The image of dairy cows grazing on pasture is increasingly becoming a fantasy in Florida.
An article this week in Highlands Today about the future of Florida’s dairy industry described how over the past 25 years, over 700 dairy farms in the state went out of business. But although there are fewer farms, the existing farms are much larger.
Many of the dairy farms north of Lake Okeechobee chose to close due to regulations designed to protect the environment by limiting pollution from farmland. The article featured one Highlands County dairy, Butler Oaks Farm, that reacted to the new environmental regulations by constructing what is called a “free-stall” barn– a huge structure where hundreds of cows are confined under a metal roof, with fans and sprinklers to keep them cool.
According to the article, at Butler Oaks Farm cows “remain in the barn 24 hours a day, 10 months a year.” (The cows are allowed outside for a few weeks before giving birth. Immediately after giving birth, the cow’s calf is taken from her and the bleak cycle of pregnancy, birth and milking begins again.)
Free-stall barns make it easier for farmers to control manure and wastewater, but the intensive confinement creates problems for cows. As a result of standing on concrete, and from lack of exercise, dairy cows commonly suffer from painful feet or leg injuries. Lameness is one of the most frequent reasons that dairy farmers kill cows. Click here to learn more about dairy farming in Florida.
ARFF recommends that people wishing to reduce animal suffering minimize or, better yet, eliminate dairy and other animal products from their diet. Contact ARFF for ideas on how to make the change to a healthier, animal-free lifestyle.