Welcome to "Ask us" -- a series of posts designed to answer some of our most frequently asked questions. It took over an hour to get to the nearest dairy farm from the house I grew up in. While the local nursery had a few goats and the occasionally pig, animal agricultural was very distant from where I grew up. My life has changed significantly in the last decade and I now boast skills like being able to milk a cow, drive a tractor, and bottle feed a calf. When I go home to visit, I get asked some really interesting questions. I thought I would take a crack at answering some of those questions here
Factory farms are evil/the worst/ruining the planet, right?
No, please no. I don’t want to have this conversation. I don’t want to bash on other farmers or other modes of production. I don’t want to defend our way of life and I don’t want to have to compare it to others. And I really don’t want to have to bust out the statistics.
We choose to farm the way that we farm because we feel it is best for our cows, our family, and our community. Our neighbor with the 300 cow dairy chooses to farm the way he does because it is best for his cows, his family, and our community. Our neighbor with the 15 cow dairy chooses to farm the way he does because it is best for his cows, his family, and our community. Our friend with the handful of dairy goats chooses to farm the way she does because it is best for her goats, her family, and her community. I think you get the point. Each agricultural operation looks to providing the best for their animals, their family and their community and because we all have different animals with different needs and different families with different needs, all of our farms look different.
The 300 cow dairy is a father, five of his grown children, and their families. In order to support 6 families the farm had to grow. Without growth the adult children would have had to move off the farm and support their families elsewhere. Through growth, the family is able to work together day after day building the life that they want. It is so humbling to watch 3 generations harvest hay together. Is the 300 cow dairy a factory farm when the majority of the chores and the field work is done by the family?
The neighbor with the 15 cow dairy owns his farm because he couldn’t imagine a life without his animals. It’s a lot of work, with little return, but he supports his farming habit with off-farm income. I would argue that even the most strident animal rights activist wouldn’t label his farm a factory farm, but is it a sustainable? I guess that would depend on how you define sustainable.
No matter the size or the product, all farmers are stewards of their land. Farmers are the original conservationists – preserving and protecting the land so that they can pass it down to the next generation. So next time you get ready to rage against a factory farm, think about the men and women behind the farm and their reasons for farming the way they do. You will find that they aren’t as evil and greedy as you think.