Farmers are Breeding High-Tech Cows

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?


Related Stories:

Working Hard So Ohio Dairy Cows Are Never Abused Again

California Dairy Farmers Need To Grow Their Own Feed

Dairy Companies Hoping to Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Photo credit: Kabsik Park


Carrie Anne Brown

messing with nature, but thanks for sharing

Pego Rice
Pego R4 years ago

Oh, that's so sweet LDB

They are in my "sent" bucket.

I suspect this all has to do with a couple of other threads where I (and several others, I think) have been reporting this chick that got banned for being an utter coc-violating jerk, so now she's been coming back as a thousand zombie Sock-puppets...ALL of which repeat the same snipes and blatherings, over and over for which she originally got banned and deleted. Awwwsome

Somehow this chick never understands why people can always spot her. She must have a quite stunning IQ.

Pego Rice
Pego R4 years ago


That was supposed to say "Cows can be made to produce more liquid volume, but they can't generate more nutritious milk out of nothing. They need to be out on the range to get the sources for those nutrients"

Pego Rice
Pego R4 years ago

... *rBGH enriches Monsanto, while posing dangers, without any benefits, to consumers, especially in view of the current national surplus of milk." country has been in overproduction for 30-40 years. The Big 5 don't mind this situation at all. They take subsidies to cover the costs and drive small dairies out of business.

Thirdly. All this overdriven, hormonized, puss-filled, sterilized overload of milk is way down on nutrition. Cow can be made

The lack of free-range feeding means that cow milk lost much of the Omega-3 fatty acids that origionally made milk a superfood. Now the fats are just collecting and carrying that toxic sickening mess they are filling these cattle with, because fats, animal fats, plant fats, dairy fats, collect toxins.

I would like a dairy industry that does not ruin the little guy at tax-payer expence

I would like a dairy industry that does damage our health at tax-payer expence

I would like a dairy industry that is a bit more humane.

Pego Rice
Pego R4 years ago

Here's a redux of the 2 I thought answered the question about why go for lower production;

There are three good reasons

First of all it is expensively wasteful to feed house and milk these industrial milch cows. Subsidies have allowed that cost to be buried, but the cost of transporting all that feed multiplies several times by the distance and the additives to help cows survive the filth. Not to mention the high-rise gizmos they are now using to stack the cows in multiple levels over the milking assembly.

Secondly, those food supplements to put the cattle on Overdrive milk production like rBGH makes cows and humans sick. "Monsanto has been forced to admit to about 20 toxic effects, including mastitis, on its Posilac label.

*rBGH milk is contaminated by pus, due to the mastitis commonly induced by rBGH, and antibiotics used to treat the mastitis. *rBGH milk is chemically, and nutritionally different than natural milk. *Milk from cows injected with rBGH is contaminated with the hormone, traces of which are absorbed through the gut into the blood. *rBGH milk is supercharged with high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), which is readily absorbed through the gut. *Excess levels of IGF-1 have been incriminated as a cause of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. IGF-1 blocks natural defense mechanisms against early submicroscopic cancers.

LD B4 years ago

I at the time found, and still find, nothing of an objectionable nature with respect to forum conduct.

If you wish, Pego, I can forward copies of them to you for your re-posting.

Pego Rice
Pego R4 years ago

Hi Diane. It may not have been blatant (in my now lost posts) but I did admit that the feild was an uneven one. Some places are better than others. The reduction in lifespan for the milchers vary accordingly, however there is an overall loss of productive years.

Pego Rice
Pego R4 years ago

Thank you for that observation, LDB,

While you may not have been totally pleased with my commentary I do not think I be-fowled your name in any way or had even been particularly rude or off topic. I suspect that a mod hit a "delete last 20" on me that may have been an accident.

LD B4 years ago

Absolutely certain.

4 posts, all quite civil, made between 00:02 and 00:53 EDT (21:02 to 21:53 PDT) on 02 APR, posts that both of us responded to, are present in my e-mail client.

That's why the now sequential series of posts of mine appear to be lacking for full context.

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Hmmm, usually, comments come into my Care.2's IN BOX within minutes of having been posted, so it's an easy "check" to see if any get deleted, but the only one I see from Pego is still here and it's the one I responded to. LD B, are you sure they were Pego's or someone else's? Yes, it would be a bit disturbing to think that Pego's were deleted if they were merely posting opinions on the topic, and she usually is pretty civil and polite, so I'm puzzled as well.