The unsigned April 30, 2007 editorial “Say No to CAFOs. Say Yes to Pasture-Fed Animals” is rife with errors and innuendo. As a veteran agricultural reporter and member of a fifth generation dairy family that farms near Mecklenburg, I’d like to offer readers a more balanced and accurate view of modern livestock farming.
Though I cannot respond with regard to the beef industry, I can assure readers that American dairy farms are one of the most regulated and inspected industries in agriculture and New York State dairies comply with more stringent environmental rules than are required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Part of this compliance requires that dairy farmers make significant investments in systems and equipment to protect the environment. This sheds quite a different light on the true definition of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO. In fact, most dairy producers – regardless of farm size – live and work to protect the land, water, and air for their families, their communities, and future generations.
It is ridiculous to suggest that housing dairy animals under cover is a practice that compromises their health and well-being. On the contrary, animal “freestall” barns are built and managed with animal comfort and care as the first priority. To illustrate, we scrape manure from barn walkways several times daily, provide the cattle with mattresses to lounge on, bed the stalls with fresh sawdust, and ventilate the facility so that there are constant air exchanges, creating an environment that is frequently more comfortable than out-of-doors. The calves and cows are not restrained and always have access to ample feed and fresh water. Further, moving cattle inside to safe and comfortable housing has allowed modern dairies to reduce their carbon footprint by 67 percent.
We go to great expense, both in dollars and man-hours, to tend to our herd’s health. Our focus is on preventative care, which means our family members and employees are well trained to observe animals daily for the earliest sign of any ailment and to respond quickly with appropriate measures. We hire a veterinarian to perform a weekly “herd health check,” a hoof trimmer regularly to keep the cattle’s hooves in good condition, and a nutritionist to help us deliver the best combination of our home-grown forages and other feed ingredients that will enhance milk production and support animal health.
Manure is collected and stored in a concrete structure until conditions are suitable for spreading and incorporating into the soil where the nutrients nourish crops and improve the soil. Drawing on experience, common sense, and a unique management plan designed by professionals for each CAFO farm, the producer recycles these all-natural nutrients at the right time in the right place. The value of “homegrown” fertilizer (manure) is at an all-time high in light of enormous increases in the cost of commercial fertilizers.
Pesticides are strictly regulated, applied with great precision according to label by certified applicators, and used only sparingly because they are so expensive. The residential lawn care industry uses pesticides and fertilizers much more intensively than does agriculture
Finally, readers need to understand why dairy farmers work daily to improve our efficiency of production. With annual input costs and overhead expenses such as property taxes in an ever-accelerating upward spiral, we sometimes expand our operations to dilute out the higher costs with more milk sales. As our farm businesses grow, so do our staff and payroll. And if we are successful, this allows all the individuals and families associated with our dairy to improve their standard of living and take time off for leisure and community involvement.