Large Scale vs. Small Scale: Are the Cows Different?

Still groggy we climbed onto the bus knowing what awaited us at our next stop. Today was a comparative day to show us the different between large scale and smaller scale farming practices. We looked at livestock through two different farms. Our first stop was at the Jones Family Farm, what we saw was an incredibly modernized farming operation. Thanks to a big family Mr. Sean Jones can supply the technology and the hands behind the scenes of the milk and beef production. He moved down to Kent County to escape from the regulations placed on many farmers in New Jersey. They were not allowed by the state to expand their operation so they decided as a family to move to Maryland.

The whole farming production was regimented; each cow had a collar with an id sensor attached. This tag would keep track of milk production and indicators of overall health for each cow as they are milked 3 times a day. The farm operation is a 24/7 operation, mostly thanks to the advances in technology that make this type of production possible. 1,200 gallons a day leave the farm and is sold as fluid milk through a milk co-op program. Sean Jones the overseer and owner of Jones Family Farm told us that just this morning they implanted 25 embryos into the some of the animals. They use sorted semen as a means of selective breeding to try to prevent the birth of bull calves, which have no value to milk producers and are sold instead as beef cattle. Jones Family Farm is trying to improve the quality of the herd with genetics. 


Throughout our tour Mr. Jones conveyed to us that all of the technology he uses has a specific purpose and that he has tried to stay ahead of environmental regulations. He has 4 lagoons to hold the manure wastewater investments to the environment of $239,000 each. A sand recycling system that removes sand from the manure bedding mixture and a custom made phosphorous removal system. Not only does his success as a farming operation lie in his ability to adapt to new regulations but also to ensure that the cows are happy. His motivations behind the well being of the animals are not just from a humane perspective but also based on the economic benefits. The happier a cow the greater and more consistent milk supply available.Image

Regulations and management varies from county to county and state to state. These regulations are put into place to try to reduce the impacts that we as invasive human beings have on the natural landscape and in this case the Chesapeake Bay. How successful can we really say we are when every state has different levels and goals they want to limit. There are times dedicated to when they can spread the fertilizer and times denoted to how long it can be stored. The issue with this is that all of these laws and regulations vary so one “good apple” suffers at the expense of a “bad apple’s” actions.

The next farm that we visited we knew would be on a much smaller scale. At St. Brigid’s Dairy farm I was surprised at the change in scale. Judy Gifford and Robert Fry established the farm in 1996 and have grown to a farm with nearly 200 grass-fed jersey cows. They pride themselves on their rich buttery milk and their grass feed beef. After visiting the farm I understand why despite the increased costs they continue to work on a small scale relative to most cow production farms. Most of the jersey cows on the farm have names. Judy Gifford can tell you who the mother and grandmother of a young cow are and she genuinely cares about the well being of each cow. While it is hard to be a small farmer she takes pride in what she does. Honestly it was quite impressive and inspiring to see a woman doing in a male dominated work environment.Image

After a delicious meal of salad, bread and chili we went out to see the cows. We started in one of the grass fields where we talked about the importance of soil nutrient management. Mrs. Gifford put it well when she explained that the soil is like your GPA, once you get one bad grade it is hard to get it back to the right conditions. The manure does provide a great way to fertilize the soil naturally while the cows are in the pasture. There was an abundance of clover in this particular field, which is a nitrogen fixing plant so it can manage the nitrogen in the soil. Other species that help with soil management are borer beetles and earth worms which take the nutrient rich soil deeper into the soil so that there can be a more productive yield. On a farm like this where grass is so heavily relied on nutrient management is incredibly important to secure food supply for the grazers.

Visiting these two farms made me realize that there is a wide variety of farmers on the eastern shore. Their practices are different but yet very much the same. The regulations placed on them hinder their production and allocation of money for resources like waste management systems. Everyone wants a cleaner bay but playing the blame game is getting us nowhere. If people start to realize that everyone has an impact on the degradation of the bay we would all be doing our part. Of course some industries need a little push to get there and help with management but if given the tools and the financial incentive environmentally minded practices would become the norm for our society.Image




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