Day of the battery cow upon us
THIS has been a mighty tough time for agricultural animals and their minders and masters. Freezing water supplies have been torturous for dairy farmers, as have the sometimes impossible farm access transport problems with bulk milk collection.
Cows have to be milked every day wherever they may be and Compassion in World Farming, an international animal charity, is warning farmers, and all of us, the day of the mega-dairy is upon us and, in the near future, Daisy and her sisters will be kept indoors all year round. She won't be called Daisy or Polly any more either, just a number.
The charity suggests that the sight of cows grazing in fields could soon become a distant memory with a future of thousands of animals confined indoors with little or no access to pasture. Much like battery hens in fact.
In Britain, there are plans to build a super-dairy, home to 8,000 cows under roofs, the milk production plant of the future. Some details from the Nocton dairy project in Lincolnshire reveal cows will be kept indoors round-the-clock with access to 'loafing areas' of 4.5 acres for each mini-herd of 450 animals for six hours a day in summer -- but not for grazing.
For the rest of the time the animals will be kept in barns with 8.3 metres of sand and concrete space for each beast. The cows will be milked three times a day, each producing a total of 33 litres.
The project's promoters say their super-dairy is big enough to allow investment in modern buildings and round-the-clock veterinary care, and by having the animals indoors they can have a better diet than they would get from grazing.
They also point out (good PR, this!) that no soy protein will be fed to the cows (allaying concerns about rainforest destruction). And the surrounding land will be used for crops to feed the stock.
Dairy cows already spend six months each year indoors because of weather, say the promoters, so the year-round regime would be better for them. A spokesperson on a UK radio station compared the project with the evolution of early humans from cave-dwelling to living in towns!
Obviously, Compassion in World Farming does not accept that this is the future for cows. It does not believe it benefits the animals, the land or farmers in any way and that every such mega development will mean the end of at least 100 regular dairy farms.
Its director Pat Thomas says the main issue for them is the animals: "When you breed into cows this propensity for high yields, you also breed in metabolic problems -- mastitis, lameness, infertility."
Factory farming for cheaper milk from cows that are but numbers versus the age-old pastoral idyll of contented cows grazing in fields? Which will it be? A bit of both, I would think. Economists will say bigger is best. But small is also beautiful.
Joe Kennedy was in Ireland last week travelling in the south and north and missed the recent impassable roads and frozen landscape. One west Cork farmer told him the weather had resulted in a rat population explosion, the wily creatures skilfully avoiding wire traps but voraciously devouring poison blocks to which they may very well have become immune. There were no casualties to be counted.