Climate & Environment

Dairy farms are continually working towards overall sustainability. Compared to farms in 1960 today's dairy farms are on average producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows thanks to genetic improvements, better feed nutrition, and improved cow comfort, including reduced heat stress, better ventilation and stall design, as well as other management practices. Farmers are evaluating how they can reduce potential externalities, including air quality impacts, water quality impacts, and any impact on microbial resistance.

Topic areas:

  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Odor and emissions
  • Climate change and greenhouse gases (GHG)

Antimicrobial Resistance

Antibiotics are chemicals that kill or impede bacterial growth. Parallel to their use and importance for human health, antibiotics are important medicines used on dairy farms to prevent and treat bovine bacterial infections. When antibiotics are administered to dairy cattle, milk and meat withholding times are strictly followed to prevent antibiotic residues from entering the food system.

Antibiotic Resistance (AR) is a naturally occurring process where previously susceptible bacteria develop the ability to resist the effects of an antibiotic. The use of both human and veterinary antibiotics has accelerated antibiotic-resistant bacteria development.

Information found on this page was developed under USDA funding that supports work to investigate and report on the efficacy of dairy manure treatment systems to mitigate antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

a diagram showing the process of antimicrobial resistance

a woman in a hat helps a cow in a dairy barn


Odor and Emissions from dairy operations are an environmental and societal concern. While addressing odor is a neighbor relations concern, emissions such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are potential health, air quality, and regulatory concerns. Odor and emissions can come from three primary source locations on a dairy farm: animal facilities, manure storages, and land application of manure.

    Climate Change & Greenhouse Gases