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New U of M Extension study of large dairies finds good news

Dairy cow
Recent dairy farm trends in the United States include fewer, but larger, operations and an increase in the share of milk production from very large farms. Cost advantages of larger farms appear to be driving the consolidation within the dairy industry. However,large operations are thought of by some as a place that is not good for cows.

Marcia Endres, University of Minnesota Extension dairy scientist, wanted to investigate: What is animal care really like in these large dairies? Are these dairies economically different from smaller dairies?

Endres and University of Minnesota graduate student Tyler Evink conducted a cross-sectional study of 15 dairies with more than 2,500 cows in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Iowa. They found many economic advantages of larger dairies and showed that cow welfare was not compromised.

"We wanted to learn more about these operations first hand by collecting on-farm data," says Endres. "We learned that these dairies are well managed, with specialized labor, which helps achieve good animal welfare. They have strict policies about animal abuse, which is not at all tolerated. There is a lot of employee training, and the farm family is an active participant too."

Evink, the graduate student and an alum of Extension's 4-H program, is planning on large dairy management for his career, and this project doubled as part of his training.

Read more about Large dairies in the Upper Midwest: Animal welfare, management and economics on Extension's dairy website, and a related article from Dairy Herd Management.
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