NPR recently broadcast a story about Claudia, an average dairy cow. Except Claudia is not exactly what you’d expect – reporter Adam Davidson says “Claudia is to a cow from the 1930s as a modern Ferrari is to a Model T.”
Powerful words. But he’s right – in the 1930s, the average cow produced only 30 pounds of milk per day. Claudia produces more than double at 75 pounds. How has such a huge increase in production come to be?
Selection breeding is a big part of the puzzle. Genetics experts hired by dairy farmers survey herds of cows and eliminate those which aren’t optimized for milk production, and then selects a bull to breed it with who can correct those less-than-optimum traits in the next generation.
It’s not just breeding that’s led to these “high tech” cows. The way cows are fed has also changed since the 30s. Each cow is now fed individually, according to its “lactation cycle.” Specialized collars work with a computer system to deliver the right custom diet to each and every cow on the farm. Cows who are producing extra milk are given more grain.
And even the feed is engineered to release nutrients at the right place and time to boost milk production. Robert Fulper, a dairy farmer interviewed by NPR, places the blame for these extreme measures squarely on consumers:
When you ask Robert what’s driving all these innovations in dairy farming, he sounds indistinguishable from a factory owner.
“The free market forced that to happen,” he says. “Because either you were going to make a lot of milk … quickly and efficiently … or you wouldn’t be in business.”
The Fulpers did it, which is why they are among the last remaining dairy farmers in upstate New Jersey. Those farmers who couldn’t keep up with the changes are long gone.
What do Care2 readers think? Is this kind of tinkering with every aspect of a cow’s life, from breeding to each day’s feed, animal cruelty? Or is it just part of doing business?
Photo credit: Kabsik Park