Dairy Farming

Liam Tucker

Environmental Impacts

The production of milk has a large impact on the environment. Cows produce methane and nitrous oxide in their digestive system. These greenhouse gases are 21 and 296 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Therefore, the dairy industry contributes to 3% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

One cow can produce up to 54kg of wet manure per day. Cow's manure pollutes water and soil and can disturb the natural nutrient balance needed for normal plant growth.

The Australian dairy industry is responsible for using mass amounts of water and land. In 2005, the industry used 19% of all water needed for the Agriculture industry. This is more than 12% of all the water used in Australia.

Deforestation occurs for the need to produce cattle feed.

Social Impacts

Gives both residents and dairy factory employees, increased satisfaction with the quality of their working life.

Provides rural and regional dairy communities with a better quality of life compared with the average Australian.

The Australian dairy industry directly employs 43,000 Australians on farms and factories.

Economic Impacts

The dairy industry has an estimated value of $4 billion. This jumps to $13 billion when manufacturing and export value is added.

Generates approximately $2.9 billion in export export income per year.

Net contribution of $6.9 to Australia's economy.

THE dairy industry is preparing to fight a major attack from animal rights groups over its treatment of young dairy calves.

The Australian Dairy Farmers annual general meeting in Melbourne today will discuss how the industry can best protect the welfare of surplus male calves, now usually slaughtered in abattoirs when just five days old.

The Animals Australia advocacy organisation has branded the killing of 700,000 "bobby" calves a year as the "dark secret" of the dairy industry.

It has launched a new campaign, backed this month with advertisements in city newspapers, claiming these "unwanted, bewildered babies" are taken from their "grieving mothers" at birth, deprived of their milk, discarded by farmers as waste product and sent to die a lonely death in an abattoir when less than a week old.

Much of the furore is focused on the time-lag between the baby calves leaving the farm and being killed (with a mandatory stun gun) in the closest abattoir, which can mean the calves go without food or milk for more than a day.

"This is the dark secret lurking in every unassuming glass of milk," the Animals Australia advertisements claim. "These calves are denied their mothers, food and the right to life, spending the last day of their short life cold, hungry and scared."

But to dairy farmer Chris Place, who lives in Camperdown, 195km southwest of Melbourne, the growing concerns of the animal welfare lobby are misplaced.

Mr Place says of the 350 calves born each year on his Victorian property to keep his 400 cows producing milk, about 100 of the young male or bull calves are sold to abattoirs when five days old because he has no use for them.

He is paid between $50 and $80 for each five-day-old dairy bull calf, with the processor selling some meat as milk-fed veal, other parts as a high-protein meat additive in canned export products, while the small, soft hide goes to leather tanners, and the stomach to cheesemakers.

But the farmer, who is happy to be the public face of the industry fightback on bobby calves, disputes claims the animals are not cared for during their short life.

"Contrary to what you have been told, there is no dark secret -- our calves are kept in a warm shed and feed on their own mothers' milk for five days, and have their last drink just before they leave our farm," Mr Place said.

The chairman of Australian Dairy Farmers' animal welfare committee, David Basham, said the vexed issue of the welfare of bobby calves, especially progress on imposing an industry standards on the timing of the last feed, would be discussed at its board meeting today.

While stopping short of calling for a boycott of all dairy products, Animals Australia chief executive Glenys Oogjes wants consumers to make their own decisions after learning about the fate and last hours of the young calves.