Five Common Modern Dairy Industry MythsBy Austin Gellings, AEM Agricultural Services Manager

The dairy industry is one of the most prominent and impactful forms of agriculture in the United States today. As with everything, though, that fact brings with it both positives and negatives.

Among the most notable consequences, however, is there are several common myths about the dairy industry that a significant percentage of the population believes to be true. And, as often is the case when information is misinterpreted, and myths are passed along as truths, someone or something ends up being portrayed in a much more negative light than is warranted.

With all that being said, AEM’s Dairy Leadership Group recently put together an informational flyer detailing the top myths that are prevalent in modern milking today. Listed below are five, as well as some details and perspective as to why they’re simply not true. 

Myth No. 1 – Cows in a barn are less happy than those that are out in a field.

People often associate happy cows with an open field, as they graze under a tree with the sun shining down on them. What is often forgotten, however, is that cows are similar to dogs in that they have a limited number of ways to regulate their internal temperatures. As a result, cows are often happier in a barn where there is a controlled environment, compared to a field where they are exposed to the elements. There are studies that demonstrate this to be the case through the measuring of stress hormones and monitoring of multiple cow comfort factors (time spent lying down versus standing up, etc.) while within different environments. This isn’t to say that cows out in a field are unhappy. It’s just there are certain scenarios in which that may be the case and, more often than not, a barn is the ideal place for cows.

Myth No. 2 – Dairy alternatives are more environmentally friendly.

Almond milk, oat milk and other alternatives are seen by some as healthier, more environmentally friendly options to dairy. At first glance, it may seem true. On a per-fluid-ounce-of-milk-produced basis, dairy does lack behind other alternatives. However, when taking into account nutritional value and the additional amounts of alternatives that would need to be consumed to match that of dairy, the narrative begins to change. When looking at the ratio of CO2 produced per gram of protein, dairy performs much better than the alternatives. Along with that, advancements in current technologies are helping dairy reduce its environmental footprint at an exponential rate, with goals of being net zero by 2050, which is on par with a number of other industries.

Myth No. 3 – Dairy milking is not a technologically advanced industry.

The image of a cow being milked that people often think about is one where the farmer sits on a stool and milks the cow into a little pail. However, in reality, this hasn’t been the case for a very long time. The dairy industry has progressed throughout the years to become much more technologically advanced --from parlor systems, to automated milking installations, all the way to robotic milkers that require minimal human interaction with the cows. When milking the cow, the machines use soft, comfortable cups that attach to the utters and monitor the cow to make sure she is comfortable throughout the entire process. The fact that she can enter, get milked and leave all by herself also helps to reduce stress for her as well. All in all, it creates an environment where the cow is happy, healthy and comfortable.

There are also new technologies that allow the farmer to monitor the cow’s vitals and living habits that are key indicators related to its health. This allows the farmer to identify sickness right away and be able to get the cow the assistance she needs. Advancements in feeding technology have also allowed farmers to produce more nutritious feed for their cows, all while monitoring their intake and ensuring they are getting just the right amount of sustenance. As a result, the industry has been able to reduce the number of inputs needed for producing milk. And, contrary to popular belief, dairy cows do not directly compete with humans for food, as most of the food that reaches them would never be used for human consumption and is produced on land that is not always adequate for crops that humans consume. All of this, coupled with advancements in manure management systems, have created a cyclical environment that is easier for the farmer, better for the cow and more beneficial for the environment.

Myth No. 4 – Humans don’t need dairy in their diets.

Several people believe that humans don’t need dairy in their diet. The belief being that after a child is no longer an infant it is no longer natural to drink milk. While this may have been the case at one time, about 7,500 years ago humans developed the ability to drink milk beyond infancy. Since then, milk has become a staple within human diets. USDA recommends up to 2-3 servings a day for milk. Even with that recommendations, studies show that most people are only getting 1-2 servings. This leads to a lack of some of the 12 vital nutrients that milk can help provide.

Myth No. 5 – Dairy cows are pumped full of antibiotics.

Another argument that is often used against the consumption of milk is that cows is that most people believe that cows are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. However, antibiotics are only used on an as needed basis, and they can only be administered by a veterinarian. So, cows only ever receive antibiotics when it is needed to maintain the health of the animal, just like when a human gets sick. Even in the scenarios where a cow is given an antibiotic, the cow and her milk are separated until it has left her system.

Farmers care about their animals and dedicate their lives to taking care of them. The last thing any farmer wants to do is put their animal in harm’s way. Not only that, but these animals are critical to farmers’ livelihoods, and a happy, healthy animal does way better than the opposite. This is one of the reasons people claim drinking other things like juice is healthier. However, the fact that dairy cows and their milk are not pumped full of antibiotics, and that a non-dairy alternative, shows why milk is one of the best beverages there are for one to consume.

Ultimately, dairy is an industry that has taken tremendous strides to be environmentally and safety conscious, as well as provide a superb product for the consumer. Dairy farmers across the nation devote their lives to the industry. It’s a 24/7 job that allows for no days off. And, as dairy technology advances over time, the industry will continue to work toward the goal of making farmers’ jobs easier while creating an even better environment for animals.

Learn More

For more information on AEM’s efforts to support the dairy industry, contact AEM’s Austin Gellings at agellings@aem.org

For more perspectives from AEM staff, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

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