disease transmission between animals; diet quality; housing conditions; animal health; calves removed at birth
  • Environmental – waste management

What I saw on each site that I visited was that every ‘bad’ issue was aligned with factory farming and at first that seems obvious. Of course faceless corporations only care about their bottom line. But then I started to really think about these issues and I came to realize that these concerns can apply to both small family and large factory farms.

A small, family farm can pump hormones and antibiotics into their animals just like a factory. Most of them are now automated to some degree. Animal abuse can happen anywhere. Small farms are just as capable of keeping their animals confined indoors. You still have to manage your animal waste regardless of whether you produce a little or a lot.

Our iconic view of dairy farms.

Yet as I watched this film, there seemed to be ‘just something’ about the factory dairy farms that I didn’t like. The film mentions how most of us have this iconic image of the family dairy farm in our heads that simply doesn’t match what we see in the modern dairy industry. Maybe that was it. So I spent some time thinking about what exactly it was about the factory farm scenes that I didn’t like and here is what I have concluded.

Modern day dairy farming.
  1. Cows should live outside (weather permitting of course). I don’t work with cows but after spending a lifetime around horses I can tell you they go nuts being stuck inside. Think about how much your dog loves to go outside. Even positive mental health and reduced stress levels are found in humans who are regularly in nature. I don’t care so much that my dairy be ‘organic’ nor that a farm has 50 or 5000 milking cows. My feelings on this come from animal welfare rather then the nutrition of the milk its self (though I have heard grass-fed cows produce healthier milk). I just think they should be outside. With grass.
  2. Calves removed at birth. God this breaks my heart. A sad reality of virtually every dairy farm (So far I have found 2 farms TOTAL that keeps calves with their mothers: Hawthorne Valley Farms in NY and Calf at Foot in the UK, neither of which delivery to my area). I understand why this is done and recognize that, in many cases, the calves are well cared for. But it still breaks my heart. I tried to find information on whether you could get milk from a cow while allowing them to remain with their young. From what I have read the strategy seems to be that if the cow is milked twice a day, the calf gets 1 milking and you take the other (calf is kept in pen beside mom during this process and given supplemental food). Since modern cows have been breed to produce an excess amount of milk, it appears that they can support a calf and provide you some milk to. To do this you pretty much need your own cow. On your own farm. Did I look up owning my own family cow? Yes, but please don’t tell my husband.

I will mention, for any opinionated vegans or PETA members who might read this, I fully believe that true sustainability means not consuming animal products at all. There is a wealth of information about the health and environmental effects of consuming animal products. I am trying to take small steps in the right direction. I cannot cut out the 8+ liters of milk consumed in my house each week cold turkey. But I think I might check out some of the local dairies that keep pasture-raised cattle. Small steps.

I encourage others to watch this film and consider your own stance on the industry as it is portrayed. As I indicated, the film does a good job of showing you all sides of the industry without bias.

I now have a massive craving for milk….