I have a far greater appreciation for eating meat now. I am a firm believer that we should be eating less meat and the meat we purchase should be of high nutritional value from animals raised humanely (because of the limits of economies of scale with livestock, this means that in most places quality meat will come from your farmers’ market).
The contrast between animals raised conventionally and those raised with exceptional standards (and the spectrum in between) is really how I came to be a livestock farmer.
Understanding that we are a society that eats meat and that our consumption is not going to dramatically reduce any time soon, the farmer has incredible agency in the system. The farmer can choose how meat is produced and whether s/he improves or degrades environmental factors. That’s pretty powerful.
My priority in raising dairy cattle is to strive to minimize their stress. This means ensuring adequate and proper nutrition (cows are designed to eat grass!), ensuring they have clean, dry, comfortable areas to rest, and ensuring handling techniques are gentle and do not invoke pain or fear.
For dairy in particular, the reproduction cycle is a critical management period, as it is by nature stressful but how the farmer chooses to manage the cow from breeding to drying off her milk production, from cow/calf care to weaning has a dramatic impact on the health of the cow and calf.
One of my heroes is Temple Grandin. She is an expert on minimizing stress of livestock and has revolutionized slaughterhouses in America by redesigning them so they are less stressful for the animal. She is also autistic.
Here’s a video of her TED talk (which is more on autism but she touches on her work with livestock). She mentions the movie made about her with Claire Danes, which I definitely recommend.
One of the reasons I admire her so much is that she chose to work within the dominant system of conventional feedlots. In doing so, she made a HUGE positive change to the lives of millions of cattle. Certainly more than I’ll ever do with my dream of a 20 cow dairy.
She’s an inspiration for sure and a source of technical guidance. I was over the moon when I wrote to her asking a question about the order of cows coming into the dairy barn and whether letting them choose their place was more or less stressful than making them go in the same stall every day. Her answer was simple genius. She said “if the cows seem calm, they are calm”.