Meet #313 of J Team Dairy. She is identified by a number and she spends most of her time during lactation living in a barn. Factory farm? I think not.
Meet Jim, co-owner along with his wife Terri, of J Team Dairy. Jim wakes up at 3 AM every morning to milk his cows. His daughter, Molly, milks every day at noon. They have two employees who milk in the evening. They rotate weekends to cover milking and feeding of cows and calves. Here are Molly’s nieces helping feed calves. Molly’s grandfather cares for the heifers.
The family at J Team Dairy works hard alongside their cows to produce a wholesome, safe, and nutritious product. Their barn is cleaned twice daily and deep-bedded with sand to provide a comfortable resting place for their cows. Sprinklers and fans keep the cows cool in the summertime. A hoof trimmer comes in for pedicures twice a year. And you only need to look at the cows to realize they are receiving excellent care. At one point last year, the herd was milking on average over 100 pounds (12.5 gallons) per cow per day. Their udder health is excellent and there is very little sickness in the herd. Most of my time as their veterinarian is spent on herd health and preventive care making sure that the cows stay healthy and productive.
The cows and calves are fed before anyone in the family eats. On Molly’s sister’s wedding day, the whole family spent the morning helping a cow in labor before cleaning up and changing into their wedding clothes. When Molly’s favorite cow, Carmelli, lost her first calf due to a difficult birth, Molly cried. Their farm is a labor of love. They are working harder than most Americans can imagine, every day, to care for the land and the animals that they love.
The term “factory farm” is one of my least favorite terms thrown around in popular media when describing modern agriculture. It carries all manner of negative connotation, without conveying any useful information about the realities of any given farm, such as whether the animals are well cared for, with comfortable housing, proper nutrition, and good health. The reality is that 97% of American farms are family-owned and operated. This includes big and small farms, conventional and organic production systems.
With less than 2% of Americans involved in agriculture, it is sometimes hard to understand snapshots of modern farms taken out of context. Since the vast majority of Americans are several generations removed from farming, they lack a framework for understanding how our food is produced. And yet the public is more interested than ever in the methods and safety of food production. There are many labels seen at the store, such as USDA organic, natural, non-GMO, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, which are designed to communicate to the consumer how the food was produced. It is a true blessing to live in a country where we have so much food choice, and to know that every choice available to us in the store is safe and nutritious! Consumers have different priorities when choosing their food. It can be difficult to know which food lines up the most with your priorities.
My best recommendation for those who want to know more about how food is produced is to cut out the hype and the media and talk to a farmer. What better place to start than right at the source? Find out why animals are housed, fed, and cared for the way they are. Find out how modern agricultural practices have vastly reduced the carbon footprint of farming by producing more food while consuming fewer land and water resources. Find out how carefully farmers, veterinarians, and food safety inspectors work together to make sure that unsafe residues (such as antibiotic or pesticide) do not enter the food supply. Find out how carefully rations are calculated to support production without compromising health or welfare. Farmers work 365 days a year, in all types of weather, in sickness and in health to care for their land and animals and provide us with a safe and plentiful food supply. Virginia Farm Bureau and local extension agents are just a few ways to get connected. Ask a farmer, they have the answers.