Woodcrest Dairy: The name evokes a beautiful image of a farm with rich green pastures, mixed in with forest land, and of course, the cows, black and white Holsteins that pause from grazing upon the dew-glistened grass at their feet to look up at passers-by, peacefully walking up to be scratched under the chin. Perhaps there’s a red barn. Perhaps there’s a farmer, a man in overalls and a big straw hat, carrying a big metal canister, into which he will squeeze this morning’s milk.
This fantasy of a dairy farm is what’s evoked in the photograph you see here, used on the web site of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico. The reality of New Mexico dairies isn’t so lovely.
The dairies of New Mexico are remarkable because of their size. The average number of cows in the “herds” gathered together on New Mexico dairies is over 2,000 – the largest in the nation.
You may be wondering how such a thing is possible, given what everyone knows about New Mexico: It’s dry. New Mexico is mostly desert.
The useful thing about desert land, it turns out, is that it’s very inexpensive. A new generation of dairy farmers has moved out to New Mexico from California, where there are plenty of customers hungry for dairy products, but where the land is anything but cheap. New Mexico is close enough to the population centers of the West Coast without being burdened by the economic pressure those population centers create.
Then there’s the water. A dairy cow will drink between 25 and 50 gallons per day. New Mexico may not have much water above ground, but there’s a great big aquifer underground, and dairy farmers can pump that water up to the surface. At the current rate of pumping, the aquifer will run dry, but until that happens, it’s easy to come by, allowing New Mexico dairy farms to gather large numbers of cows into relatively small areas for maximum profitability. It’s a dead end road, but the dairymen of New Mexico are happy to drive toward its end at high speed for as long as they can.
The photographs you see here show what Woodcrest Dairy in New Mexico actually looks like. There isn’t much of a crest, or much wood. The grass is not green. There is no pasture.
The cows of Woodcrest Dairy (the long black dots in the overhead shot) don’t graze. They stand around in pens, waiting for their food to be brought to them in big loads carried by heavy machinery.
You’ll notice that the soil color inside the pens of Woodcrest Dairy isn’t the same color as the soil of the land outside. That’s because the cows of Woodcrest Dairy stand around on what the Dairy Producers of New Mexico call an “impermeable layer” of their own compacted manure.
According to the New Mexico Environment Department, the owner of Woodcrest Dairy has recently applied for a permit to discharge 100,000 gallons per day of water, mixed with the feces from the dairy cows in its pens. “The discharge contains water contaminants or toxic pollutants which may be elevated above the standards of Section 188.8.131.5203 NMAC,” the Department says. The Department also reports that the discharged contaminated water from Woodcrest Dairy “may move
directly or indirectly into ground water”. Data from a monitoring well has found that contamination originating from Woodcrest Dairy has in fact gotten into the local groundwater.
The partners of Woodcrest Dairy are determined to keep their operation going despite these problems, and have made multiple donations to the Select Milk Producers Political Action Committee in order to ensure that their economic interests are taken into consideration by elected officials.
Not everything associated with our fantasy of a dairy farm has been stripped from Woodcrest Dairy, of course. All reports indicate that, despite everything, the crowds of cows at the New Mexico facility still say “moo”.