Image credit: Compassion in World Farming
When I reported on a planned 8,100 cow super-dairy in the UK, I noted that many dairy farmers were concerned that these industrial-scale operations would expose the public to the fact that even most smaller dairy farms in the country keep their cows indoors for 5 or 6 months of the year. Those concerns may be coming true, because as the mega-dairy resubmits its application, its owners are coming out in the open and stating their position - "cows do not belong in fields." I'd be interested to know what our readers think.
While some farmers appear more concerned about what these giant operations will reveal about their own practices, there are of course many activists that oppose the mega-dairies on basic sustainability and animal-welfare grounds. It is, they say, inhumane for these large dairies to increase the amount of time cows spend indoors even more than is already standard practice.
Compassion in World Farming reports that as Nocton Dairies resubmits its planning application for a 3,770 cow farm (with a stated objective of building up the herd to the original 8,100 as soon as it is practicable ), it represents a very real and damaging stepping up of the trend toward permanent indoor confinement, and all the problems that this entails:
"Research shows that this type of 'zero-grazing' system is associated with increased risk of many health problems including lameness, mastitis, reproductive problems and a number of bacterial infections."
Meanwhile a Nocton Dairies representative told a BBC Radio Humberside interview (linked to from the Compassion in World Farming post above) that he sincerely believes cows do not belong in fields. With so many cows spending at least 5 or 6 months indoors anyway, due to it being too wet to graze, the Nocton representative argued that a longer period of confinement allows for increased efficiencies, greater milk production, and a more cost-effective approach to investing in the infrastructure that the cows "need" to ensure their welfare.
This seems like another one of those debates between those who see "efficiency" as being synonymous with sustainability, and those who argue a more holistic, integrated, land-based approach is the way forward. It's an argument that will run and run.
Either way, I can't help feeling that the public believes that cows do, indeed, belong in fields. Why else do we have cows all over our milk carton labels? (No matter how the cows are actually raised.)
More on Industrial Agriculture, Dairy and Animal Husbandry
Is Industrial Monoculture the Real Path to Sustainable Farming?
8,100 Cow 'Super Dairy' Threatens (the Image of) British Farming
Study Finds Meat and Dairy Farming Create More Emissions than Miles