Last week’s heat wave was pretty unbearable, but imagine being 1,500 pounds, covered in a fur coat, and not even able to sweat. Welcome to the life of New York’s dairy cows. Farmers in upstate New York have reported a drop in cows’ milk production by nearly a third, due to the heat wave. Unsurprisingly, cows don’t like hot weather, and since they can’t sweat, the animals eat and drink less, become lethargic, and milk production drops. This heat wave was just a taste of what’s in our future, and the ramifications on our weather, food system, livestock, and health raise interesting questions.
Now, we could go off on a tangent about how being vegan would mitigate this entire cows-not-producing-milk issue, but we know that’s a moot point. We have reported extensively on the hormones in milk and the carbon emissions caused by dairy farms, but it’s unreasonable to think that all people are going to give up dairy. The real point here is the effect that global warming is having on our daily lives.
We know that hotter temperatures are here to stay, and while it’s necessary to talk about the heat index and pressure in the atmosphere, these facts are somewhat abstract and hard to wrap your head around. But something like dairy cows not being able to produce milk because of the high temperatures is a very real and very tangible consequence of climate change. Because hotter temperatures will no doubt persist, this problem is bound to become more widespread, thus having much larger implications on our food prices and our food system.
Dairy farmers are doing everything they can to mitigate the situation, like installing large fans and sprinkler systems, but it’s a problem that is only going to go away unless we all take global warming way more seriously and make some big changes in our energy consumption. Or else we’re just going to get even hotter.
Lead image © Keven Law via Creative Commons