Radical Compassion with Five Freedoms Dairy

“This is Sissy, she’s my favorite cow,” said Dr. Kevin McSweeney, owner and dairy farmer at Five Freedoms Dairy, as Sissy ran towards him. She rested her head on Kevin’s shoulder as he scratched her neck, a loving act that has undoubtedly been repeated hundreds of times between the pair.

Kevin has spent most of his life around dairy cows. An esteemed veterinarian, he specialized in reproductive methods and created new impregnation techniques for dairy farmers that propelled his career and gave him the opportunity to work with dairy farms across the country. It didn’t take long, however, for Kevin to see the failures of our dairy system in its treatment of the cows. “They sell to the commodity market and don’t care about animal welfare or sustainability,” Kevin said. “If most people saw what happened on large-scale dairy farms, they wouldn’t want to support it,” he added. 

Undeterred, Kevin set out to prove that there is a way to produce dairy while providing long, fulfilling lives to the creatures that sustain it. Most notably, Kevin decided to try something truly remarkable: creating a dairy farm where calves don’t get separated from their mothers. Most dairy producers will impregnate cows so that they will birth calves, produce milk to feed their young, and then separate the calf from its mother to harvest its milk. This causes immense stress to both the mother and calf, whose instincts yearn to stay together. At Five Freedoms Dairy, the mothers and calves get to stay together, and the babies feed from their mothers until it’s time to wean them at about five to six months. “When I  started doing this, I had no examples to lean on – it was impossible to find another farm doing this,” Kevin shared.

While keeping calves and their mothers together is a no-brainer when it comes to animal welfare, there is a reason why farms focused on production don’t practice it: you get a lot less milk. With the same number of cows, Kevin can lose a large percentage of milk that he would otherwise be able to sell to the babies who – rightfully – claim it first. And though Kevin isn’t planning to change his ways, it impacts both his inventory and pricing model. In a world where consumers are programmed to buy milk for $3 a gallon when and wherever they please, it requires a cultural shift to prioritize ethics over convenience.

Kevin sees his participation in farmers markets as a way to educate customers on the realities of dairy farming and shift their behaviors. “I get to tell customers that this is the reality of dairy farming – are you comfortable with that?” he asked. His market booth regularly touts the headline, Where Every Cow Has a Name, a phrase that captures the attention of those passing by and showcases Kevin’s commitment to his cows. The farmers markets also provide a steady income for Five Freedoms Dairy, but the seasonal model becomes challenging once winter hits. He sells his milk, yogurt, and ricotta in several small markets throughout the area, and his products are regularly available on Boulder County Farmers Markets online store.

Kevin believes that consumers looking to reduce their dairy and meat consumption for environmental benefit are moving in the right direction, but eliminating consumption without advocating for better farming and ranching practices allows the most prominent players to continue their destructive methods without repercussions. “It’s not the dairy farmers themselves who are necessarily choosing to operate this way. It’s the system itself,” he explained. “The farmers will follow customer demand, and if customers demand animal welfare and sustainability, they will provide it.” 

Because of Kevin’s bold methodology, his cows live twice as long as conventional dairy cows. Because he provides pasture and soft hay beds, they don’t suffer from chronic injuries to their legs and hooves. And because of his veterinary training, he doesn’t allow them to suffer from sickness just to follow organic certification protocols (which prohibit the use of antibiotics to treat infection), but instead treats them as creatures who have the same right to life as we do.*

Boulder County Farmers Markets is proud to carry Five Freedoms Dairy’s products on our online store year-round. There’s no need to wait until market season to support their dairy farm – visit our website to purchase their products today.

*Any cows treated with antibiotics at Five Freedoms Dairy will be removed from milk production until the antibiotics have completely left their system. This means the same health benefits as organic milk, without animal suffering due to lack of medical treatment.

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