Robin. Farm Sanctuary. New York, USA. / Source
Dairy Milk Comes From Animals
Most of us didn’t grow up on a farm. Instead, we 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 farmer and wife who love and care for them. It’s taught that milk comes from a cow, but it’s never entirely explained how.
What we didn’t learn from these sources, we learned from the dairy industry itself. The industry has spent millions of dollars on advertising and media campaigns promoting their products as healthy and nutritious.
They’ve been successful, too. I bet you can name at least two different ad slogans for milk right now, can’t you?
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou.
Many people are unaware of what goes into milk production, and that’s precisely how the industry likes it. Instead, it’s time to know better so we can do better.
Beginning with the veal and dairy connection.
Calves lie close to each other in their resting area on a concrete floor scattered with wood chips, at a dairy farm located in Chile. / Source
The Dairy + Veal Connection
Perhaps the most significant not-so-secret secret about dairy has to do with the cows themselves. And it’s a doozy.
Dairy cows are female cows who, contrary to popular thought, do not “naturally” produce a constant supply of milk. Like humans, a cow only produces milk after she has given birth. Because of this, she will endure a continuous cycle of forced pregnancies her entire short life.
An Aside: Although they have a natural lifespan of nearly 20 years, practically all dairy cows are sent to slaughter much sooner than that. According to this dairy farmer, there are a few reasons for this including:
- She doesn’t produce enough milk to cover the cost of her food.
- She is infertile.
- She could have other health issues that require a veterinarian.
- To maintain herd numbers.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of dairy cows give birth to calves. What happens to all of those babies? It depends.
Female calves are raised to replace the other cows in the dairy herd. Male calves are useless to the dairy industry, however. A small number are reared to replace breeders, but the surplus of male calves goes on to supply the veal industry.
I told you it was shocking. Before I went vegan, I had no idea. Dairy = veal.
A calf chained to a veal crate throughout the winter. / Source
The Veal Industry
Straightaway, it needs to be said that any industry built upon the life and death of another can never be ethical. But the veal industry is especially rotten.
Bull calves are considered a by-product of the dairy industry. These male calves provide little to no value to dairy farmers, so they’re handed over to veal farmers to rear.
The heart-breaking process begins with the calf being removed from his mother at a very young age, typically within a few hours of being born. After the birth and removal of the calf, the mother returns to the on-going milking cycle. (1)
Bull calves, on the other hand, can end up in a few places: A veal crate or a group housing.
A calf chained to a veal crate throughout the winter. / Source
Veal Crates & Group Pens
A veal crate is a small, individual crate that measures 2.1 – 2.5 ft (66 – 76 cm). They’re designed to prohibit movement; calves can be tethered or chained entirely immobile while inside. (2)
The system first appeared after World War II. At that time industrial principles were being applied to lots of things, farming agriculture methods included. Generally speaking, the idea was that the less movement possible created the most tender meat. (3)
Group pens, on the other hand, are barns that can house anywhere from two to groups of ten or more calves.
Veal crates used to be the industry standard (and in some places they still are). This standard is changing, however. Several states here in the U.S. enacted bans against their use including Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, and Rhode Island. (4)
According to the American Veal Association, group pens are now industry standard for all formula-fed veal calves.
No word on what happens to non-formula-fed calves, though. Do you know? Email me.
Mother and newborn calf / Photo: JoAnne McArthur, WeAnimals
Before a calf ends up in a veal crate or group pen, they are removed from their mother. Here’s the uncomfortable truth about that: Dairy cows show obvious emotional distress when separated from their calves so soon after giving birth.
Studies on cow-calf relationships in domestic cattle revealed that merely five minutes of postpartum contact between a cow and her calf is all that’s needed to develop a strong maternal bond.
The same studies also show that the strongest bonds among cows are between a mother and her child. And these relationships last long after the calf matures. (5)
Anguished dairy cows have been known to escape enclosures and travel for miles to reunite with their young. Others have hidden their babies in tall grass, hoping they won’t be found and removed.
Many dairy cows cry incessantly looking for their missing calves.
For every gallon of milk that sits on shelves, there’s a grieving mother who has just had her baby taken from her.
By the Numbers
Veal calves are slaughtered young; anywhere from three weeks to 22 weeks old. In 2017, the United States produced 80.2 million pounds of veal alone. (6) Bob veal, the youngest veal on the marketplace, is made from calves who are killed when they are less than a month old. About 15 percent of all U.S. veal is bob veal. (7)
The Dairy Industry
Now that you know it’s connection to the veal industry let’s talk about the dairy industry.
The typical dairy consumer likes to imagine that milk comes from a small family farm with a big red barn and cows lazily grazing on a hill. Farmers lovingly tend to each cow by hand, squirting a stream of fresh milk into a metal pail. Its rhythmic sound is familiar, even though most of us have never stepped foot on a working farm.
This idyllic imagery is so iconic that in 1935, a Los Angeles milk inspector invented the Dairy Roadside Appearance Program. The program encouraged farmers to clean up their properties, paint barns, and plant flowers to help preserve this farm facade to consumers. (8)
Today, the Dairies of Distinction Program continues in much of the same way. Attractive farmsteads reinforce dairy stereotypes while hiding the reality of what happens behind closed barn doors.
Now produced at higher levels than ever before, milk has become a global industry. And where is most of the milk produced?
On Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), aka Factory Farms. Small and medium-sized farms are driven out of business by these large scale operations, a whopping 86 percent of milk comes from 26 percent of farms with more than one hundred cows. (8)
Dairy farms are getting bigger, too. Farms operated on 1.3 million more acres in 2017 than in 2016. (9)
Modern Dairy Farming
Whether the cows end up on a large-scale factory farm or instead find themselves on a smaller farm, the process for obtaining milk is mostly the same.
Today’s average dairy cow will spend her entire life enduring repeated forced pregnancies in order to produce milk. She’s given hormones to increase milk production and antibiotics to combat sickness borne from the dirty, crowded, and unnatural conditions of the modern farm.
She’ll give birth only to have her baby taken from her within minutes or hours of being born. Still grieving, she’ll be put back into milk production until the cycle begins all over again.
The dairy industry could not exist without the exploitation of mothers and their children. And the veal industry could not exist without the dairy industry.