Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Factory Farm Field Trip

My environmental class is visiting a factory dairy today, known in the business as a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation.) I’m doing some last minute cramming so I can ask good questions. You, the internet, can see my notes.

Background: We had a big manure spill around here. On August 11, three million gallons of liquid manure spilled into the Black River near Lowville from the Marks Farm, killing about 200,000 fish and closing the river for several weeks. The Marks’ ran a 3000 cow dairy, the same size as the dairy we are visiting today, and the spill came after an earthen wall gave way. Here are the NCPR stories, in reverse chronological order. one, two, three, four, five


Give us the basic run down on your operation: What do you produce and how much? What inputs to you use? What wastes do you produce? May I ask what kind of profit margin you have?

Where does the animal waste go? Does it go back into the soil on the farm? Does it go into the soil on other farms? Does it go into animal waste lagoons? What measures to you take to keep animal waste out of the water supply? Is your lagoon design similar to the one on the Marks Farm? Have you had complaints filed against you with the department of environmental conservation?

What do you think of the way CAFOs are regulated? The Citizens' Environmental Coalition has called for tighter regulation in New York, and a moratorium on new CAFOs. What do you think of this proposal? Do you think you should be regulated like a farm or like a factory? (Have you read their report, Wasting New York? What does it say, because I haven’t read it.)

What do your animals eat? Commercial feed? Grass or corn? Do you give them regular doses of antibiotics in their feed? Bovine growth hormone?

How long is the lifespan of an animal in your operation?

How much space do your animals have? How often are they let out to pasture? Do they graze when they are outside, or just stand in dirt? Do they have shade and shelter from wind and snow? How is drainage? Inside, can they turn around and sit down? What kind of bedding to they have? Can they groom?

Do you use de-horning and tail docking? How and at what age? Why? Do you have problems with lameness? What is causing it: diet, hygiene, flooring? Do you have problems with mastitis, cancer eye? What do you do with downer animals, are they killed right away on the farm, or are they dragged someplace else?

As I understand it, to keep cows lactating, the must produce calves yearly. What do you do with all those calves? How soon are they separated from the mother? Do they receive any colostrum (first milk?). Are the calves housed in a place where they can interact with each other? Are bull calves castrated?

What do you think of the move towards larger and larger diaries? I’ve heard about dairy herds number 20,000 animals. Is this where the industry is going? Is that a good thing? Would you be a larger operation if you could?

How have you made the farming and business decisions that you made? What concerns drove you? Making a decent living? Making a living in a lifestyle you enjoy? Environmental sustainability?

According the Environmental Working Group, Greenwood Dairy received $34,512 between 1999 and 2000. You haven’t received any since. Is this correct? Why did you turn to federal assistance? How did you qualify? What do you think of the way farm subsidies are distributed?


Manure use by CAFO is regulated by the Clean Water Act. The marks farm passed a DEC inspection in 2003.

Notes from Rollin Farm Animal Welfare: Points out need for ethnogram for cattle, that is, a model for what the “natural” behavior of the beast should be. Calls the treatment of calves from dairy cattle the biggest sore spot. Describes tie-stalls as the most problematic form of housing for animal welfare. Given the chance, cows prefer other flooring over concrete. BST = Bovine Somatatropin = bovine growth hormone.

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