I am going to attempt to write this post without crying. It may be one of the hardest posts that I will ever write but as a vet, a mother and now a vegan (at the very late age of 52), I feel that everyone has a right to know about the life of a dairy cow so that you can make the decision yourself about feeding you and your family a vegan balanced diet.
We are the only mammals or creatures on this earth that use the milk from another mammal to feed us as adults – we do not even use our own mammalian milk to sustain us when we grow teeth and start to eat solid foods as we do not need milk from another mammal in our diets. Most of the world’s population is lactose intolerant for this very reason – it is normal to be lactose intolerant as we do not need milk and any dairy products in our diets.
A cow has to have a calf to produce milk
This is something just so basic and yet every bit of large corporate advertising that we see, shows content cows grazing in a lush field and we’re told how happy they are. This makes us sit back on our sofas and continue eating our dairy milk and cheese sandwiches and drinking our tea guilt free as we are being shown only what the corporates want us to know. We never see any calves suckling on these ‘happy’ cows as there is a reason:
The first thing we subject a dairy cow to is artificial insemination so that the sperm is of the highest quality to yield the best milk producer. A cow is restrained in a pen while a hand is placed up her rectum and a probe inserted in her vagina to feel for the correct placement of the sample. As a vet student watching this procedure, all I was taught was how efficient this process is as it reduces costs to a farmer having to get in a bull and semen can be imported from anywhere in the world to produce the best milk yielding dairy cow. When I imagine it now as a vegan; my thoughts go to the feeling of the entire process on a cow who has to endure this completely unnatural and very painful process once a year as a cow has to have a calf to produce the milk we so badly want from her.
A few weeks later, the cow will be restrained again in a holding pen, her tail pulled up and a rectal exam done this time using a probe to decide if she is in calf – yet more unnecessary discomfort. If she is not in calf, she may have to endure the entire insemination process again, otherwise she is sent on a truck to slaughter.
Her time being pregnant will be a happy one – she will be allowed to graze on the fields, but to ensure adequate growth of both her and her calf, she is fed on a mixture of supplements that are completely artificial to a herbivore – fishmeal is added to their feed (full of the heavy metals that fish can quite naturally survive on), and she will be given a mixture of antibiotics and anthelmintics to prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria and worms in an intensive environment.
This is the section I find hard to write being a mother and a mammal and knowing how strong the hormone rush is once your baby is born and how strong the desire is to nurture and care for your young is. When a calf is born, it is dragged away from the mother as soon as it comes out
Farmers talk of the sound of the mother pleading and crying for her young that she is programmed to want to lick and nurture to ensure a good milk flow and bonding, but the calf is removed and instead of being given the enormously sustaining colostrum, it is taken to a feeding pen with other calves and fed on a watered down version of its own mother’s milk so that we can use her produce.
If the calf is a female, it will be taken away to live the same life as its mother, but if it is a male, it will be kept away from the warmth of its mothers milk and caring protection in a very small pen, to prevent the growth of too much muscle as ‘veal’ is a cut of meat from a finer, younger animal before it develops and these calves are slaughtered as young as 3 days old as described very matter of fact in this Wikipedia link.
As she will be milked artificially by 4 plugs attached to her teats, there is a strong chance of her developing the very painful condition of mastitis as it is not her own calf that is causing the let-down reflex. She may have to have antibiotics inserted in her nipples and all milk that is produced by each cow is allowed to have a permissible amount of pus or bacteria in it.
The saddest bit about the life of a dairy cow, is that this will happen year after year and the mental stress that an inquisitive and highly emotive hormonal cow must feel with every loss of her calf, can in my mind only be described as ‘torture’ to provide us with something that we do even need and are not even supposed to digest.
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