Real Talk: Cow Poop

Manure happens on dairy farms – or any type of farm for that matter; it’s just a part of the process to get wholesome, nutritious dairy foods to your table! But did you know cow poop is part of a larger sustainability story? Dairy farmers are the original stewards of the environment and constantly work to manage resources and protect the land – even using manure for years to practice sustainability before it was even a word!

Dairy farmers either live on the farm or near it, so they understand the importance of protecting natural resources. 95% of U.S. dairy farms are family-owned, so passing their land to the next generation is important. And they’ve done an impressive job at caring for the environment. The dairy community has reduced the carbon footprint of milk by 63% in recent decades by improving overall farm practices.

While some of us would turn up our nose to cow manure, dairy farmers consider it valuable and another part of dairy’s natural nutrient cycle of nourishing animals, land and communities. Like water, manure is recycled to use in other ways on the dairy farm. Most farmers capture manure and reuse it as natural fertilizer for crops. Since many dairy farmers grow their own feed for their cows, they spread manure over their fields before a crop is planted or practice composting to apply to their crops or sell to local nurseries. This helps reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Before any of this is done, dairy farmers follow strict laws and regulations to ensure nutrients are only absorbed by crops and not groundwater. They also store manure in secure facilities on the farm to help reduce odor and improve air quality. Some farmers actually apply manure below the soil surface to control odor in their communities.

Cow manure is also impacting communities off the farm, and there’s a chance a garden near you has benefitted from it! One dairy farm family, the Freunds, in Connecticut created CowPots – a line of biodegradable plant pots made from composted cow manure. After experimenting for several years, the Freund family has perfected the product to much success, bringing them a second income and a way to meet their farm’s sustainability goals. You can even get some for your own garden and support farmers’ environmental efforts in your town!

So the next time you sip on your favorite smoothie or take a bite of cheesy pizza, remember that dairy farmers practice sustainability 24/7 to nourish their animals, land and communities – and, most importantly, provide you and their communities a product that’s wholesome and nutritious.

Learn more about sustainability on dairy farms

By Jordan Manning

Jordan grew up in the cattle industry and uses her love of agriculture every day to help people understand more about their food. She previously worked at the Texas Beef Council. When she's not working, Jordan enjoys cheering for the Aggies. Learn more about Jordan