I am sure that you have probably seen a TV commercial showing
contended happy cows basking in the sun in a lush meadow. I always
felt this was staged because the vast majority of our poor cows
are incarcerated in long, stifling factories. And sadly, I am
basically correct in this regard.
However, I was happy to learn from Nicholas Kristof's oped article
in the New York Times that indeed there are some few very lucky cows
that he found and wrote about in his article "Where Cows Are Happy
and Food is Healthy," What unmitigated joy for me to read that at
least some cows in the US know what it is like to be treated humanely
and compassionately. I believe the last time we treated them so
was in the 80's. During the tenure of Republican President Reagon
the era of CAFOs swallowing up small farms was ushered in.
Happy cows in the US is very rare but in Switzerland it is the norm.
I caught part of a Rick Steve's travelogue where he featured this
land of dairy cows where they are out in the fresh air enjoying the
lush green pastures associated with Swiss culture.
Steve's even made it a point to remark that the Swiss Dairy farmers
get subidies from the government because they do not want their dairy
cows incarcerated in factories like ours are in the US. Kudos to the
Swiss people and their government. We could well learn from them if
we but had the will and the compassion to do so.
As for our government - I am deeply disappointed that neither of
our major parties has anything in their platform re raising animals
compassionately. I think we have a long way to go before either
party feels the need to address animal suffering here. Sadly, the
majority of Americans obviously do not consider animal welfare
something of importance. That saddens me and anyone who feels
that animals should be treated humanely in a land which prides itself
on welcoming the poor, the downtrodden, and disenfranchised of
the world. In my opinion, such a nation should also exhibit heart and
concern for its animals.
Kristof found at least one American dairy farmer who does exhibit
concern for his animals. But he is the exception to the rule of cruel
animal husbandry. And this exceptional dairy farmer turns out to be
his old high school buddy in Oregon. Bob Bansen, a third-generation
dairy farmer of 53 has defied the odds and found a way to make a good
living running a dairy farm "that is efficient but also has soul" per
I don't know when was the last time I read something so upbeat when
it came to animal husbandry. And I smiled thinking about these two
school chums who it seems found wonderful success- each in his own
chosen f ield. I imagine, aside from great parents, maybe they owe
some o f their success to outstanding learning experiences in their
Kristof's beginning words to his post are classic in my opinion:
"Food can be depressing. If it's tasty, it's carcinogenic. If it's
cheap, animals were tortured." Who can argue the wisdom of
these two simple but truthful thoughts?
But in his boyhood friend, Kristof found a farmer who is the exception
to the rule of cruel animal exploitation. And his secret? He loves
his cows and gives names for every one of them. Walking with him
through the herd, Bansen told Kristof "I spend every day with these
girls. I know most of my cows both by the head and by the udder. You
learn to recognize them from both directions."
Kristof is amazed that his friend has named so many of his 230 cows and
200 heifers and calves. Remembering their names must be a feat, but Bob
believes that if you spend a lot of time with them, you too would begin
to remember who is Hosta and who is Jill. Then there's Sophia, Kimona,
Edie, Pesto, Clare and Pasta, etc. etc.
Still, it just seems amazing to most of us that he can remember all of
them by name. How lucky these cows are to have someone who looks into
their eyes and sees their souls. For too long we have been taught by
our schools, churches, and parents that these farm animals are just
Thankfully, serious studies each day give us examples of just how
intelligent animals really are and how much they, like us, have basic
needs: fresh air and s unlight, the ability to move freely, the ability
to interact with their own. Certainly they deserve this much.
Pressing Bob for his secret to tell them apart, he explained: "They have
family resemblances. They look like their mothers." Of course. Kristof
muses - "Oh that helps."
The article is full of great points on how family farms can still thrive
by not incarcerating their dairy cows. And despite a Stanford study casting
doubt on whether organic food is more nutritional, Bob knows that organic
feed contains fewer pesticides and antibiotic-residue bacteria.
Kristof believes that other farmers are also beginning to realize that
cows don't do well when locked up, and so now some dairies are sending
their cows out to pasture on grass. Per Bob: "Pasture does wonders for cow
health. There's so much evidence that they are much happier out there.
You can extend their lives so much by keeping them off concrete, so the
trend is going that way."
Kristof asks his friend "Is it a soggy sentimentality for farmers to want
t heir cows to be happy? Shouldn't a business man just worry about the
For Bob the bottom line is having happy cows for productivity. And he
aptly stated " I don't even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal
standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of
those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself."
If only the CAFO owners were like Bob! But they would have to change their
name - CONFINED Animal Farm Operation. Kristof's article has much more on
what Bob faces each day in caring for his cows. Does he use antibiotics
like so many CAFO owners do? No, he doesn't. He even addresses what he does
with cows who no longer produce milk, and they usually do not end up in
slaughter houses like the majority of CAFO cows do. I hope anyone who is a
dairy farmer will take the time to read Kristof's article in its entirety.
I know one thing for sure. If I were a cow, I would want to live on Bob's