Thursday, April 21, 2016

As dairy cows become fewer, they are being over-milked and genetically altered

A dramatic decline in dairy-cow numbers is leading producers to milk cows for all they are worth, and some experts say that is damaging the animals, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post: "There are almost 2 million fewer milk cows today than there were in 1980, but production has remained fairly stable." That has taken its toll on cows.

Famed animal welfare activist Temple Grandin said if she could change one thing about the milk business, it would be the way the industry has messed with its cows, Ferdman writes. She told him, "What they've done is basically the equivalent of taking a car, putting it in neutral, and then dropping a brick on the accelerator until it blows up. These cows are constantly in the red zone." (Post graphic)
"The industry has long pushed to get more out of its four-legged employees," Ferdman writes. "For many years, that meant operational tweaks, like changing barn design, altering what cows were fed, and being fussy about things like milking schedules. But more recently, it has meant screwing with the actually anatomy of the animals. Holsteins, the majestic black and white cows that make up the vast majority of milk cows in the U.S., don't look like they used to. In fact, we have altered their genetic makeup by 22 percent since the 1970s, as Modern Farmer noted in 2014. Today's cows are taller, heavier, have higher and larger udders, and tend to stand on different shaped legs. And there's a growing sense we have gone too far."

For example, a Holstein named Gigi "produced more milk in one year than any cow in recorded history, a mind-boggling 75,000 pounds, or nearly three times the industry average," Ferdman writes. To some the cow has become a hero. To others, like Grandin, Gigi "is a sign of everything that's wrong with the milk business." Grandin told Ferdman, "You can push cows to the point where they start to fall apart, and that's what we're doing. Cows are getting so big today, they don’t fit in anything, they don't fit in the 13 foot, six inch trucks the industry has used forever And you know what? If you want fix a problem, you treat the root cause, not the size of the truck."

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