There is a lot of discussion on organic vs. conventional farming practices theses days. It’s hard to separate the facts from opinions with various marketing campaigns, social media memes, celebrities, etc. sharing their opinions on how to farm the right way. Recently, when I mention that I am a dairy farmer, the next question I receive is:
Are you organic?”
You would think that when I answer that we are not an organic farm, people could respect that. Unfortunately, it’s often not the case. I almost feel like admitting we are not organic is like a guilty verdict for some sort of crime we did not commit. So I thought it was time to explain why our farm is not organic and why that is okay.
- Access to Pasture- I was recently talking with a fellow dairy farmer. Her farm is an organic farm in Oregon. As an organic dairy farm, cows need to have 30% of their feed come from pasture. In order to get started, we had to lease a farm as opposed to purchasing a farm. The farm we lease does not have enough available land near it to allow our girls to graze during the summer months. Currently all our young stock are raised on pasture (during the summer months) until they are almost two years old. We lease pasture from folks in our community at several different locations. The ultimate goal is to have all our cows have access to an exercise lot (basically a field or dirt area). Our location, elevation and lack of irrigated fields around our farm all play a part in not being able to provide the 30% of feed that being certified organic would require. Let it be noted that several farms in our community pasture their milk cows. They are also conventional dairy farms. Pasturing animals has nothing to do with the label and everything to do with land available and how the farm is set up. It is a work in progress for this first generation dairy farm of ours. We will still be a conventional dairy farm. We have no plans on making the three-year transition to organic farming.
- Antibiotics- A common misconception is that organic dairy farmers do not use antibiotics. They do. If an animal is sick and antibiotics are the only thing that will save its life, they will use them. That animal then has to be removed from their herd. This is something I am not okay with doing. Antibiotics have strict withdrawal times, it does its job and is out of the cow’s system within a certain period of time. Selling a cow that has been on our farm since the day she was born simply because she had to be treated with antibiotics once is simply something I cannot do. Regardless if the animal is treated on an organic or conventional farm, proper withdrawal periods are met and the milk from treated cows does not enter the milk supply. Read more here and here on the many steps we take to ensure the milk that leaves our farm is antibiotic free.
- No Place to Send Our Milk- Where we are located, there is no processing facility to send organic milk.
- Processing Our Own Milk- In a perfect world we would process and sell our own milk. To process your own milk takes special equipment and would require a new building and more employees. It would take a lot of money as well as time, both of which we do not have. It’s simply not an option for us. We are happy to be part of a cooperative which allows us to focus on what matters most, our kids & cows.
We do not have enough available pasture to meet the feed requirements, we get a little too attached to our cows to sell one simply because she became ill once in her life and we have no where (locally) to process organic milk, does that somehow make us bad people? Does that somehow mean that we are not good farmers or that our cows are not well cared for? To some folks, it does. We take great pride in the care we provide for our cows and know that we are providing others with a high quality, affordable & nutritious food both in the dairy and meat aisle (yes dairy cows are part of the beef supply too).
Every farm has to do what is best for their family and their farm. You will never find two farms the same. A label doesn’t somehow make one method of production superior to another. Majority of farmers take great pride in caring for cows and the environment. The milk you purchase in stores regardless of the label, is safe & nutritious.