Does size matter? When dairy farmers meet, somewhere within the first five sentences, they’re going to ask each other how many cows they milk. It’s inevitable. And I don’t care what you say, you’ll immediately feel judged by your answer. Large farmers feel resented and small farmers feel dismissed. It all inevitably comes down to hurt feelings on both sides and leads to yet another division within the dairy industry that we don’t need. While I have opinions on both sides of this argument, today I want to focus specifically on one phrase that gets tossed around and isn’t helping any dairy farmer. STOP USING THE PHRASE FACTORY FARM.
I don’t care if you milk 50 cows or 5,000, dairy farming is hard. But using the term “factory farm” isn’t just hurting large farms, it’s hurting all of us. Do you know where that term came from? Animal activists coined the phrase to make us look cold and unfeeling. They use it to try to convince the public that we treat our cows like they’re things, not animals. They spin a tale of use and discard. They paint a picture of an exhausted cow living in a dark, dank, gray environment where they never see the light of day and are constantly hooked to machines. I’ve seen the propaganda and watched the exaggerated videos. I can close my eyes and picture what they want me to picture, and I know the truth!
The truth is that animal activist groups think all dairy farms are factory farms, whether you milk 50 cows or 5,000. Their goal is to end animal agriculture, and by adopting their vernacular, we’re helping them do it.
Our farm is mid-sized; we milk just under 300 cows. We host a lot of farm tours (or did before COVID). With Allegheny College being 15 minutes down the road, a lot of those tours are college groups, and I love that age. That’s when young adults are truly starting to have their own experiences and make their own opinions. Almost every single tour group makes the following statement, and it genuinely breaks my heart: “I wish I could buy milk directly from your farm, because I know you’re doing things right.” Do you know what that means? Until they came and spent two hours listening to me and my dad verbally vomit up all the things we know, they assumed we weren’t doing it right.
Using a phrase like “factory farm” to express your dislike for larger farms is putting an image in consumers’ heads that’s just wrong. And it’s hurting the entire industry. So, stop it. Please.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.