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I’ve increasingly heard the word “industrial” used to describe large modern dairy farms. Recently, the term appeared 16 times in a Dec. 6 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

As a dairy farmer and proud owner of one of these farms, I feel that the word suggests a soulless, grim, unfeeling enterprise. This would not describe my farm nor almost any dairy of any size I have ever been privileged to visit. The fact is that dairying, no matter the size of the farm, is hard work that demands the owner’s total commitment.

Farmers who don’t love their cows or the environment enough to care for them properly will soon be doing something else for a living.
I have never been clear why “industrial” is used to connote large farms but not large hospitals, schools or stores. In each case, the business is trying to find the right size to be efficient and competitive in the modern world. I remember the comfort when growing up of having a local medical clinic with two doctors who knew and took care of my family. But today I also highly value the very large medical enterprise that includes my current doctor. Not only do I appreciate his skill, I also appreciate all the resources and talent he can rely on for support.

Dairy farmers try to find the strategy that works best for their families. In some cases, it may be a large farm to support several generations and skill sets. In others, it may be an organic system that can bring a higher milk price. Still others use unique talents in areas such as bovine genetics that allow them to carve out a competitive niche. Really, the only strategy that doesn’t work in our ever-changing world is to try to do things just the way you did 50 years ago. I believe that is true of almost every career choice.

These larger farms, labeled concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are designed to capture production efficiencies and sometimes are formed by combining several smaller operations. That should sound familiar to many news companies today, particularly the Journal Sentinel, whose parent company continues to scale back at their local papers and is now merging with another media chain to form by far the largest newspaper publisher in the country. Does that make it an “industrial news CAFO”?