How Has the Carbon Footprint of Dairy Farming Changed?

By Caci Nance
Caci is a third generation dairy farmer from South Carolina

Like many families, my family and I are concerned about limiting our impact on the environment and using natural resources as efficiently as possible. On our 108-cow dairy farm in McConnells, South Carolina, we take advantage of every chance to use technology and modern methods to reduce our carbon footprint.

In the two generations since my grandparents farmed, things have changed a lot in dairy farming. We have new tools and processes that improve cow health, reduce our use of natural resources and generally help us produce more with less.

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of our dairy farm comes from the same places it comes from with a non-farm family: fuel use, water use, land use and waste handling.

We do everything in our power to ensure we aren’t wasting resources that can be reused or conserved. For example, we use the manure from our cattle to fertilize our crop fields. This greatly reduces the need to purchase synthetic fertilizer while also reducing our environmental impact. It also improves the organic matter in the soil, which helps retain moisture in the soil and keeps nutrients in place.

Additionally, our cattle are fenced off, away from fresh water sources like streams and ponds, so they are prevented from polluting the natural water supply. This reduces wastewater runoff. However, they always have access to fresh drinking water via tanks we supply.

Use of Technology on our Dairy Farm

We use robotic milking machines, which are far more efficient at extracting the milk than doing it by hand. That means our cows spend less time in the milking parlor and more time eating and lying down, the cow’s two favorite things to do.

Another technological advance is the type of feed ration we use. Our veterinary nutritionist makes available the most advanced types of feed, which allow our cows to use calories in the most efficient manner possible. This leads to a healthier cow.

And on our crop fields, we take advantage of no-till planting technology. No-till means we plant into ground that isn’t tilled in advance. Tilling is turning the field to help prevent disease and pests, in preparation for planting. We aim to reduce tillage on our fields. This helps capture carbon, by leaving plant residue in place, and limits fuel use because our tractors make fewer passes across the field. Just as important, no-till reduces soil erosion, resulting in cleaner, clearer groundwater around our farm.

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