Note: This post is sponsored by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance & they will also be sharing on their blog as well. As always, I am sharing what happens on our farm. The views and opinions are my own.
With the vast majority of the U.S. population being several generations removed from the farm, it’s incredibly easy for folks to have misconceptions of what really happens on a dairy farm. I know this because I used to be one of those people.
With smooth talking marketing companies, restaurant chains trying to make an extra buck and all the confusing labels; let’s take a moment to break down the public’s perception of dairy farming and dairy products vs. the reality with facts from farmers and scientists.
Perception: Milk in stores contains antibiotics.
Reality: Milk is the most highly regulated food in stores. All milk–regardless of label–is antibiotic free. A common misconception is that organic dairy farmers do not use antibiotics. This is not true. If an animal is ill and antibiotics will save it’s life, organic farmers use antibiotics. That animal then has to be removed from their herd. On our conventional dairy farm, antibiotics are also a last resort for treating sick animals. While the cows do not have to leave our farm if treated, their milk is disposed of and we follow strict precautions and milk withdrawal periods to ensure their milk never enters the milk supply.
So, grab that gallon of milk (or two) and know that whichever label you choose your milk is antibiotic free.
Perception: Large dairy farms are unregulated.
Reality: The truth is 97% of U.S. dairy farms are family owned. That includes farms of all sizes, including organic and conventional. In Washington State, all licensed dairy farms are held to the state regulations. My friend Angie of Douglas Falls Creamery owns a small micro dairy farm with five cows, our farms are held to the same standards. On our farm, we milk an average of 140 cows and have the same rules and regulations as our friends of DeBoer Dairy whom milk 1,000 cows.
Perception: Dairy cows are only fed corn.
Reality: On our farm, we have a nutritionist who we work with to formulate a special ration for our cows. A cow’s diet is filled with forages, grains and minerals. The majority of our cow’s diet is alfalfa hay and alfalfa silage. We change their ration throughout the different stages of their–life from birth through milking–to ensure all their nutritional needs are being met.
Perception: Cows fed GMOs produce GMO milk.
Reality: Recent research found that:
“A very tiny amount of small DNA fragments (smaller than is needed for a complete gene) from digested plants can sometimes be found in milk. These tiny fragments in no way represent complete genes, any more than a few bricks stuck together are a prison. What is a “tiny” amount? No genetically modified genes or gene fragments were found in milk, while fragments of a “normal” plant gene were found.”
What does that mean? The claim that if a cow eats crops that were grown from seeds that were genetically modified that somehow after the plant grows, the cow eats it, digests it, produces milk that is then is pasteurized contains GMOs is simply false.
Perception: Cows are mistreated on many U.S. dairy farms.
Reality: Over 90% of the U.S. milk supply comes from farms that are part of the National Dairy FARM Program. Our cooperative is part of this program. We are inspected by our local inspector and are subject to third-party inspections as well. What these inspections do is ensure that each of our farms are taking the best possible care of our cows. They check our facilities to make sure our cows have adequate housing, if their living conditions are clean, if they have access to fresh food and water and the condition of their overall wellbeing. In addition to the housing and the care of our cows, they also check to make sure we have proper protocols for sick cows, down cows, cows that need to be put down, etc. To learn more about the program, visit their website.
If you have questions or concerns about what you have seen online in regards to farming, reach out to farmers. Don’t take sound bites and “undercover” footage from activists groups and paint an entire industry with the same tainted brush.