One of my favorite things about going home to Maine for the holidays is visiting friends both old and new. Of course, my absolute favorite thing about going to Maine is knowing that in 2 years, I will be in the state permanently, but that is not the point of this post! This holiday season, I made time to meet with a family friend that has worked in the dairy industry for his entire life. He grew up milking a herd of about 20 cows by hand with his father. I think it is no secret that in a short time, the farms that milk cows by hand in the United States will be few and far between.
We discussed some new regulations that were going to require all farms in Maine to have regulated levels of welfare, facilities, herd documentation, and many other aspects of farm operations. A lot of these ideas appeared great to me, and I still think that many increased welfare standards are positive changes. Especially with increased consumer awareness, fantastic animal welfare is going to be of utmost importance for farmers in the coming years.
Already, the suggestion that farms that use more primitive technologies to milk smaller herds and attempt to stay afloat is gawked at by many of my peers. I find it much more useful to not judge the choices of farmers and instead focus on what I can do to serve them as a supplement to their productivity and a guardian to their animals. As veterinarians, we are here to provide services and make recommendations, not to undermine our clients.
While some may think that the small farm will be obsolete in years to come, many of us argue the opposite. In Maine, the small farm and farm-to-table movements are alive and well. Smaller farms are popping up all over the state, and not just farms that produce cow milk. Llama and alpaca farms, goat dairies, and mixed livestock farms are showing up as well. One goat dairy even recently popped up in my hometown of Litchfield! This has resulted in not only a diversified food supply, but a healthy source of revenue for the state. With continuing consumer demand for food from local sources, the doors continue to open for people wishing to enter the small farm landscape.