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Cows vs. water September 25, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
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Would you rather have happy cows or clean water? Unfortunately, the Illinois EPA says you have to choose one or the other, according to a cattle farmer who shared with me his dilemma. Five years ago, this farmer’s 500 cows could move at will between the sunny pastures of outdoor exercise pens and the shade of a roofed-over concrete lot. The food bunks were in the concrete building, so the cows would come in several times a day to feed, but they spent most of their time outside – even in winter, even in snow. It might seem odd that they’d rather be scattered around in the snow than huddled up for warmth under shelter from the elements, but that was their preference, perhaps because even cold ground is easier on the hooves than a concrete floor.

Now those same cows are inside on concrete 24/7, and why? Because a creek runs a quarter-mile away from the former pasture, and the state EPA judged that the land had the potential to leak manure runoff into that waterway. Of course, no one’s going to argue that you shouldn’t protect the water supply, and manure runoff can be a very serious threat. However, according to this farmer, he walked the EPA rep right over to the creek to prove that there was no way runoff could ever reach it; when that failed to convince them, he created three different plans for runoff basins that would catch it before it would hit the stream, but that still didn’t satisfy the EPA. The only thing that did was taking all but 80 of the cows off the land and putting them in a building. (Which, by the way, he had to spend a quarter of a million dollars to build.)

Now, the EPA rep wasn’t there to give his side of the story, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that he was right – that it was impossible to both allow these animals the space and comfort of grazing on grass and keep the water safe. What kind of food system are we building, that we can’t give decent care to the environment and animals at the same time?

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