The Diary Industry and Concepts of Resource Use with Dr. David Galligan

David Gallian at PennVet stop by to talk about Cows and Milk and how Dairy impacts water. With the perspective of animal from that of a vet and that of a business as well as nutrition, David opened a conversation about his recent trip to China. David’s trip with colleagues from University of Pennsylvania took a trip to Xi’an to examine the dairy industry.

Why China? Well the current change in consumption based on income growth in China is exploding. For example infant milk products is highly regulated to the point that there is a limit to how much powdered milk can be luggage individually back to China. The Dairy Industry in China is growing. In recent years, dairy farms has grew to the thousands per cattle instead of the traditional hundreds or tens.

David talks of the supply chain for cattle. Dairy is a business. The economic component of a single cow often starts with a few thousand USD investment before any gains. A cow often can go through three lactation cycle which would produce milk as well as young cattle and finally the cow would be sold for meat or other use. In general a cow would yield a profit of $4000 to $5000 in her lifecycle. This is not talking about the capital investments as well as the gender of the cow as male cows are often sold young at a negative cost.

Most people talk about how environmental impact animals are to the world. Think about how many headlines of methane release is out there. The goal for a diary industry is not to just not do dairy/animal or genetically alter the animal to release fewer methane but to make sure that the management is the most efficient and the resources used to be the optimal.

David talks of researches at Penn that is currently studying the optimal using current available technology as well as researches on new technologies. People will not all become vegetarians overnight and even if we all do, we still want to drink milk. For example, US has reduced its herd size overall, while increasing the yield. It is technologies and best management practice that is helping the US industry.

There is always this negative image of large cattle farm industry. But that is not looking at the overall picture. Using data gathered since 1960, David showed that the resource in terms of water and feed, and the pollution released has decreased proportionally. A study by Penn state has revealed that in 1960, a cow needs 15 gallons of water in general and about 30 gallons for the facilities per cow. Now on average that is about 19 gallons of water per cow and about 36 gallon of water per gallon of milk. But overtime, the gallon of water per gallon of milk has gone down by more than half to 12 gallons.

So when ask whether people should then continue to eat cows? David reply, it depends on the individual’s preference. What kind of cow? Free range? Organic? Feed fed? Organic finish? Well go to the website and see for yourself if organic cows are more sustainable than large industrial farming or not. See for yourself if the cows are healthier or happier? You will be surprise at how much less efficient organics are compare to a well-managed farm.  –


About t5huang

Masters in Environmental Science at UPenn Candidate
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