Humane Dairy Farms vs CAFOs

Amish Dairy Farm

Amish Dairy Farm

By Cat, Jun 2007 (Photo, below right from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Whole Foods Menu

Close your eyes and imagine a dairy farm.  What do you see?  Do you see a cheerful red or white barn surrounded by rolling hills of green, grassy pasture, with cows contentedly chewing their cud?  Well, that’s what dairy farms were like in days gone by, and what they may become again.  But today, most commercial dairies are nothing like this.

The Modern Dairy Farm: CAFO

Dairy CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation

Dairy CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation

(Photo, left, from Wikimedia Commons)

The modern dairy farm is a Confinement Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), which confines the cows into a very small pens, hardly larger than the animal, side-by-side in a long line. They don’t have the freedom to roam, and they are not fed their natural diet (grass) but rather a corn and/or soy feed.

Some CAFOs are outdoors, at least giving the cows exposure to sunlight and fresh air. But many CAFOs are indoors, with artificial lighting. Either way, they are not humane.

Some dairy farms allow their animals to live in pasture during the season they are not being milked, but them bring them to the CAFO during milking season. Unfortunately, the pastured conditions that provide the basis for the most healthful milk, are not what the animals get when they are being milked.

Humane Dairy Farms

The natural environment for cows is green pasture land.  They have special stomachs that allow them to digest the starchy carbohydrates present in grass (humans cannot digest these carbs, and call them fiber).  Cows were not intended to eat the soybean or corn meal that is fed to commercial cows.

Cows were not intended to be kept confined in a barn stall day in and day out.  They were not intended to have udders so large that they drag on the ground.  They were not intended to die before they reach 3 years of age from overproduction of milk (the average lifespan of a natural cow is 15-20 years).

The most humane and sustainable version of a dairy farm is exemplified by Lifeline Farm in Montana. It is a biodynamic enterprise which, in it’s most simple definition means that everything needed for the farm comes from the farm. For example, the cows’ urine and feces fertilize the green pastures that feed the cows. That excrement also fertilizes the gardens which grow the foods needed to feed the humans who run and work on the farm. And so on.

“Cow’s urine and feces make excellent fertilizer, “enriching and maintaining the vitality and living fertility of the farm’s soil, in order to produce foods of the highest nutritional value.” (from Lifeline Farm’s Website (1); refer also to the Biodynamics website (2)) .


  1. Lifeline Farm, a biodynamic enterprise in Montana’s Bitterrot Valley:
  2. Biodynamics website:

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