Dairy cows are continually kept pregnant and lactating and their babies are taken away from them when they are only two days old. The life of a dairy cow is not as natural as you might think, especially considering that 80 percent of dairy cows are made pregnant through artificial insemination.
The only way for a cow, like any other mammal, to produce milk is for the cow to have a baby. The milk produced by cows is naturally meant for baby calves; however, because people want to drink this milk, the baby calves are taken away from their mothers when they are only a few days old. 1 Cows are extremely maternal animals and both the mother cow and the baby calf suffer terribly from being separated at such a young age. One study showed that calves with no interaction with their mothers or only interaction through a fence, “induced significant increases in walking, butting, urinating, and vocalizing”2. In fact, one cow missed her baby so much that she broke out of her paddock and trekked through 8 kilometers of paddocks and rivers to find her baby 3. On dairy farms, mother cows can be heard bellowing out wildly trying to find their babies as well as running after the cattle trucks that take their babies to separate farms.
The baby calves lives are then decided by their gender. If the calf is male then he is taken away to be raised and slaughtered for meat. Because of this the NZ dairy industry contributes to the death of more than 1 million male calves every year. 4 That’s one death every 20 seconds. In fact, 55 percent of all beef in New Zealand supermarkets comes directly from the dairy industry. 5 These male calves are transported to separate meat farms or slaughterhouses, where they will never see their mothers again. Transported as young as 4 days of age, they endure cold and hunger, without food for up to 30 hours, while struggling to maintain their footing in the cattle truck.
There is no legal requirement for calves to be fed before being transported. A 1998 study 6 looked at 7,169 young male calves who arrived at a Wanganui abattoir (slaughterhouse) after a 7-hour journey in cattle trucks. The research found that 27 arrived in an ‘unacceptable condition’ – lying down, unable to walk, extremely weak or seriously injured. A further 4 percent were ‘marginal’ with a ‘wet umbilicus, were hollow sided, apparently immature, or weak and slow and unsteady on their feet’. While these numbers may not seem large, the fact that a million male calves are slaughtered every year means that thousands probably arrive at slaughterhouses in critical condition, and tens of thousands are seriously unwell after the journey.
Animal rights music video from all-vegan metal band 8 Foot Sativa. Contains footage of calves being transported and slaughtered. This video shows what happens to male (and some female) calves who are unlucky enough to be born into the dairy industry. Filmed entirely in New Zealand.
If the calf is female she will either be kept as a herd replacement, living in the same conditions as her mother, or she will be sent to a slaughterhouse or killed on farm.
In the 6-8 days after calving, cows lose weight and condition rapidly, as their bodies consume themselves to provide milk for absent calves 7, so
that humans can buy milkshakes to wash down burgers made from the bodies of those same calves. Researchers have estimated that a modern dairy cow is under as much strain as a cyclist on Tour de France. 8
Naturally cows can live to be up to 25 years old. But on dairy farms they are slaughtered when they are only 5-7 years old meaning that most dairy cows live less than a third of their natural life span. In fact, 20 percent of New Zealand’s dairy cows are killed every year, because they are considered too old or they fail to become pregnant. 9 Cows form strong relationships and spend most of their time in ‘friendship groups’ of 2-4 cows who lick and groom each other. 10 This annual slaughter is very distressing to their friends in the herd.
Cows are forced onto trucks (in the same way baby male calves are transported) that take them to be slaughtered. When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, they are held together in stunning pens where they are stunned with a captive bolt pistol. They are then shackled by the leg, lifted up and have their throats slit. After the blood has been drained away, the cows body is used for cheap meat and pet food. 11
Video of a cow being slaughtered in a NZ slaughterhouse
Because dairy cows are milked so excessively, NZ dairy cows have increased risks of teat diseases like mastitis. Symptoms of mastitis include include hot, swollen, acutely painful udders, fever, and loss of appetite. When a cow has mastitis her udder may become so inflamed that it is as hard as a stone, and blood bubbles into her milk, which becomes clotted and watery 12. Severe cases of mastitis can kill a cow in less then 24 hours. Modern dairy cows have been bred for milk production to the point where the teats of their enlarged udders dangle close to the ground, and become muddy and infected. 13
Although tail docking is not as common in cattle as in sheep, the tails of some dairy cows are amputated using a tight rubber ring, or a searing iron, in order to “improve comfort for milking personnel, and enhance milking efficiency,” 13 or to try and stop mastitis. However, the scientific evidence for mastitis prevention is inconclusive. A US study by researcher Dan Weary found no health benefits in chopping off cows’ tails. 14
Amputation is very painful, as the cow’s tail is richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels. Cows need their tails to swat away insects, and possibly to communicate with other cows. Docked cows try in vain to flick their tail stumps, and are likely to suffer from neuropathic pain, similar to the “phantom limb” pain experienced by human amputees. 16 Cattle may also be branded for identification.
The RNZSPCA is opposed both to the docking of the tails of dairy cows, and to the use of hot branding.
Calves are often dehorned to prevent damage or bruising to their carcass during slaughter. Calf’s may be dehorned with bolt cutters, scoop dehorners or a butchers saw. This causes pain, bleeding and exposure of the frontal sinuses in older animals. 13 The pain can last 6 hours after dehorning. 15 Dehorning is often done without the use of anaesthetics.
There have even been some moves to move dairy cows in factory farms.
But regardless of how well treated, one fundmental question remains. How can we justify treating sentient beings as nothing more then economic commodities, nothing more then property? Animals status as property is the root of all treatment problems that may arise. In a world where very few (if any) moral issues are universally agreed upon, we all agree that human slavery is wrong. We recognise that it is wrong for one sentient individual to own another. We recognise that it is wrong for one sentient being to treat another as a commodity, as a thing, as property. Click here to learn more.
So fulfil your moral obligations to nonhuman animals by going vegan!
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