Their are many factors over time that have changed the way we grow our food. Here are a few from my personal experiences.
Growing up on a dairy farm since a kid I have seen the amount of research and development within the dairy industry first hand. Dairy farming is hard, from starting at 5 every morning and long day of physically and mentally exhausting work. For about 12 years we milked our herd of 50 cows in a double 4 parlour where it took about 2 hours to milk the whole herd and then feeding, scraping, hosing down the parlour and may other time consuming jobs. Eventually our 40 year old parlour began to fall apart and the old wooden barn was beginning to rot out at the bottom from the manure. In 2015 we constructed a new barn for our dry cows and dairy herd. It is a state of the art barn, with an automatic scraping system, which replaces the need to move the cows out of the alley and drive a tractor through. A new feeding system, using a feed mixing wagon, instead of shoveling hay by hand. Most important a robotic milking parlour, which takes away the role of the milker having to hook up the cows.
It seems nowadays whenever hard physical work is required you see trends of coming up with new ways to replace those jobs using technology, machines and sometimes robotics.
I was able in 2015 to take a look at the dairy research barn at UBC, during a course I took. I was amazed at the amount of work that goes into studying dairy cows and developing the dairy industry. Dairy cow genetic has also been greatly developed in recent years. Many people don’t know that artificial Insemination is used on almost all dairy farms nowadays. Using this has let farmers get specific traits added into their herd. It also takes away the risk of working with bulls that could be dangerous. Nowadays farms are also much more efficient than they were in the past. Cows can easily produce 10 times more milk than they used to. Over the last 50 years the number of cows and farms overal has been decreasing while the number of cows on each farm has grown drastically. Many of the smaller farms are being replaced by mega farms, where the cows usually do not graze outside and are confined to the barn.
Ranching has also seen many similar changes to dairy farming. Technological advancements has created a change in many techniques used in ranching. I firsthand experienced working on a Cattle Station in the Northern Territiory, Australia. They still use horses sometime for roundup because the terrain is so difficult to travel over. Dirtbikes, quads and helicopters are sometimes used and have replaced a lot of the work that was traditionally done on horseback. Much of the land there is left in its natural state instead of being turned into field. The owner said this was good for the environment and ecosystems doing it this way. Because the land is not very productive much more of it is needed. Some of the stations are hundreds of thousands of acres in size, but sustain far less cows per square km than beef farms here do.
In America and Canada the beef industry has also changed quite a lot. In the 1800’s cattle ranching was a way of life for the majority of people. Most cattle were kept on an open range, an area typically on the parries with no fences, where the cattle romed free. Every year cowboys would round up the cattle on horseback, sorting them out by their brands. Eventually, the invention of barbed wire, overgrazing of the wild prairry grasses and conflicts with home steaders brought an end to the open range practice.
World wide shipping and trade has also had a big impact on the beef industry. In places like Australia and India there is much more room for raising cattle. This has led to competition with local ranches where land costs more and cattle cost more to raise. Consequently the beef we buy in cities like Vancouver is more imported that grown here. This makes it difficult for small family farms to make a living and many of the beef farmers I know have to have a second job off the farm.
Farmers have to learn to be adaptable in changing times. Here in B.C., Farmers have a unique opportunity to incorporate tourism into their business. My family has taken advantage of this by turning our dairy farm and cheese company into a well known tourist stop for people visiting Vancouver Island. Chilcotin holidays has also done this by offering trail rides and outdoor adventures to non country folk and the opportunity to experience the Canadian wilderness on horseback, bringing people back to a time when there were many ranches and cattle roamed free on the mountains.
John, BC, Canada