Think Out Loud

Small dairies in Oregon file lawsuit over agricultural rules

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Feb. 20, 2024 9:21 p.m. Updated: Feb. 26, 2024 11:06 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Feb. 20

In Oregon, large commercial dairies follow rules by the Oregon Department of Agriculture that help regulate animal waste. Confined animal feeding operations can house hundreds or thousands of animals. Rules governing large commercial dairies didn’t always apply to small, mom and pop operations. But a reinterpreted regulation from the Oregon agency might affect smaller farms, and now several small dairies in Oregon have filed a lawsuit over the interpretation, as the Statesman Journal reported.


Waneva LaVelle is the owner and operator of Pure Grace Farm. She joins us with more about her concerns and the lawsuit.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. In Oregon, large commercial dairies are categorized as confined animal feeding operations. They can house hundreds or even thousands of animals and have to follow rules by the Oregon Department of Agriculture regarding animal waste. The rules for these large farms didn’t always apply to small mom and pop operations. But as The Statesman Journal recently reported, that is about to change. Now, even tiny operations will have to follow some of the same rules. Several smaller dairies say that complying with the new rules might put them out of business and they’ve sued the state. Waneva LaVelle is one of those plaintiffs. She is the owner and operator of Pure Grace Farm in Marion County where she has some miniature dairy goats and she joins us now. Welcome to the show.

Waneva LaVelle: Thanks.

Miller: Can you describe your operation at Pure Grace Farm?

LaVelle: Yeah, of course. We’re your typical family-operated small farm. We’re located in Hubbard, just south of Portland. We’re on 17 acres, pretty much just grass hay fields and some seed fields. And our goats are able to access those all the time. Right now,

we have nine goats, six of those being does of which three are currently pregnant. And as soon as I’m done with this, I’ll be heading back out to the barn to make sure one’s not having babies as we speak. And we also have a new addition of a little mini Highland cow. And then we have horses. I have a horse that stalls here. And we also board some horses.

Then we just have your other basic stuff that any farm would have, which is a great garden in the summer to can up some fresh vegetables for the winter and stuff. But yeah, that’s our farm and what it looks like with the animals that we have on our land.

Miller: How many goats are you milking on a daily basis? And how many might there be at a really large dairy in Oregon?

LaVelle: So for us, like I said, we have six does and Oregon has some specific laws on how many goats you can have milking at any one time, to be considered a small farm for dairies. You have to be under nine goats that have milk at any one time. So currently we have six does. One is 15 years old, so she’ll never be bred again. She just gets to live out her life here being loved. Currently, we have three that are pregnant. So after they have their babies and within a couple of weeks after they have their babies, we’ll start milking them twice a day. So all I’ll be milking this year is three of them.

Last year, we had a pretty busy schedule. So we didn’t even breed. There’s some years we don’t breed. Some years, we may just breed one. We give everybody a year off in between. So it’s not like your typical CAFO [Confined Animal Feeding Operation], or factory farm where it’s just this rotation of being bred and milked daily, basically for their whole life.

Miller: So three or maybe a few more at some point might be milked in your operation. How many cows might there be at a large commercial dairy in Oregon?

LaVelle: Hundreds to thousands.

Miller: Can you describe the rule that those larger operations, in terms of wastewater, have had to follow for a while now and that you now are going to have to follow, just as of this year?

LaVelle: Yeah. So with the confined animal feed operation that CAFOs are usually considered, those animals are basically left in their buildings all day. Some may get out on some pasture or a dry lot every now and then. Being housed inside of a facility all day, their waste just goes up onto the ground which is probably cement. They’re milking thousands of gallons a day where. If I’m milking three goats a day, I may be getting a gallon and a half, two gallons of milk a day. So there’s a lot of waste that they have to move from a building to, I don’t know where, their compost piles and then their holding containment systems for their wastewater and stuff.


I’m producing maybe a couple of gallons of wastewater from cleaning my machinery. Plus my animals have free access to go outside at will. So their waste goes into the ground and fertilizes our hay fields, which we hay. And then in return, we stock our hay and that’s what we feed our livestock throughout the year.

Miller: And what do you do with the handful of gallons of wastewater that you produce from the milking?

LaVelle: So we’re in the country and we have a septic system. So what goes down the drain in my milking room goes into our septic and then out to the drain field. Or there’s been times where I just will throw it out onto the driveway and stuff.

Miller: Well, how would your operation have to change, according to new state rules?

LaVelle: I don’t have all the specifics I require. So you start with the permitting process. Also you have to build your plan. So you figure out what kind of containment system for that couple of gallons a day of wastewater from cleaning my machinery, what that would consist of. So there’s thousands of dollars put into building a new waste holding system for the water.

And then for the removal of the manure that’s produced, I’d figure out what kind of system the county or the state would want that to be. Right now, we have compost piles from when I’m cleaning out a stall and stuff like that. But for the most part, they’re going out into the grass. So [what] could be [needed is] electrical plumbing. And then all the permits on top of it would mean thousands of dollars to create a system. That’s just not necessary for a small farm.

Miller: My understanding is that it was large commercial dairy operations that pushed the state for this change in rules, that pushed them to say, “Hey, it’s not fair that we have to follow these rules in terms of animal waste, for example, or wastewater that these smaller operations don’t. That’s not a level playing field.” What’s your response?

LaVelle: There’s no threat from a small family farm, I think, to even consider level playing field. This isn’t even just about milk to sell or make a product out of the milk. It could be anyone that’s milking for their own personal use. So a family that just has one cow and is milking just to drink that milk, is gonna have to comply with the CAFO. And then I think that everybody has just enjoyed the ability to go to their local farm neighbor and buy fresh products. And again, I’m producing, tops, two gallons of milk a day. So there’s no competition there.

Miller: I should say we reached out to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. They said they don’t provide comment on pending litigation. We also reached out to the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association and they did not make anybody available for comment. What would the penalties be if you don’t follow these new rules?

LaVelle: As far as I’m reading it, if everything goes through that Oregon’s pushing, it can be like a $2,500 fine. And that could be per day. Or it just puts me out of business. Where I’m not milking and providing milk for people to purchase or for…I’ve sold to vets for sick animals because goat milk luckily is one of those milks that any animal can use. So a lot of vets will use goat milk to supplement a sick animal, a puppy, a kitten. So yeah, I would be basically out of business as far as that.

My animals would still stay on my farm because, for us, our animals come first in their health and their happiness. Anyone that comes to the farm is amazed at how spoiled our goats are. They’re more like dogs. They follow us around and they let us hug on them and love them. So, yeah, we would just not be able to milk.

Miller: You mentioned that these new confined animal feeding operation rules would apply even to people who just have one cow and aren’t selling commercially at all? Can you give us a sense for some of the other farmers who you’ve been talking to, who are a part of this lawsuit?

LaVelle: There’s three other farms and two are cow dairies and another is a small goat farm. We’re all in the same predicament of what the state’s gonna do and whether we try and come with tens of thousands of dollars to put in a system or call it quits - as far as the milking. Like I said, my animals will stay no matter what. Because their health and happiness comes first.

Miller: Waneva Lavelle, thanks very much.

LaVelle: Thank you. Hey, can I say one more thing?

Miller: Yes, you can.

LaVelle: Yeah. So if anyone wants to learn more about the case specifics, they can actually go to the Institute for Justice and read up on the case file itself. And that’s just at

Miller: Waneva Lavelle is the owner and operator of Pure Grace Farm.

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