27 Oct COWS USED FOR THEIR MILK
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire.
When people think of dairy they may often think of gentle, serene cows, rolling hills, salt-of-the-earth, hardworking farmers and natural, nutritious products.
Australia’s 6,400 dairy farms are spread across eight dairying regions throughout Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia. At any one moment, around 1.66 million cows in Australia are being used to produce dairy products. It’s a massive industry that relies on heavy subsidies[i], and constant promotion and the perpetuation of the ‘Milk Myth’.
The reality of dairy is a far cry from the reassuring fantasy of herds of mellow, contented bovines. In fact, a high school level understanding of basic biology should be enough to have most of us question why we are drinking this seemingly innocuous and ‘necessary’ fluid at all.
A cow is a mammal. Like all mammals, the female must have a baby in order to lactate. Dairy cows are viable for impregnation from the age of 2. At this time, the young heifer cow is artificially inseminated for the first time. This process involves a considerable violation of her body and her reproductive organs. Once the female is restrained so that she will not pose a danger to the person impregnating her (undoubtedly trying to avoid being sexually assaulted), a farmer inserts a gloved arm far down her rectum to position her uterus correctly and then inserts a metal instrument into her vagina. Then, with a straw full of bull semen, he slowly injects the fluid into her cervix.
There’s no natural mating on a dairy farm. A bull is manually sexually stimulated by a farmer and forced to ejaculate, for the purpose of harvesting his semen. The role of the human ‘farmer’ in the violation of the reproductive life of another species is something the Dairy Industry is extremely keen to downplay. Even a rudimentary understanding of what’s happening between human and non-human animal feels so instinctively wrong and disturbing, that full consciousness of this act in the minds of their unsuspecting consumers would likely bring the industry to its knees. However, this is only the start of the horror.
Humans do not have the monopoly on maternal feelings. On the contrary, many other species on earth display maternal behaviour towards their young. Like humans, a cow will carry her baby for nine months. And at the end of those nine months, all she wants is her baby.
On farms in Australia and throughout the world, a cow cannot keep her calf. It’s simply not in the business model. We can’t have her baby sucking up all that milk that we want to pour on our cereal or churn into butter. That milk is for our consumption, so the Dairy Industry tells us. Therefore, a baby naturally feeding from his mother simply cannot happen.
“Calves are separated from their mothers within 12 hours of being born.” —-Year 7 video on Dairy Australia website.
This separation of a mother and her baby causes considerable distress to both parties, just as it would do for humans. When the calf is ripped from his mother’s side and taken away, the farmer is essentially taking all she has in this life. Her baby is gone, she is grief-stricken, and cows will bellow for days for their stolen children.
If her baby is born male, there is no use for him in the Dairy Industry. He is a ‘Bobby Calf’, and considered ‘wastage’ – a mere tool forced into existence to stimulate milk flow in his enslaved mother. Now that he is born, he is a resource-drainer that needs to be disposed of. Our dairy farmers are presented with a number of options: they are legally allowed to smash the calf’s skull in onsite or they can send him straight to the slaughterhouse to have his throat slit, or they can send him to the saleyards, bewildered and scared, often with his umbilical cord still hanging from his tiny body, at the mercy of whatever veal farmer wishes to bid for him.
He will still be sent to the slaughterhouse as a scared infant, crying for his mother. He will suckle the fingers of the farmers and slaughterhouse workers who will betray him, desperate for comfort.
It’s a disturbing concept to think that these bobby calves, the epitome of innocence and vulnerability, are in any way ‘lucky’. However, if the mother cow gives birth to a female, a far worse fate is in store for her.
A female calf is a more desirable product, as a replacement cow for the milking herd is generally guaranteed. Even then, she might be surplus to requirements at that time and end up with the males at the slaughterhouse. Let’s assume she has scored a position in the replacement herd… She will still be separated from her mother, and they will still both go through intense grief and loss. While she grieves, she will be fed a milk replacement formula. Meanwhile, her mother is having all of her baby’s milk sucked out of her for human consumption.
A LIFE OF TRAUMA BEFORE SLAUGHTER
When the young cow is 2 years old, she will be forcibly impregnated for the first time, and will go through the same horrific ordeal as her mother. Birth, loss, grief. She will be hooked up to painful milking machines and her baby’s milk will be stolen from her body. After a month or two, the same horror will be repeated, she will be forcibly impregnated for a second time. However, this time she knows what is going to happen to her and her baby. The psychological trauma of having to carry a child, knowing that she won’t get to be with her child and raise them, would be intolerable. This process is repeated four of five times to the mother cow. When her milk yield starts to drop off, she is no longer profitable to be kept alive and violated for her milk. Cows can live for more than 20 years. By the time a cow used in the dairy industry is 5 or 6, her body is so worn out from repeated impregnations, births, losses and milking, she is of little use to the farmer, and she is sent to the slaughterhouse to have her throat slit. A final insult after a miserable lifetime of ‘service’.
THE MILK MYTH
The Milk Myth insists we ‘”Drink Milk for strong bones!” The Dairy Industry is built on misery and only continues through the perpetuation of mythology. No myth is as prevalent as their insistence that we need to drink the milk of a cow to get calcium.
We have been lied to.
Calcium is a mineral found in soil. Plants draw it through their roots and store it as a nutrient. The primary, most resource-efficient source of calcium for humans is, and always has been, through plants. Our green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. The ridiculous idea that we need to go through an animal to get the calcium that can be acquired straight from the source is the result of decades of slick marketing strategies.
Which must lead us all to the question: Why are we drinking this stuff? If we can get calcium straight from the source, why are we engaging in this complicated, resource-draining, unspeakably cruel process to get a mineral that we can get just from eating plants?
It’s all down to the ‘Milk Myth’ – a barrage of misinformation, omissions, propaganda and outright lies that have kept the industry going for centuries. Common sense and a high school biology class would naturally lead you to deduce that mammalian milk is produced for the offspring before they’re able to eat solid foods. The greatest stunt the industry ever pulled is convincing billions of humans that cow’s milk is necessary, normal or natural for us to drink.
Dog milk is for baby dogs. Tiger milk is for baby tigers. Giraffe milk is for baby giraffes. Cows milk is for baby cows. We’ve been fed an absurd lie from birth and grow up in a society that has created a culture of normalcy around consuming a baby calf’s milk. There is nothing normal about any of the processes described above.
Dairy is a failing, unsustainable industry built on lies and misery. We can’t call ourselves a compassionate, evolved species if we inflict this unnecessary and sustained suffering on these gentle, tranquil beings. It is time for us to stop inflicting such pain and misery on these creatures and truly evolve.
Author: Catherine Wright
Occupation: Project Administrator
Animal Rights Activist
Cover image Bear Witness Australia / Witness #1
“A person must not use blunt trauma to the brain to kill a calf unless it is less than 24 hours old and no other humane killing methods are reasonably available”