DAIRY FARMERS HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF BEING GREEN.
In many ways, farmers are the original environmentalists. They live on the land; they drink the water; and they care for their animals and the soil. Taking care of the animals and the earth will take care of the farm family.
Dairy farmers have implemented many practices that help protect the environment while keeping the farm productive. Farmers have implemented changes in animal housing, energy efficiency, use of byproduct feeds, and production of renewable energy, all of which protect the environment and are truly green.
A cow’s average body temperature is 102 degrees, so when cows are in the barn they generate a lot of heat. In the past, large electric fans were used to move the air and help keep the cows cool and the humidity low. Now barns are being designed to take advantage of natural ventilation. These barns have the sides open and a vent at the ridge line of the roof. The side openings are covered with curtains that can rise and fall, allowing in air that moves across the cows and out the vent at the roof line – acting like a chimney to keep cows cool. This improves the health of the animals and uses little to no electricity—a very green innovation.
Since the mid 1950s, cows have been milked with machines that consume a lot of electricity. At about the same time, the bulk tank was introduced on the farm – a large refrigerated container that cools and keeps the milk at a temperature that preserves its freshness prior to the milk leaving the farm. Bulk tanks have also been powered by electricity. The majority of farms in the Northeast have now implemented energy-saving technology for milking their cows and keeping the milk cold.
Milking machines operate on a system of light vacuum and pulsation. The vacuum is provided by a pump, and in the past the vacuum was held at a steady level throughout the milking. The electric engine running the pump ran at full blast during milking. Computer technology has now allowed for a variable-speed vacuum pump. The computer technology allows the pump to run at the level of the vacuum needed and adjust the speed of the engine as needed. This technology saves electricity and provides for better milking efficiency and cow health.
Once the milking takes place, the milk moves through pipes to the bulk tank. Cows have an average body temperature of 102 degrees and the milk leaves the cow near body temperature. In the past, the milk was cooled once it reached the bulk tank, requiring large amounts of electricity. The majority of dairy farms today use a simple technology to cool the milk to about 50 to 55 degrees prior to reaching the bulk tank – a plate cooler. Plate coolers use a series of two pipes – one pipe contains the milk and the other pipe contains cold water. The two pipes touch one another and heat is transferred from the milk to the water. Less energy is used to cool the milk in the bulk tank and the warm water is then provided to the dairy cows – a real treat in the winter. Research has shown that cows drink more of the warm water than ice-cold water.
The refrigeration units on the bulk tanks create heat when they cool the milk and maintain the cool temperature. The bulk tanks are outfitted with compressors for the refrigeration units. The heat from the compressors is used to heat water. This warmed water is then sent to a hot water heater. Hot water is needed to clean the milking machines and pipes that the milk travels in. The timing is great, the milk is cooling when the milking is completed – heating the water in time for the clean-up process to begin.
Cows are great recyclers – they consume multiple by-product feeds that human do not want to consume. These by-products would end up in landfills if they were not consumed by dairy cows. The production of many products that humans enjoy results in byproducts – orange juice and beer, to name two.
If you have ever made fresh-squeezed orange juice, you know there are leftover orange peels and the sections that hold the pulp in place. Now think of that orange juice production on a large scale. The peels and the sections are compressed into pellets that can be fed to dairy cattle. This by-product feed is called citrus pulp, and dairy cows get energy and fiber from this waste product of the orange juice industry.
A final by-product feed comes from the beer-brewing industry. Many people like to brew beer at home. Malted barley, corn and rice can be used to brew beer – providing sugars that are then fermented into alcohol. After the brewing process, the grains that are left can be fed to dairy cattle. These grains are called brewers grains; they provide cows with protein and fiber from this waste product of the brewing industry.
Farmers are beginning to implement another way to manage manure from cows – generating electricity. In addition to producing enough milk each day to fill six one-gallon jugs, an average dairy cow produces enough manure to power two 100 watt light bulbs 24 hours per day. Cow manure can be digested by bacteria to produce methane gas – a gas similar to propane or natural gas. The methane gas is used to power a generator to make electricity. The electricity can be used to power the farm, but can also be used to power homes and businesses. The generator also makes heat that can be used to heat buildings in the Northeast in the winter, and to heat hot water and dry the manure solids left over from the digestion process. The dried leftover solids can be used for bedding for the cows to keep them dry and clean, for gardens to raise food, or to make compost. Another benefit – the manure after digestion has little to no smell. Totally green.