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In the last year, more than 225,000 dairy cows have been “retired” as a way of removing 4.5 billion pounds of milk from the market nationwide. The idea is to reduce the supply as a way of raising prices — and the way to do that is to get rid of dairy herds built up over the years. “Farmers and ranchers who want to participate submit a bid on the number of cows they want to retire,” explains Monte Whaley in the Denver Post. “They are paid based on the previous year’s production of the cows and on the value of the cows going to slaughter.”

This destruction of food-production capacity is seen through the eyes of the Bernhardt family of Milliken, Colorado. The day 11 trucks showed up to haul away the cows was traumatic. “We closed the curtains in his bedroom so he wouldn’t have to watch,” Dave Bernhardt said of his 87-year-old father. “He knew they were there, but still, we didn’t want him to see it all.”

The U.S. market has been flooded with milk. Two years ago milk was expensive. It was “white gold.” Now prices have collapsed. Consumers are paying the same for a gallon of milk that they paid in the 1970s. So herds are being “retired.” The Bernhardts have been farming in northern Colorado since 1920. The reduction program pays well, better than just taking the cows to market. But it will require all dairy farmers to be involved in order for it to effective. So far, only about 70 percent are taking part, according to the Denver Post.

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