This past Saturday I stopped by the grand opening of the newly remodeled Dairy Cattle Center on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. As I posted about a year ago, the facility was in dire need of updates. As a handout at the grand opening described, “The original dairy barn, which is located just west of the current facility, was built in 1898…. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Dairy Cattle Center was originally built in 1956 to replace the 1898 facility.” As I quoted Wisconsin State Journal reporter Deborah Ziff’s article last year, “In the last 55 years, cows have been genetically bred to be bigger and provide more milk…. [Before the upgrades,] a cow that weighs 1,800 pounds [was] living in a stall built for one that weighed 1,200 pounds in the 1950s, meaning her rear end [hung] over the edge of the stall into a gutter.”
That won’t be the case anymore (or at least not quite so much) as you can see in the photos below. (Check out the links above to my earlier post or Ziff’s article for a pre-renovation comparison photo.) That said, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that although new, more comfortable mats had been installed, life hadn’t really improved all that much for the cows, stuck as they are in their stalls with severely limited mobility and no access to pasture whatsoever. At the open house, there were hundreds of visitors who seemed very happy to see the facility and the cows, and I don’t doubt that the faculty, staff, and students learn a lot at the Center and very much care about the well-being of the animals. Personally, though, seeing the facility had the (surely unintended) consequence of renewing my commitment to support pasture-raised dairy, meat, and egg products.
One more facet of the visit gave me pause, and that was the extensive industry influence that was clearly reflected in promotional materials and bright, highly visible signage, some of it permanent. As the UW press release describes, “The project received strong industry support, notably from Madison-based BouMatic Inc., which contributed equipment and installation of the milking parlor, as well as donations of stall mats by Promat Inc. and parlor mats by Animat.” Nothing like promoting your product to current and future dairy industry professionals with the implied stamp of approval of the prestigious University of Wisconsin, huh? Money well-spent, I am sure. (Of course, the same sort of thing happens extensively, for example, with drug companies in the UW’s pharmacy, medical, and veterinary schools, just without the obvious signage.)