The Dairy Industry: David and Goliath

On our second day of our final journey, we visited two very different kinds of dairy farms. The first was the Jones family farm, one of the largest dairy operations on the East Coast, and largest by far in Maryland. Compared to dairy farms in the Midwest, Jones farm is small scale, but compared to the next farm we visited, St. Brigids, it is Goliath.

Of over 2700 cows, 1200 are milked 24/7, three times per day for around 10 gallons per cow. This means that each day 12,000 gallons of milk leave the Jones farm to co-op organizations in the Carolinas and Georgia that produce all things dairy, from cheese to ice cream. The scale of this operation blew me away. For a heffer cow (female) to produce milk she has to give birth to a calf. these calfs are raised to eventually replace old dairy cows who are no longer productive so they become beef. Each heffer is milked tri-daily for 10 months, then they have a month off and then they have to give birth again. These cows are basically pregnant more time than they are not pregnant. Similar to the Davis farm, the Jones farm grows small grain and produces corn silage (the entire corn plant ground up) to feed their animals. On average a cow eats 57 pounds per day. Growing feed to meet this huge hunger demand is a major part of dairy farming.

Jones farm is very environmentally aware because of the way they handle their waste. They use three 7 acres retention ponds to dilute the poop and irrigate it to their surrounding crop acres. The farm is very efficient in the smooth way the operation runs and the neat ways it is self sufficient. The retention ponds were a costly investment, but in the eyes of Sean Jones they are worth it to minimize the direct impact his far has on the environment.

St. Brigid’s farm is a much smaller operation of around 200 cows that are milked twice daily. These grass fed free range cows are much happier than the silage fed cows at the Jones farm who are stuck in close quarters the majority of their lives.
When we arrived at St. Brigid’s, owner and operator Judy Gifford had prepared us chili for lunch made with beef from her farm. Hands down best chili I have ever had. Since grass fed cows are naturally much healthier and active than the ones crammed in feed lots, the meat is less fatty and more lean. So good that even our vegetarians Tori and Kelly D. had to partake.

After lunch we learned about her small scale farm and the love she has for her 200 cows, each one being named by Judy herself and appreciated not just as productive animals but as living beings. I thought this personal connectivity with the means of profitability was profound. These cows are truly cared for. Don’t get me wrong, the cows on Jones farm are comfortable enough to be productive and live relatively long lives, but the standard of living for the cows at St. Brigid’s is much higher which keeps the cows healthier, happier, and alive and kicking longer.

The stark contrast between the two farms gave me a lot of perspective of the different ways that farms can be managed to either grow exponentially, remain consolidated, and find a balance in order to stay afloat in a competitive industry. I am glad we went to both farms and not one or the other because we wouldn’t have gotten the same comparative experience.

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