The affable, soft-spoken dairy farmer stood outside his 70-stall milking barn on his 230-acre family farm. When his father started farming there in 1950 were about 800 dairy farms in New York state’s Orange County. Only 39 survive. Small, traditional farms have been driven out of business by rising real estate prices, genetic manipulation of cows, industrial-scale hormone use that greatly increases milk production, wildly fluctuating milk prices and competition from huge operations that have herds numbering in the thousands.
I grew up in the dairy farm town of Schoharie in upstate New York. The farmers would let me pick through the rocks in their stone walls as I searched for fossils of Crinoid stems, Trilobites, Eurypterids and Brachiopods. I was in numerous cow barns and pastures as a boy. I have a deep respect for the hard life of small dairy farmers. They are up at 5 or 6 in the morning for the first milking, work all day and milk the cows again in the late afternoon. This goes on seven days a week. They rarely take vacations. And their finances are precarious.
When I was in Minisink recently it was the first time I had been on a dairy farm as a vegan. I do not eat meat. I do not eat eggs. I do not consume dairy products. I no longer accept that cows must be repeatedly impregnated to give us milk, must be separated immediately from their newborns and ultimately must be slaughtered long before the end of their natural lives to produce low-grade hamburger, leather, glue, gelatin and pet food. I can no longer accept calves being raised in horrific conditionsbefore they are killed for the veal industry, developed to profit from the many “useless” males born because dairy farms regularly impregnate cows to ensure continuous milk production.
Once the right of the powerful to exploit the powerless—whether that exploitation is of animals by humans, other nations by an imperial power, other races by the white race, or women by men—once that right is removed from our belief system, blinders are lifted. On my visit to rural New York state I saw dairy farming in a new way—as a business that depends on the enslavement of the female reproductive systems of animals, animals that feel pain, suffer and love their young.