What is a Factory Farm?
A Farmer’s perspective by Katharine Nye: Utah State University Dairy Science & Agricultural Leadership Student.
Factory farms. Just those two little words elicit such strong emotions in us, and depending on your perspective, those emotions might be a little bit different. For some, it might evoke images of confined animals or automated milking machines being attached to cows. For me, those words are a call to action – a call to share knowledge, perspective, and experience, to talk with people about what life is really like in large-production agriculture. You see, I am a 5th generation dairy farmer, and I grew up on a 3,000 cow dairy farm. I’ve been told that my family runs a factory farm, that with such large numbers of cows, it’s impossible to be a family farm. Did I mention, I’m the 5th generation? Yes, we’ve grown quite a bit since my great-great grandfather started out in a small barn in New England with 4 Guernsey cows. Growing our herd has meant that more of my family can stay on the farm – often larger operations can support the livelihood of more family members. It has also allowed us to take advantage of advancements in farm technology, monitoring devices, milking equipment, and barn design to improved cow health and longevity as well as our farm’s sustainability.
According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, more than 98% of United States farms are family owned. Corporation-owned farms make up less than two percent of the farming landscape in our country. Just because a farm is big, doesn’t mean that the people who run it don’t care. In fact, it’s in our very best interest to make sure that the animals in our charge are treated like kings, because unhappy animals don’t produce well. A cow who is sick can’t make milk. If my cows were cramped and not fed very well, they wouldn’t make milk, and my family’s livelihood would go down the drain.
But it’s not just about the money. We genuinely care for our cows. We like the lifestyle of dairy farming, and we find joy from having happy, healthy cows. Cows are fun, and we enjoy being around them. My cows have more people taking care of them than I do. They have a nutritionist, a hoof care specialist (yes, our cows get pedicures!) two veterinarians, and a team of 6 people to make sure their corrals are clean, dry and fluffy every single day. Then there’s my family and our employees. We ensure that the cows are fed a balanced ration twice per day, that they are milked with care, and that they are monitored daily to make sure that no one is sick. In our pregnancy pen, the cows are checked on every half hour to ensure that no new mamas are having problems. If our cows do get sick, they go to our hospital barn, where they can rest and recover before rejoining the main herd.
It takes a lot of people and a lot of coordination to care for 3,000 cows. Each and every single person on my dairy wants to be there. You have to want to, because the patience and time isn’t always easy to give. But we do, because we care, it is what my family has wanted for 5 generations. Dairy farming is about caring for the cows and building their trust in me. It is about creating a sustainable livelihood that is good for our cows, our family, and our community. Most especially, it’s about making sure that you, my customer, has the safest and tastiest milk that we can possibly provide.