Animal Farming – About Cattle
Cattle are often portrayed as docile, sluggish, boring animals – a far cry from reality! They have a rich social life, including forming cliques and holding grudges! When taught to navigate mazes, cows exhibit a neurological eureka! moment after discovering the solution to the maze. There is so much about cattle we are only beginning to learn.
Choosing to abstain from animal products is the best way to help cattle. Learning more about the two major industries exploiting cattle can help you to educate others about why a vegan diet is the kindest choice we can make for animals.
The Beef Industry
Around 96 million cattle are used in the beef industry. Annually, around 34 million cattle are slaughtered for consumption. 30% of the “beef” industry is comprised of animals from the dairy industry, including fattened male bovines and “spent” dairy cows.
Most calves are born on what are called cow-calf operations. These are small-mid-size farms with herds of cows. Unlike on dairy farms, calves remain with their mothers for up to a year, depending on the type of operation.
On cow-calf operations, sensitive young calves undergo several mutilations without the benefit of pain relief:
- Branding: Animals may be hot iron or freeze branded. The branding involves the permanent disfigurement of the calf, leaving damaged scar tissue for identification purposes.
- Castration: If the calf is male, he will be castrated without any pain relief. Some farms use large, industrial rubber bands to cut off blood supply. It can take weeks for the testicles to fall off and infections are unfortunately common. Other farms use an implement that crushes the spermatic cord, a very painful method of castration. Still others will slice open the testicles and forcibly rip them out. Again, all of this is done without anesthesia or analgesics.
- De-horning: Cattle who are not naturally polled (born without horns) are often de-horned without the benefit of pain medicine. Horns may be gouged out of the head, chemically removed or sawed off.
Auction & Stockers
Once calves reach the age of a year, they are transported to the auction yard. Auctions are vectors of disease and misery. Unknown animals are forced to mingle with one another and they are all paraded into the same pit where frightened animals urinate and defecate. The pit is not cleaned, leaving animals exposed to unknown diseases. Animals may be electrically prodded, kicked, hit, poked and slapped, further frightening them.
The animals are sold to the highest bidders, generally stockers that buy up cattle, transport them to yet another farm and prepare the animals for an unnatural diet at a feedlot. Animals are generally grazed on pasture and transitioned from a natural, grass-based diet to an unnatural, unhealthy grain-based diet. Grain causes severe health problems in ruminants, like cattle. It can, in fact, kill ruminants.
Cattle may spend anywhere from 2-10 months at a stocker operation. Then, once again, they are loaded up into a livestock hauler and taken to feedlots. Thousands of unknown animals are once again mixed together, disrupting natural social structures and exposing animals to diseases.
A feedlot is dry. Animals do not graze on pastures. When they arrive, most are vaccinated and also given a growth promotant to stimulate muscle and fat growth. Cattle spend anywhere from 6-12 months at the feedlot where they will gain an unnatural amount of weight in a short period of time.
When they are 18-24 months of age, the cattle are once again loaded up into livestock haulers and transported to the slaughterhouse.
There is no reason to consume beef. We do not need it for survival and the unnecessary slaughter and mistreatment of cattle demands us to seek alternatives.
There are plenty of commercially available alternatives. Look for Gimme Lean ground beef, Beyond Meat, Boca, Field Roast, Tofurky, or use seitan or tofu in lieu of beef.
The Dairy Industry
We are inundated with ads that tout milk as a healthy source of calcium and nutrition. Commercials and billboards depict dairy cows as happy and roaming green pastures. The truth behind that glass of milk may surprise you.
In 2008, 9.3 million cows in the United States produced 185 million pounds of milk. Approximately 2.5 million of those cows were killed for human consumption. They gave birth to approximately 9 million calves, half of whom were male and half female. Of those calves, 604,500 died within the first 48-hours (a 6.5% mortality rate). In addition, 405,000 calves were miscarried.
Pregnancy & Birth:
Like all mammals, in order to produce milk, cows must give birth. In the United States, 65% of dairy cows are artificially inseminated. Their pregnancy lasts nine months, just like humans. All male calves are removed from their mothers at birth. 97% of all female calves spend less than 24-hours with their own mother.1 For farmers, a nursing calf translates into money lost, even though a cow’s milk is biologically appropriate for a growing calf, not a human of any age.
Dairy cows are re-impregnated every 13 months, giving birth to a calf nearly every year until their bodies are too exhausted and they are sent to slaughter.
The separation of mother from calf is traumatic for both parties. In a natural setting, a calf would nurse for, at minimum, six months. Even after weaning, older calves often continue nursing – although they are not receiving much nutrition from it, the practice is a comfort for the older calf.
If the calf is male, he will a) be raised for veal; b) sold at auction for backyard slaughter; or c) slaughtered for “cheap” beef.
Veal is the flesh of calves but generally refers to the meat of unwanted male, dairy calves.
Bob veal comes from 1-3-week old calves. In California, approximately 200,000 calves are killed to produce bob veal.
The flesh of calves fed an entirely milk-based diet is termed “milk fed veal”. Animals are generally confined in crates so small they cannot turn around. The veal crate is banned in the European Union, Arizona (2012 effective), Oregon (2013), Colorado (2012), California (2013), Maine (2011) and Michigan (2009). Calves on milk-fed veal operations generally have a difficult time walking because of poor nutrition and improper exercise.
They spend 16-24 weeks in crates before they are loaded into livestock haulers and transported to the slaughterhouse.
Rose veal is the flesh of male calves who have been fed a more appropriate diet and permitted exercise.
While touted as a “humane” alternative to “milk-fed veal”, killing perfectly healthy, long-lived animals to satiate a desire, not a need, seems contradictory to the notion of humaneness.
In total, a million male calves, all less than six months old, are slaughtered for veal each year.
The remaining calves may be sold at auction or sent to feedlots. Calves sold at auction are not highly valued and are sold for between $3-20. All are killed well before their natural lifespan.
If the calf is female, she will likely replace her own mother when, at the young age of 5-7, she is sent to slaughter.
Dairy cattle have been artificially selected to produce 4-10 times more milk than non-dairy breeds. Cows on free-range “beef operations” produce 5.2-15.2 lbs of milk per day to feed their growing calves. The breeds used in the dairy industry, especially the stereotypical black-and-white Holsteins, produce 7-10 gallons of milk a day (45-70 lbs/day). Dairy cows are milked for 10 months – they are even milked during the resource-depleting time of pregnancy.
Mastitis: This is an infection of the udder extremely common on dairy farms. 63-100% of dairy herds are infected. Compare with breeds used in the beef industry where between 15-17% of cows have mastitis infections. Mastitis is a complex infection, but it is generally accepted that over-production of milk, use of growth hormones, poor environmental conditions and genetics all play a role. The use of growth hormone is not as common as you might think, though approximately 17% of cows in lactation are injected with the hormone. Mastitis, although treatable, results in the slaughter of 26% of killed dairy cows.
Tail docking is the partial amputation of an animal’s tail. In the case of dairy cows, up to 2/3 of the tail is removed without pain relief. The practice is opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Association of Bovine Practitioners (ABP). California is the only state to have outlawed the practice in 2009. Nearly 40% of tail-docked dairy cows are docked when they are 2-yr-old – imagine cutting off the tail of a 3-yr-old dog without pain relief. Approximately 39% of all dairy cows are tail-docked.Tail docking in dairy cows is done for milker comfort, not because it is necessary for good hygiene or reduced infection of the udder.
In 2009, California banned the practice of tail docking of cattle in the state.
Contrary to those happy cow commercials, more than 66% of dairy cows never consume fresh grass, living their lives on dry lots. Only 1.7% of cows live on grazing operations, where they get most of their food from grazing.9 90% of operations with 100 or more cows feed total mixed rations to their cattle – a combination of hay, grains and other nutrients. On farms with 500 or more cows, only 18% of operations permitted their cows access to pasture.
Cattle can live into their teens and twenties, but on dairy farms, their lives are cut very short. As you read above, males are killed when they are less than six months old. Females will be impregnated and milked for 5-7 years.
The top three reasons for sending dairy cows to slaughter are all health related – mastitis, reproductive problems and lameness (from an inappropriate diet of grains). Many of these cows have a difficult time walking or moving because of their illnesses. The trip to the slaughterhouse can deplete them of whatever remaining energy their worn bodies had. Some cannot even walk and are often poked and electrically prodded.
Their lives, which had been full of potential happiness, have been cut tragically short. And for what?
The Bottom Line
We do not need the milk of another species to survive. There are a plethora of alternatives available and we encourage you to seek them out.
Dairy Milk Alternatives
- Soy milk is commercially available in most supermarkets. Some brands include Silk and Wildwood.
- Almond and cashew milk are also commercially available and can be easily made.
- Rice milk and oat milk are other alternatives.
- Coconut milk is also becoming more popular. But be warned, it is very high in saturated fats.
- Follow Your Heart and VeganRella are perhaps the most easily accessible vegan cheeses. Other cheese can be ordered online or found in specialized stores. Try Miyoko’s Kitchen, Go Veggie!, Field Roast, Teese, Sheese, Cheezly or Daiya. Daiya, Cheezly, Follow Your Heart and VeganRella can all be used on pizzas effectively. Sheese offers soft cheeses in a variety of flavors. Teese also offers a nacho sauce
- You can make your own nut cheeses as well.
- SoDelicious, Silk Live!, Kite Hill, Stonyfield, and Wildwood are available in many supermarkets in both individual size and family sized containers.
Ice Cream Alternatives
- Vegan ice cream never tasted so good! Purely Decadant, SoDelicious, Tofutti, Rice Dream, Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, etc. Even Ben & Jerry’s make dairy-free ice cream now! Check your supermarket’s frozen food aisle or natural food section and see what kind of non-dairy ice cream options are available!
Other Dairy Product Alternatives
- Whatever your cooking needs, there are vegan alternatives to all kinds of dairy products. Brands like Earth Balance, Tofutti, So Delicious, and Follow Your Heart have vegan butters, sour creams, whipped creams, and cream cheeses. Check your local grocery store or visit a natural foods market.