What is a factory farm?

Zoe with a seed drill from the 50s

Zoe with a seed drill from the 50s

When I was a teenager in the early 1980s, we bought the next-door neighbour’s farm and the one across the road to milk around 180 cows. At the time, it was an impressive herd.

Today, that’s quite small. The average Gippsland dairy farm now milks 265 cows on 130 hectares.

Turns out our farm is almost perfectly statistically average! Like many of our neighbours, we have a full-time employee and engage relief milkers to manage the workload. We no longer cultivate our own paddocks or cut our own hay because the job has just got too big. Instead, a specialist contractor with specialised, ultra-efficient machinery does it for us. Our very average farm of today would have been considered huge back then. Maybe even a factory farm.

Even so, the well-being of our animals has not diminished over time. We care just as much as we ever did and love of the land, the outdoors and our cows is why we farm. And now, thanks to the work of researchers, we are better equipped to keep them fit and healthy.

I don’t know what you’d classify as a factory farm these days but the low price of milk certainly puts us all under pressure to get bigger (and therefore better able to gain more efficiencies). Here in Australia, where cows are “free range” rather than housed and feed-lotted, big farms can be just as animal and environmentally-friendly as average farms like ours on one condition: the people who operate them still care.