[Photo by EPA, Public Domain]
By Homer Coldfield (fictional farm & rural columnist *)
I’ve been itching to get my turn at this digital soapbox to give you all a little perspective, especially you Wisconsin urban-ites driving around with “America’s Dairyland” on your license plates as if you all identified with Holsteins and manure. Just cause you “got milk” don’t mean you get what it’s like to run a dairy farm. And let’s get one thing straight right from the start: When I say “farm”, I don’t mean some metal and mud monstrosity.
Get this: “factory farm” is an oxymoron invented by some moron in a corporate suite. Farming is what a family does; factories are big business and need laborers. You can make cars and canned tuna in factories, but you can’t take proper care of animals in a factory, even animals you want to eat. And you can’t take proper care of land and air in a “factory” either. “Factory farms” are nothing but local producers of pollution and rural poverty. Yea, they make a lot of milk, but where’s most of it going to go? Probably Mexico, China, or Canada. But right here in Wisconsin we get ugliness, crappy water, disease and animal abuse.
This being a “witty” journal, you’re probably waiting for me to start slinging the wit, telling folksy jokes about why cows and chickens cross the road. Any cow or chicken crossing a rural road today ain’t likely getting across alive.
Speaking of death, “dairyland” is dribbling away and it’s not funny. From 2005 through 2014, Wisconsin led the nation in milk production growth. But in one year, 2013 to 2014, Wisconsin lost a whopping 570 licensed dairy herds, by far the most in the nation. The good news is the state still has some 10,000 licensed dairy herds, best in the nation, and the average number of cows per herd is relatively low at 124. The bad news is the average size of the herds is going up as the number of farms declines. We ain’t nearly as bad as California that sucks out way more milk than us from a mere 2,000 or so registered herds. (When, by the way, does a herd of cows stop being a herd? You put 500 or 1000 cows or chickens or hogs together in one place and you got an agricultural catastrophe. I think we got to change our nomenclature, no? We got lots of scientists trying to get cows to make more milk, but where is a UW professor that can come up with a fitting name for putting 1000 cows behind one fence? I learned a long time ago that ag professors generally want to improve agriculture by taking all the fun and sweetness out of it. (You don’t think farming can be fun and sweet? Well, it can be, specially when you get to work with animals and you’re not trapped inside your mega-tractors and combines. But where was I?) Oh, yeah, what to call it when you got more cows than a modest size family, including children and dogs, can handle. I got a friend who says that a CAFO (the hogwash, industrial name for factory farm the EPA thought up to regulate them) (what the hell was the EPA thinking? why can’t we just outright ban the things in the name of protecting the environment?) ain’t nothing more than concentration camps for animals. Well, now I’ve lost track of my parentheses, so I better end this paragraph. ) ) ) ) (I threw in some more of those half-moons for emphasis.)
Plague, that’s it. You got so many cows you got to build pools of manure that attract flies and disgust tourists or spray it on the ground to get into your water and you got a plague of cows. And then we act surprised when the animals get sick and abused. You take a cow off pasture and crowd it into a dirt enclosure and feed it corn (food for people) and you get a man-made rural calamity. You can call it a “dairy farm” if you want to (call it a luxury resort for all I care) but what you really got is an inhumane pollution machine. Wisconsin is losing about three small dairy farms per day, the sort of rural scene the state is famous for, while we got more than 200 of these stinkin’ CAFO’s, which some claim is the future of milk. All these CAFO’s in northeast Wisconsin is turning Green Bay into a brown dead zone.
From where I sit in the boondocks, it’s time for a new state slogan: America’s Toilet. Look on the bright side–this is a more fitting phrase to put on a car.
* Homer Coldfield, a fictional figment of the editor’s imagination, is a former dairy farmer and former editor of the prestigious and little-read monthly, The Rural Farmer, which was awarded 2nd place in the 2002 “Most Redundant Publication Title Contest.” (Winner that year was the establishment weekly, Urban Chicago.) Coldfield refused to accept the award, citing the relatively few farmers left in rural Wisconsin. “Jesus, I was being sarcastic. Went right over their smartass heads.”
P.S.– Coldfield and the other fictional columnists resigned at the end of April 2015 over a dispute with pay. I couldn’t pay them, and writers do deserve to be paid, if possible.