It’s hard for us to have a dialogue about sustainable living without discussing the impact of livestock and agriculture. While there’s no shortage of articles on the emissions caused by beef, dairy has played a smaller role in the conversation. However, more and more consumers are turning to dairy alternatives, from almond milk to oat milk, for both health and animal rights reasons. But in researching the dairy industry, we also found a different, lesser-known alternative: slaughter-free dairy farms.
Slaughter-free dairy means that the animal (usually cattle) is never killed, even after retirement from milk production. This is very rare in the dairy industry, as once a cow’s body can no longer produce milk, it is typically sold off to slaughterhouses for capital gain. The animal activists in us leaped for joy, but we were unsure of the legitimacy or sustainability of no-kill farming, so we had to dive deeper.
The Cow in the Room
But first, let’s go over why we think the dairy industry should be getting more attention than it is. Along with the meat industry, dairy has become a top contributor of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and requires tremendous resources to produce. Globally, agriculture livestock accounts for 11% of all GHG. Dairy milk has been found to produce three times the amount of GHG than vegan alternatives, with 72% of dairy emissions accruing before the milk ever leaves the facility. There is also concern over the copious amount of land and resources required for livestock. Deforestation as a result of raising livestock and producing soybeans to feed them is growing at an alarming rate, with cattle ranching accounting for 80% of Amazonian deforestation rates.
And then, there is systematic animal cruelty that takes place in the dairy industry. To produce milk, cows are trapped and artificially inseminated to induce pregnancy, and the calf is typically taken from the mother within 36 hours to either be sold for slaughter or follow the depressing path of its mother. Cows are impregnated once a year (they have a 9.5 month gestation period), with only a three month break in between pregnancies, and are slaughtered once they can no longer produce milk. To keep up with demand, an overwhelming majority of dairy products come from factory farms that keep cows trapped indoors in cramped conditions for the entirety of their lives.
Despite the innovation and push for plant-based dairy supplements, the demand for dairy continues to grow. At the current rate, dairy consumption is expected to rise an additional 50% by 2050. The increasing human population, westernization of diets, and changing economy are all driving this growth. However, there is potential for GHG emissions to be mitigated through techniques such as soil carbon sequestration, livestock dietary changes, and manure management. Though whether these methods will offset the industry’s damage is still unknown.
The Rise of Ethical Dairy Farms
While the outlook sounds grim, there are individuals who are looking to change the landscape. Long Dream Farms (LDF) is one of only a handful of slaughter-free farms in the U.S. and is redefining what it means to be a dairy farmer. Based in Auburn, California, LDF was started by Andrew and Krista Abrahams, who were motivated by their frustration of the dairy industry. Neither had any farming experience; in their previous lives, Andrew served as a CTO and Krista served as an attorney. They founded LDF with the goal of bringing more ethical dairy products to market.
LDF’s mission centers on allowing all animals on the farm to live out their full, natural lives in a large, open pasture. In addition, offspring are never separated from their mother, as LDF believes (and so do we!) that animals have deep emotional connections and are very aware by the sudden absence of their family.
Photo source: Long Dream Farm
LDF raises a variety of other animals as well. Their chickens are about 50/50 male and female, as they don’t practice the horrible method of culling (the killing of baby male chicks, usually by grinding or gassing them alive). They also raise emus, who provide iridescent dark green eggs that are, according to Andrew, quite tasty. They have four pigs as well–two who live with the chickens to help protect them, and two who live with the cows; their intelligence is helpful in locating calves that wandered a bit too far (as well as cuddling them). These animals provide ingredients for a variety of products LDF sells–halloumi cheese, greek yogurt, ice cream, fresh eggs, and more.
The Environmental Impact of Slaughter-Free
As amazing as LDF’s mission is, the farm has not gone without criticism. Opponents of slaughter-free farms argue that this method requires significantly more land than large-scale factory farms, which is true. However, in speaking with Andrew and in our own research, we found that the issue isn’t so straightforward.
From Andrew’s perspective, grazing animals such as bovines actually help with land preservation and regenerating otherwise barren land. The combination of grazing animals and their manure can encourage the growth of new plants and trees, which in turn helps with carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in places such as the ocean and soil, and is arguably a key component to battling climate change.
However, it’s important to not ignore the philosophy of many animal rights’ activists. Even with these more humane practices, it can be argued that animals are still being exploited for human consumption, as we’re robbing them and their young of natural byproducts.
The True Cost of Ethics
LDF prioritizes quality and ethics over large-scale production. Unfortunately, in our society, that leads to a much higher cost than commercial products. For example, a pint of greek yogurt and a dozen large eggs both run at $7.50. This makes ethical shopping inaccessible to a large portion of the country, a fact that extends way beyond the dairy industry.
There is no easy solution to this extremely-deep rooted problem. However, maybe part of it is rethinking the role animal products play in our diet. Rather than cheese and milk being daily staples for many Americans, they could be smaller components of our overall diet. But even this shift, many people could still not afford to “vote with their dollar,” and there really isn’t a quick fix for that.
LDF shares this concern about the accessibility of their products, which is one reason they’re transitioning into a non-profit organization and hopefully lowering their prices. This will also include the opening of an education center, which will teach visitors about the impact of factory farming, as well as the importance of maintaining the connection humans have with other animals and the benefits of having them out on the land. The center will also support other farmers move towards no-kill farming. In addition, Andrew mentioned that this could help them transition to more reusable packaging, as they are currently using primarily plastic.
Long Dream Farm is by no means a perfect solution to the far-reaching impact of the dairy industry. And while many environmentalists might not agree with this sentiment, we’re moved by their focus on respecting the emotional bonds of the animals they raise and attempt to disrupt an otherwise disgusting industry. Since our political system has failed us so far, individuals like Andrew and Krista give us a glimmer of hope about the future. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so please comment below!
To learn more about Long Dream Farm, check out their website here.