It’s really easy to picture dairy cows as the “Happy Cows” that live in California, basking in the sun, grazing on lush green grass, looking forward to the farmer’s visit to release the pressure on their swollen udders. Growing up in upstate NY, I would drive past dairy farms where cows would be outside often. I always assumed that cows actually prefer to be milked, because otherwise it would become painful for them, right? Well sort of, but I was missing an important point…
Like all mammals, cows produce milk naturally, but only at a specific time – they only produce milk after a pregnancy. Exactly like humans, they produce milk for the purpose of nourishing their young. Dairy cows, however, produce milk constantly.
Modern dairy farming is credited with beating the odds of nature by finding a way to produce milk almost constantly – by maintaining a constant cycle of impregnation. The cows are artificially inseminated every year to maximize milk production. They are milked for 10 months out of the year, even including the 7 months each year during which they are also pregnant. I can’t speak from experience, but I know that for humans, carrying a pregnancy and then nursing the baby for 10 months is physically exhausting. Doing both at the same time is physically possible but extremely difficult, not to mention painful and exhausting.
The cows, however, don’t even get the pleasure of nursing their own young since their calves are separated from them within hours after birth. This practice is strictly so that the milk can be diverted for human consumption. This separation causes most cows and calves to go into instant frenzy and panic, searching and bellowing for their young. I’m thankful I’ve never had to witness it, but I’ve read that the sounds cows make when their calves are taken away is enough to send chills down your spine. It is perhaps the most sorrowful and painful cry any animal makes. It’s unmistakable torture.
For mom, the pregnancy she carried is taken away immediately, and the milk she’s producing for her baby is being stolen and given to us. She continues to produce milk for us because we continue to milk her. And then she starts to dry up. This cycle repeats for about 4 years when she is ‘retired’ because she is no longer at peak production for the farmer. She’s sent to slaughter, often diseased and disabled from the overtaxing lifestyle, to become ground beef. (Dairy cows make up a significant portion of our ground beef supply). Her natural life span is close to twenty years. Being a dairy cow is more taxing than ever thanks again to our advances in modern farming. Artificial methods have created milk machines – today’s cows produce four times the amount of milk that cows produced in the 1920’s. Not because their calves need any more milk but because humans are demanding it by choosing to consume it.
For the baby? If it’s a girl, see above. She becomes a dairy cow confined to an all-indoor standing stall milk factory for the rest of her life. If it’s a boy, he is sent to auction within hours or days to be sold to a veal producer. He’ll be chained at the neck and confined to a stall so tiny he cannot turn around or lie down. He’ll be fed an iron deficient diet and denied exercise to maintain his pale white flesh which is considered a delicacy. His life is as short as a week, or as long as 16-18 weeks. The age at which many of us obtain puppies to raise as loved members of our family is precisely the age at which meat producers obtain veal calves for slaughter.
Veal calves ONLY come from male calves born to dairy cows. There is no other source. There are about one million veal calves slaughtered each year, simply because they are byproducts of the dairy industry. If it weren’t for our consumption of milk, the veal industry would likely cease to exist, and the pain and suffering of dairy cows would be entirely unnecessary.
Yes, milk is natural, and it’s sometimes touted as ‘nature’s perfect food’. I can’t deny that. It is perfect – for growing a calf from 70lbs to 1000lbs in about 1 year. What are the chances that this is a substance humans are naturally supposed to be consuming? We are the only species to consume the breast milk of another species and we do it with gusto. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Supporting the dairy industry by consuming milk, butter, ice cream, and cheese is directly supporting the harsh treatments and inhumanities of the dairy trade as well as the very existence of the veal industry. And if you can’t give up all of it, choose at least to give up cheese. It takes 10 lbs of milk to make 1 lb of cheese, so you can increase the magnitude of your ‘sacrifice’ tenfold by nixing the cheese. Decide that you can live without cheese and you’ll feel better, avoid constipation, improve your heart health, slim your waistline, increase your lifespan, and you’ll also drastically cut back your financial support of one of the worst farming practices we ever created.