Have you heard the term factory farm? Basically, it is a farm that is more like a corporation, operated to achieve a grand bottom line, often cutting corners and being more lenient on principles in order to first and foremost make a profit. This becomes a problem when animals are involved, because cows aren’t pieces of machinery. Factory farms are run quite differently than the average family farm or smaller-scale farm is.
Here are some things that are important to know regarding factory farms.
1. They are only inspected every ten years.
Dina El Boghdady of the Washington Post recently reported that although the Food and Drug Administration is supposed to be inspecting these farms more regularly, and Congress has in fact urged the department to do so, they simply don’t have the money needed to do so. So, the best they can afford to do is to address outbreaks of disease and other issues after they occur, rather than preventatively.
2. They often have widespread infection.
Roughly half of the dairy cows at these farms have had mastitis, a bacterial infection, as a result of unsanitary environments and a lack of good hygiene in caring for the cows. Mastitis is difficult for the animals and it lowers the nutritional value of that cow’s milk.
3. The horns of the dairy cows are removed.
To save on space and to avoid animals hurting each other, the dairy cows are dehorned. The process is not pleasant. On young cows, a hot iron cauterizes their emerging horns, while on adult animals, saws or clipping tools are used—usually both without anesthesia. The beef industry has for the most part transitioned to breeding hornless cows, but the dairy industry has not.
4. Most of the milk for public consumption comes from huge conglomerates.
Even though the Big Ag industry uses pastoral imagery in their advertising, these factory farms aren’t so peaceful or pleasant. Sustainable Table reports that just 2 percent of farms now raise 40 percent of all animals in the United States. This makes it hard for family or smaller-scale farmers to thrive, and leaves most of the power in the industry to the big, corporate-owned factory farms.
5. Conditions on factory farms lower cows’ life expectancy by 75 percent.
Usually a dairy cow will live about twenty years. However, those on factory farms become fatigued more quickly, only living about four or five years.
How Can You Help?
Here are some simple ways you can be supportive of a healthy life for dairy cows.
Buy Local: Only purchase your milk from local farmers who practice ethical treatment of their animals. You should be able to find out what their cows eat, how they’re treated, and whether they are subjected to dehorning.
Opt Out: Another way to protest practices you don’t support is to choose not to buy the products of the factory farms. Besides buying from local, ethical sources, you might decide to go dairy-less altogether, using soy, almond, or rice milk instead of cow milk, and choose non-dairy alternatives for cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products.
Help Small Farmers: To show your support for family and smaller-scale farmers, show your support for a fair Farm Bill, so that small-farm farmers get the support they need from the federal government. With a fair farm bill, Big Ag will not have a monopoly.
In regulatory lingo, meat factories are called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs. (Pronounced “cay-fo.”)
Union of Concerned Scientists, CAFOs produce about 65 percent of our country’s manure, or about 300 million tons per year—that’s double the amount of poo generated by all the people in the United States.
In its 2008 report, CAFOs Uncovered, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote, “Although they comprise only about 5 percent of all U.S. animal operations, CAFOs now produce more than 50 percent of our food animals.”
The EPA reports that CAFO waste has polluted over 35,000 miles of river and groundwater in 17 states.