We grow up being conditioned to believe that it’s totally normal to drink cow’s milk. Advertisements on billboards, in magazines, school cafeterias, and on television have been telling us this for decades. But is it? Stop and think about it for a minute; block out everything the dairy industry has told you, and give it a real honest look. It’s bizarre isn’t it? I mean what we’re doing when we drink cow’s milk is consuming the breast milk from another species.
Just like humans, cows produce milk when they’re pregnant to feed their babies. This milk was never intended for humans; It was made for the sole purpose of nourishing baby calves, whose tiny bodies need to grow into big cows — Which should make you think: If we’re drinking it, what are the baby calves drinking? What happens to them? And how do mother cows produce enough milk for all of us humans?
These are questions the dairy industry doesn’t want you to think about, because once you do, you realize that what’s going on is beyond bizarre. It’s abhorrent, tragic, and utterly heartbreaking.
This is the story of the dairy industry. Honestly.
Female Cows Confined and Forcefully Impregnated
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting a cow, the first thing you would be struck by is how incredibly sweet and gentle these creatures are. Their hearts are pure, and you can feel it. You know they would never hurt you.
If you stop and watch them for a while, you’ll notice something else about cows: They have unique personalities just like humans, and they’re incredibly social; they like to roam and sleep together. Some even have a best friend, and they get sad when they’re separated.
In the dairy industry, however, these gentle beings are treated like nothing more than a commodity. Everything that is natural to them is denied, and they endure incredible suffering, all in an effort to maximize milk production.
Female cows are confined indoors their entire lives in filthy cramped sheds, with hard, abrasive concrete floors.
At the tender age of 15 months, they will be forced into pregnancy. Farm workers will use a metal rod to artificially inseminate the cows – a process that is so painful, the cows often have to be restrained in what is known as a “rape rack.”
Babies Taken Away
Once a year dairy cows will give birth to a calf. Many people don’t know this, but cows have incredibly strong maternal instincts just like humans.
When her calf is born, her natural instinct is to take care of him; to clean, and feed him, but she cannot.
Within a few days of being born, her small and fragile calf will be dragged away from her and locked up in a shed to prevent him from drinking his mother’s milk; milk that will be sold for human consumption.
When their babies are taken away, it’s an incredibly traumatic experience.
Mothers can be heard frantically crying out for the calves days after they have been separated. In some cases, mothers even try hiding their calves from farm workers, and some make incredible escapes, traveling miles to other farms to try reach their stolen calves.
Heartbreaking first-hand accounts of babies separated from their mothers
“The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin.
A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf. On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn – only ten yards away, in plain view of the mother.
The mother cow could see him, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him.
The heart-wrenching bellows that she poured forth – minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days – were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.”
– Cody Carlson, a former undercover investigator exposing animal abuse on factory farms.
Calves Immobilized, Then Sent to Slaughter at Just Weeks Old
What happens to the calves when they are taken away? The females will become dairy cows, and be forced to endure the same torture as their mothers.
Male calves, on the other hand, will be made into veal.
In order to ensure their flesh stays tender, they will be completely immobilized – chained in small dark crates too small to turn around.
Alone, terrified, and so distressed from the separation from their mother, they will often cry until their throats are raw.
After 8-16 weeks of this torture, they will be sent to slaughter.
When they enter the slaughterhouse, still longing for the comfort of their mothers, many will desperately try to suckle the fingers of the hand that leads them to the kill floor.
Abuse Common on Veal Farms
On top of all of this, undercover investigations reveal that baby calves are often severely abused on factory farms.
From Mercy for Animals Canada’s Investigation into the Quebec veal industry
“Baby calves, just weeks old, are kicked, punched, slapped and yelled at by barn employees. Some are grabbed by the testicles to force them into narrow wooden stalls. Several lie gasping for air on slats stained with urine and feces.”
From The Humane Society’s Investigation into a certified organic veal farm in Vermont
“The abuse that we documented on camera was absolutely horrendous: skinning of animals alive, live animals on piles of dead animals outside, calves being beaten, being shocked with electric prods over and over, being dragged, kicked, all in front of a USDA inspector no less.”
Mothers Abused and Killed
What happens to the mother cow after her baby is taken away? She will spend almost her entire life in filthy, cramped conditions, hooked up to a milking machine. She will have to go through this painful process of being impregnated, having her baby taken away, and being milked again and again and again, until her body is all used up. Then she too will be sent to slaughter to be made into low grade beef.
While in a natural setting, cows live an average of 25 years, on a dairy farm, she will be considered spent at just 3-5 years old. The wear on her poor body is just too much. Her udder will become swollen, and sore, her bones weak from calcium deprivation.
About 10% of dairy cows sent to slaughter are “downed” – so weak they cannot stand. Investigations show that these collapsed cows are routinely pulled or forced onto trailers in unimaginable ways, and roughly prodded and dragged around the slaughterhouse.
This is how we repay her for a life of service.
On top of all this suffering, many mother cows are also abused. Mercy for Animals’ latest investigation shows mother cows kicked, punched, and beaten with chains and rakes.
Is It Worth It?
Take her place for a minute – just one minute – and imagine what it would be like to be her. When I do, my heart aches. The amount of suffering is just too unbearable. Now, imagine a whole life of this misery.
This is the reality for millions of cows in the dairy industry every single day. They have done nothing wrong and they would never hurt us, yet we torture them relentlessly their entire lives, all for a glass of milk that was never ours to take, and we do not need.
Sure we need to drink milk when we are babies, but our own mother’s milk provides all the nutrients we need. The idea that we need to continue drinking milk into adulthood was made up entirely by the dairy industry in an effort to make a profit. We do not need to drink milk as adults, let alone the milk from another species.
How You Can Help
Every time you go to the grocery store, you have a chance to help by choosing to buy dairy-free.
There are so many alternatives out there you’ll be amazed! Instead of cows milk, try almond, coconut, soy, rice, or hemp milk.
There are also lots of great alternatives for cheese. In fact, the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had contained absolutely no dairy.
These gentle creatures are stuck in a system that has grown deaf to their suffering; they are completely helpless, and they need us to stand up for them. Please buy dairy-free, and tell the world you are not okay with this!
Header Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals