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Follow organic dairy farmer Jonathan Gates as he reports weekly from his Vermont family farm. Howmars Farm is a certified organic dairy farm, one of many Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative farmer members who supply the milk that goes into making Stonyfield's yogurts and smoothies. The entire family pitches in on this third-generation farm. Check out some of the happenings on his farm and post your comments. Jonathan loves to get feedback from readers.

Does organic farming provide more humane treatment of animals? Just look at these happy cows!

Dscn7618I received questions from two readers here at The Bovine Bugle that were along a similar line, so I thought I would try to provide an answer covering both inquiries. Katherine wanted to know how organic production results in more humane treatment of the animals, and Rick wondered if our milking process was easier on our cows than it would be for cows on conventional farms.

I guess that because of the standards we have to meet to produce organic milk and beef at Howmars Farm, I feel our cows have a happier, healthier life. Let's start with housing of the animals. Organic cows, heifers, steers, and calves are supposed to have access to the outdoors everyday except in extreme weather conditions. They get to go outside, in the fresh air and sunshine, unlike many large dairies where the cows are inside a building, on concrete 365 days a year. The organic standards say that in the summertime, during the growing season, cows and youngstock over 6 months of age must get most of their forage from grazing. They are outside, doing what they were created to do--eating grass, walking on real ground, making nutrient-rich milk, spreading their own manure. On the flip side, confinement freestall operations have cows that never walk to pasture, never eat fresh, succulent grass, never enjoy the sun and the summer breezes. All their feed is from bunker silos and grain bins, the breezes they enjoy are from large fans placed around the large barns, they walk on concrete all day, and the manure needs to be scraped, stored and hauled every day.

Dscn7622As for health management and milk production management, organic animals are managed more naturally and with much less pressure. We don't dock our cows’ tails, our animals don't need their hooves trimmed very often, and because they have a more natural diet-- grass and long stem hay--they have fewer digestive problems such as twisted stomachs. We don't use hormone shots to make our cows give more milk, or to make them cycle to get them pregnant. This way we don't stress out our animals and they live much longer than on the large conventional farms. Although I can't really say that the actual milking process on our farm is any different than on my neighbor's farm, I will say that we don't push our cows to produce high volumes of milk. With our smaller herd, we take more time with our cows and the atmosphere is much more relaxed. It's not a "hurry up and get those cows milked" situation. The more natural diet, the absence of shots of synthetic hormones, and letting cows be cows gives our animals a much longer, healthier, happy life. There are many more reasons why organic production is so much better for the animals, but I'll stop here for now. We’ve been certified organic almost 10 1/2 years and still going strong!

Askthefarmer_button Got a question or comment for Jonathan about his organic dairy farm?

Write to him here by clicking onto "Comments" just below and following the prompts. We'll be sure he receives your question immediately and answers just as soon as the cows let him.


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Hi Jonathan,
I just read a disturbing article on organicconsumers.org that Stonyfeild/Hood is not paying fair prices for organic milk and because of farmer's rising operating costs, many organic farms are now switching back to conventional farming in order to avoid going out of business. What are your feelings on this?

My parents had 75 Jersey cows in the late 80's and even though I was too young to take an active role, I remember my mother seeing real patterns in daily milk production vs. factors like weather, vet visits, etc. Cows ARE living creatures and the milk production can be dramatically effected by the cows' environment.

Is it true that cows sleep while standing? Just curious.

When did humans start drinking cows milk, or any other type of
non-human milk? Did they feed it to just infants first, or humans of
all ages? Is it possible to know why they started?

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