Undercover videos produced by animal rights groups are fueling a debate over the need for new laws to regulate the treatment of American dairy cows.
The graphic videos include one filmed inside a huge New York dairy operation where cows never go outdoors, and are tail docked; a procedure where half or more of their tail is amputated, for the purpose of improving cleanliness. This is performed without anesthesia. They are seen being abused by one employee who hits a cow over the head with a wrench when it refuses to move.
An investigator for the group Mercy for Animals worked at the New York dairy farm Willet Dairy for two months. Willet allegedly supplies to Leprino Foods, which produces cheese products that are used at chains including Pizza Hut, Papa John's, and Domino's.
Unfortunately, large-scale confinement farms dominate dairy production in the U.S. today.
A More Humane and Healthier Option
Only 10 to 15 percent of U.S. dairy farms are pasture-based, meaning cows are fed primarily outdoors on pasture, rather than indoors on grain. But a growing number of farmers are finding that pasture-based farming can also mean healthier cows, more nutritious dairy products, profitable family farms and sustainable land stewardship.
Pasturing benefits the farmer, the animals, the consumers who drink the milk, and perhaps most of all, the land and environment on which it all depends.
Grass-based feeding is an ecological and efficient method of farming. Instead of producing tons of grain for feed -- which requires extensive land, fertilizer, pest management, and large equipment for cultivating, harvesting, drying, storage and feeding -- pasture-based farming lets the cows do the work.
They harvest, fertilize, and feed themselves, overseen by the farmer in a carefully-managed system. The net result is significantly less fuel consumption, less erosion, less air and water pollution and greater soil fertility.
Another reason to choose grass-fed dairy products: They're more nutritious.
Milk from cows raised primarily on pasture has been repeatedly shown to be higher in many nutrients, including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and the healthy fats omega-3 and CLA, conjugated linoleic acid.
There is a growing body of research that points to health benefits associated with CLA, including a possible role in fighting certain cancers, diabetes, and obesity.
Pasture-fed cows also live longer and are healthier than cows fed in confinement. The cull rate -- the number of cows that must be taken out of the milking herd each year -- is 30 to 50 percent per year for confinement herds. In pastured herds the cull rate is generally around 15 percent.