Posts Tagged ‘Mega dairies’

It’s good to be alive!

Friday, June 14th, 2013
Millcombe House and valley, Lundy

Millcombe House and valley, Lundy

It was early morning on Lundy and I braved the strong northeasterly wind, leaving the cottage under overcast sky. I checked the pig field for small migrants then passed the duck marsh before doubling back toward Millcombe Valley, a richly vegetated pass that runs to the sea.

I went through the gate and was nearly hit by a whoosh of wings as a grey-blue bolt flashed past. A darkened shape rose in the headwind and started hanging in the air on angular boomerang-like wings, tail clenched and head swivelling. It was a stunning male Peregrine. Rising in an instant, he closed wings tight and plunged like a bullet; this was the fabled Peregrine ‘stoop’ and boy, was he fast! He dived across the valley in the blink of an eye, pulling out within a whisker of the ground and rose triumphantly. Banking effortlessly, he rippled blue wings and was away across the fields, over the farm and out of sight.

This was Peregrine at play; for no other reason than he could. There wasn’t any hapless prey in sight; he seemed to dive in the wind for the sheer joy of it.

It brought to mind how animal welfare is not just about animals being free from ‘unnecessary’ pain and suffering, whatever ‘unnecessary’ means; it is also about a positive state of well-being. It is about animals having the ability to express themselves, to find joy and excitement. Yes, being free from illness, injury, fear or distress is all highly important. But so too is the scope to do what comes naturally; grazing on grass, scratching at the ground, or closing wings and hurtling at tremendous speed just for fun.

Many times, I have watched our dog, Duke, play to the point where you can see the sheer excitement in his eyes; I’ve been thrilled at how Lundy’s Ravens tumble and somersault on the wind; I’ve watched as our hens rush headlong for their favourite treats.

On the flipside, I couldn’t help thinking how thousands of cows on mega-dairies live joyless lives; tired, milk-weary bodies listlessly indoors on concrete and sand; or pigs in boring pens; or hens in so-called ‘enriched’ cages, where food is dropped onto plastic and they’re supposed to dustbathe in it.

Animal welfare is much more than just a neutral state without suffering. Perhaps, more importantly, it is about experiencing the joy of being alive. When I hear of Lundy’s goats hopping the fence and browsing on forbidden ‘fruits’; when I see the island’s ponies frolicking; when I watched that Peregrine stoop, I could sense the essential element of good animal welfare – well-being; the sense that it’s good to be alive.

The ‘Lundy’ articles were written on the island during May 2013; read previous blogs in the series here: ‘Puffin Island’; ‘Super-highway sheep’;‘The King’s bird’; Puffins on speed!.

Compassion in France

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Over the last two decades, major reforms have been achieved for farm animal welfare; like Europe-wide bans on veal crates and barren battery cages.  However, there is still so much more to do.  And in many ways, the next steps will be that much harder.  They will require a more concerted approach in key countries throughout Europe if we are to persuade Brussels to make the next big leap for animal welfare.  That is why Compassion is so determined to forge into Europe. To bring the voice of the concerned citizen, the compassionate consumer to bear on those governments with the most influence, and make it stick.

Amongst the countries we are focusing on is France.  I am so looking forward to soon sharing with you an interview with the person leading the charge for us in Paris, Leopoldine Charbonneaux.

Before that, I would like to share some encouraging news of how concern at the growth of industrial farming is genuinely spreading far and wide.  Last Sunday, Leopoldine and her colleagues at CIWF France, joined people from across the nation in a demonstration against factory farming. 


It was initiated by a local citizens group, Novissen, fighting a mega dairy project in the north of France. They are concerned for the potential impact on the landscape, on health, on the environment, on farmers and the animals.  CIWF France was proud to join them and over 40 organisations in opposing a backward step for the French countryside.

Whereas pig and poultry farming in France is already appallingly intensive, the average dairy herd is still around 50 cows, often with good access to pasture. The projected dairy farm in the North of France was originally looking for planning permission to build a zero grazing unit, whereby 1,000 dairy cows would be permanently housed. Public pressure has succeeded in limiting permission to 500 cows instead of 1000.

Compassion’s new voice in Paris will continue to join those opposing mega-dairies and similar developments. We are leading new campaigns to inform the general public and authorities on the many damaging effects of intensive farming: on animals, on the environment, on farmers’ livelihoods, public health, and food quality. By raising the issues, we hope to stop French dairy farming from intensifying and following the road taken for pigs and poultry. 

I look forward to sharing more news and insights into Compassion’s efforts to bring the Government in Paris on side. Look out for the in-depth interview with Leopoldine, posting soon.

Thank you as ever for your support. Together, we will continue putting the ‘world’ into Compassion in World Farming.

DEFRA Developments

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Compassion is anchored in the original mission of our founders, Peter and Anna Roberts, as an animal protection organisation. Since our founding in 1967, Compassion has grown to become an international force against factory farming. With thousands of caring people throughout the world who support our work, we have worked hard together to accomplish many significant victories

We have also witnessed many changes. A notable one came to mind this week. It was prompted by David Cameron’s announcement of a new UK Cabinet. The significant change I was thinking of was how the number of governments we now deal with on animal welfare has increased. In the 1960s, Compassion only dealt with the UK government in the Palace of Westminster, London. Today, we work with the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, the European Parliament and governments throughout the EU. This is partly a sign of the political times, but also of how Compassion has grown into a European and, increasingly, international voice for animals.

In Britain, of the outgoing DEFRA ministers, Compassion worked more with Jim Paice than Caroline Spelman. Although we didn’t always agree with him, we found Jim Paice to be approachable, attentive and sympathetic on some issues. For example, he was committed to bringing the debeaking of laying hens to an end. He also fully supported the EU ban on the barren battery cage. But we disagreed on cloning, which we oppose; and he refused to oppose mega dairies and promoted the oxymoron idea of sustainable intensification.   

Good vibrations

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Xalapa, Mexico: It could be an English upland scene, except the light is so good the grass looks greener than I’ve ever seen. Small groups of black and white cows are dotted across a rolling landscape. A tiny hummingbird flits like an electric bumble-bee around a roadside conifer.

This is southeast Mexico and we’re at an altitude of 2,000 metres on the lower slopes of an ancient volcano. Our ascent was coloured by the sight of dairy cows eating grass like they should. The contrast from California two days ago is stark; cows grazing naturally versus a land perversely peppered with mega-dairies; industrial facilities with thousands of cows crowded in one place.

We’ve stopped outside the village of Acajete and look toward the Sierra Madre mountain range shrouded in the morning mist. In the distance, the bustling city of Xalape winks in the sunlight. A farm-hand walks up the hill carrying three white buckets. Wearing a blue Ferrari tee-shirt, white wellies and a baseball cap, he waves and beckons warmly. We are treated to an impromptu tour of the farm.

Ana Maria Frauzoni Hernandez, a farmer herself and veterinarian, arrives to take us round. We are taken through a cluster of modest flat-roofed buildings that comprise the farmhouse and the dairy. There’s an unmistakable smell in the air; of baby-sweet dairy mixed with a slight hint of manure. Hernandez explains that this is her brother’s farm. She talks about respecting the cow as a noble animal. We walk past scattered trees to where 20 calves are loafing in the sun. I stand in the inevitable cow-pat.

It’s just one of 34 farms in a local dairy cooperative. It’s a pretty big farm by European standards. There are 500 cows on this farm, but you really wouldn’t know it as the cows gently graze in small clusters across the hillside.

We watch as forty Friesian cows are milked on the hillside. The cows and two farm-hands stand amongst a smattering of silver milk-churns. Hernandez explains that the cows are milked twice a day. Her father used to milk them three times a day but the cows got stressed. When milking is over, a horse carries the churns up the hill. The cows walk up the hill too. It’s wonderful to see them walking naturally; without the bloated bulging udders and splayed back legs so characteristic of what we saw on California’s mega-dairies.

The cows here are kept outdoors all year round. No chemicals, preventative antibiotics or hormones are used. A bit of supplementary food is offered when the grass is short.

Hernandez tells us that the cows here have an average lifespan of 20 years. Again, hugely different to the mega-dairies, where cows are often worn out and sent for slaughter at just 5-6 years. She reflects that cows on mega-dairies are likely to suffer stress from the way they’re kept.

Toward the end of the tour, Hernandez laments at the difficulty of getting a profitable price for the milk. It’s a familiar theme on both sides of the Atlantic. And with all systems big and small; the memory is still fresh of the tears of a Californian farmer, talking about the suicide of his friend, a large-scale dairy farmer.

The milk here is sold under the name, ‘Joyalat’ – Joyal I’m told meaning Jewel. Hernandez sees the milk as “white gold”. She shares customer feedback about how good the milk is here, apparently because the cows graze naturally on grass full of nutrients.

We tasted the yoghurt from the farm; it was full of flavour, very smooth and with no hint of sharpness; delicious. A poster in the dairy window proclaims proudly that “The best milk in the world is produced in Mexico”. Today, I’m inclined to agree.

California girls

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Central Valley, California: I’m inside the world’s largest cheese factory. It’s huge; complete with security guards, visitor centre and restaurant. White-coated workers are busy making orange-coloured cheese. It’s the culmination of my journey through California.

The drive here was along a road littered with mega-dairies; industrial dairy farms with thousands of cows crowded in one place. I passed a livestock auction market where young cows are bought and worn-out ‘cull’ cows sold for their final journey.

Earlier, I flew out in a small plane. I asked the pilot whether we would fly over any mega-dairies; he was concerned he might not find one for us. He needn’t have worried. Within minutes of take-off, we flew over our first. Then came another, and another; thick and fast. They were like angry scars on the face of this regimented countryside; muddy-brown blots amongst vast fields of uniform crops.

Thousands of cows stood crowded on dirt; not a blade of grass in sight. This was ‘zero-grazing’. Lagoons the size of Olympic swimming pools, some like small reservoirs, captured the inevitable outpouring of liquid manure from so many cows. A thousand cows produce as much muck as 50,000 people. There were far more than a thousand cows on each farm.

These lagoons are said to be poorly lined, allowing muck-slurry to seep out, often contaminating ground water. They sometimes overflow, polluting precious waterways in this arid State.

I also visited a local school surrounded by mega-dairies; five within a three-mile radius. Between 3,000 and 6,000 cows on each; that’s 30-60 times more cows than the average dairy farm in Britain.

The march of the mega-dairies is the target of fierce opposition. Residents and public health experts concerned about farm dust and gas emissions and how they affect people. Fishermen, environmentalists and local communities worried about water pollution and what it does to wildlife and drinking water. I also spoke to farmers. As the dairies get bigger, more and more farmers lose their livelihoods.

I scanned the shelves of cheese in the factory shop. I tried some. It was fairly tasteless and rubbery. The visitor centre painted a picture of how cows are kept. It was unrecognisable from the reality of the mega-dairies just along the street. Where cows never see grass and are pushed to produce so much milk that they quickly become worn out. A poster at the nearby auction mart showed photos of happy-looking cows beside the words of a Beach Boys song; “I wish they all could be California girls”. I couldn’t help thinking that the cows would disagree.

It’s easy to feel hopeless when faced with what seems like an onslaught. It’s also inspiring to connect with the growing movement for change, both here in the USA and in Europe.

We should remember what we’ve already achieved. Extreme confinement crates for dairy veal calves – banned in Europe; the use of the GM milk-boosting hormone, BST – banned in Europe; and the 8,000 cow mega-dairy proposal in Nocton, England – ripped up at the planning stage.

We are making a difference. And by joining hands with the mega-dairy protest movement in the USA, we can do so much more.

Farmageddon on film

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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.