The Dairy Industry: Misery for Mothers and Children
Most of us didn’t grow up on a farm and learned about farming from children’s books, toys, parents, or school teachers. These lessons are usually general and brief; animals live on a picturesque farm with a caring farmer and his wife who love them and who take care of them. We’re taught that milk comes from a cow, but it’s never explained exactly how.
What we didn’t learn from these sources, we learned from the dairy industry itself. The dairy industry has spent millions of dollars on advertising and media campaigns promoting dairy products as healthy and nutritious. Remember the Got Milk? campaign? How about, Happy Cows Come from California? Or maybe the timeless, Milk, It Does a Body Good? In fact, the dairy industry has done such a good job of advertising, most people aren’t even aware that calcium isn’t just in milk- it’s in plant foods, too.
Perhaps the biggest not-so-secret secret about the dairy industry has to do with dairy cows themselves- and it’s a doozy. Dairy cows are female cows who, contrary to popular thought, do not “naturally” produce a continuous supply of milk. Like humans, a cow will only produce milk after she has given birth. This means that dairy cows must endure a vicious cycle of continuous and forced pregnancies for her entire short life. Although a cow has a natural lifespan of nearly 20 years, practically all dairy cows are sent to slaughter by the time that they are five years old to make way for younger cows with higher milk output.
But what happens to all those calves? Good question.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of baby cows are taken from their mothers within a few hours of being born. Female calves are raised to replace their mothers in the revolving door that is the dairy herd. But male calves are useless to the dairy industry. A small percentage will be raised for breeding purposes, but the surplus of male calves actually goes on to supply the veal industry. That’s right. Dairy = veal.
The babies raised for veal are forced to spend their entire short lives in small, individual crates no more than 30 inches wide by 72 inches long. The crates are designed to prohibit movement and muscle growth in order to produce tender meat. The calves are denied their mothers’ milk, and instead are fed a substitute that is low in iron to induce anemia, so their flesh will stay pale. Veal calves are slaughtered anywhere from 3 weeks old to 18 weeks old. About 700,000 (babies) calves are slaughtered in the United States annually.
Without intervention, calves will suckle from their mother for nearly an entire year. Forced separation has shown to cause cows and calves great distress. Cows have been known to escape enclosures and travel for miles to reunite with their young. Some have even hid their babies in fields, hoping that they won’t be separated. The cycle of forced pregnancies and removal of babies is incredibly traumatic for both the cows and their children. For every gallon of milk that sits on shelves, there’s a grieving mother who has just had her baby taken from her.
Simply put, there can be no dairy industry without the suffering of mothers and their children. And there can be no veal industry without the dairy industry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of vegan alternatives to products made from the suffering of others. I’ve put together some dairy-free guides to help get you started. And if you can’t find what you are looking for and need some help, email me.
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I am committed to providing accurate information to the vegan community. The information and data presented on Your Daily Vegan has been meticulously researched, and is based on information available at the time of publication. Guides are periodically reviewed for accuracy and updated as necessary. Update dates can be found at the end of every guide. Please contact me if you find out-of-date or incorrect information.
Chances are you’ve seen the award-winning photography of Jo-Anne McArthur. Her documentary project, We Animals, is a project that documents animals in the human environment using photography. The objective, “to photograph our interactions with animals in such a way that the viewer finds new significance in these ordinary, often unnoticed situations of use, abuse, and sharing of spaces.”
Robin the cow lives at Farm Sanctuary in New York. This image was obtained from We Animals and is being used to help raise awareness. To view more of this project or to support its mission, visit weanimals.org.
This guide is authored by KD Angle-Traegner. Last update January 2017.