Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sustainable dairy farms protect natural resources for future generations

Sustainability is a hot topic these days, but what does it have to do with dairy cows? The answer is everything. Cows are great recyclers and the dairies they live on are too. 
Cows consume food that humans cannot eat, like grass, corn distillers grain and cottonseed meal. Many of these feeds—like distillers grain that is a byproduct of the ethanol industry or cottonseed meal, a byproduct of the cotton industry—would otherwise end up in a landfill. Not only do these feeds supply our cows with good nutrition, but in the end, our cows produce good nutrition for you in the form of milk. 
My hometown of Enumclaw, Washington, has a unique answer to the many pounds of manure a cow can produce daily.  A methane digester was recently installed down the road from my family’s farm that can produce enough electricity to power more than 600 homes over a three week period. 

 In addition to recycling manure to create electricity, manure is also used as fertilizer on crop fields, thus reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
Some dairy farmers also compost manure solids to create comfortable bedding for their cows. This not only saves money on bedding, but also in the fuel needed to transport bedding to the farm and reduces that extra traffic within the local community.
The dairy industry continues to increase its sustainability every year. In fact, more milk is produced today in the United States with only 9 million cows than with 26 million cows in 1944. This difference can be attributed to many things, including better cow nutrition, increased efficiency and use of modern technology.
Additionally, the dairy industry has reduced the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk by 63 percent since 1944.

Stay tuned for other June Dairy Month posts about how the dairy industry contributes to the local community, how dairy farmers care for their cows and why milk is good for you and your family.

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