The Truth About Dairy Farming
Why is Dairy Farming Cruel?
Just like any other mammal, a cow must give birth to a baby in order to produce milk. In the same way that a dog, cat, or even a human would lactate in order to feed their young, a cow lactates to provide nourishment for her newborn calf.
Dairy cows are first impregnated when they reach around a year of age; just babies themselves.
Pregnancies are exhausting and taxing on any animal’s body, and cows are no exception. Mother cows carry for babies for around the same length of time that we humans carry our children- about nine months.
But for dairy cows, pregnancy ends in tragedy when their newborn babies are taken within hours of birth.
Cattle are deeply social herd animals, and the removal of a calf can be devastating. Nonetheless, it is standard practice on dairy farms to rip newborn calves from their mothers on their first day of life.
If a calf is born male, he is deemed useless on a dairy farm.
Unable to produce milk and too slow-growing to be sold for “beef” production, he has no purpose in the industry.
Male calves are often sold to veal farms, where they are subjected to intensive confinement in crates until 18-24 weeks of age, when they will be slaughtered. Because the demand for veal is not high enough to keep up with the number of unwanted calves in the United States, many bull calves are dumped at cheap auction yards to be sold for pennies on the dollar- or they are simply killed and “disposed of”.
In 2019, nearly 700,000 young bull calves were killed in slaughterhouses across the United States.
Tens of thousands more were likely shot onsite at the very farms they were born on, or died languishing in auction yards across the country.
The fate awaiting female (heifer) calves is not much better. Heifer calves typically spend the first few months of their lives in solitary confinement, either chained by the neck in a calf hutch, or confined to a calf crate too small to even turn around.
When heifer calves are old enough to be integrated with the dairy herd, they undergo a number of painful mutilations.
Dehorning burns budding horn tissue down to a calf’s skull to prevent future horn growth, using either hot irons or caustic paste. Branding burns and melts the calf’s flesh to mark her as a particular farm’s property. Tail docking is illegal in some regions, but is still widespread practice- this inhumane procedure cuts right through a calf’s bone in order to shorten her tail to prevent her udder from becoming dirty.
All of these routine procedures are performed without anesthetic or medical sedation of any kind.
As soon as a calf is old enough to become pregnant, she will follow in the footsteps of her mother. Enduring pregnancy after pregnancy, she will be used as a milk machine for as long as she is able to bring in profit.
Modern dairy cows are bred to produce a far larger quantity of milk than their ancestors, which causes many cows to develop mastitis and other painful udder conditions.
An estimated 50-80% of all dairy cows experience painful udder infections from stress on their bodies caused by over-production of milk.
Like all farmed animals, dairy cows are denied individualized veterinary care that outweighs their financial value. Respiratory infections, overgrown hooves, and other health issues deemed “minor” are often overlooked.
Even though cows can live 15-20+ years, by the time most dairy cows reach just 4-7 years of age, their bodies are exhausted. Called “spent cows” by the dairy industry, their milk production begins to decline and their existence is no longer profitable.
An average of 2-3 million “spent” cows are sent to slaughter every year. These exhausted mothers are given their “retirement” in the form of being ground up into hamburgers and other cheap, low quality flesh products.
Whether a dairy cow is kept on a filthy, crowded commercial lot or rare green pastures, her life is filled with loss and suffering.
All dairy cows, even those from farms with slightly better welfare practices, will find themselves on a truck to slaughter at the end of their lives.
Animal Place encourages our supporters to eliminate dairy from their diets on behalf of the animals who suffer so greatly at the hands of this cruel industry. With new alternatives being introduced constantly, giving up dairy has never been easier- regardless of what your favorite dairy-based foods are. Animal lovers, we ask you to challenge yourself to ditch dairy. The cows will thank you!
Samuel, rescued as just a day-old calf from a dairy operation.
Written by Chelsea Pinkham