The Life of A Dairy Cow

calf-244030_640For all those who currently consume dairy products, as a meat-eater or vegetarian, let us for a moment consider the plight of the beautiful cow, Bos taurus. Vegetarians abhor the idea of eating meat, but have yet to truly acknowledge that the dairy industry inherently contains just as much, if not more suffering than animals exploited for meat.

We must seriously ask ourselves the following question: where does milk and cheese come from and what does the process automatically involve?

Not only does the dairy industry slaughter huge numbers of animals, it also simultaneously abuses living, feeling beings in particularly cruel and agonising ways. The dairy industry involves an exploitation of the very cycle of life; the warm, emotional manner in which life reproduces, specifically in mammals – where the mother-child bond is probably the strongest in nature – an especially savage harm is dealt to both mothers and children.

Firstly, a female cow is artificially inseminated, against her will and without her consent. This degrading act marks the beginning of a life of misery. Sometimes hours after birth, often 1-3 days after birth, the calf is literally dragged away from its screaming mother – exactly as any intelligent, emotional, sensitive mother would react. Mothers experience severe separation anxiety – they cry for sometimes days, become agitated and go off their food. The same occurs with the infantile calf.

Cows naturally live for up to 20 years – under the “stewardship” of the human dairy industry they rarely live past 5 years. Veal calves are killed between 3 and 5 months of age. The dairy industry raises mothers who are repeatedly made pregnant, in order to take their personal gift of breast milk, intended for their child. This process is repeated until the poor individuals are too worn out to be of any use.

Up to 50% of milking cows become lame and cannot walk or stand up properly due to the strain of being continuously pregnant and having very limited movement. Cows in the dairy industry have been bred to hold up to 4.5 times the natural amount of milk they would need, with many cows acquiring mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder.

At only a quarter of their natural lifespan they are simply discarded, turned into pet food, soup and low-grade burgers. That’s the comparative equivalent of 20 years old in human years. Calves are killed at the equivalent age of an 18 month old human baby. Male calves are generally sold to the veal industry where are confined in darkness for up to 22 weeks to make their flesh more tender. 6 million calves are reared for veal within the EU every year, with the biggest producers being France (over 1.4 million calves), the Netherlands (1.5 million calves) and Italy (almost 800,000 calves).


To really appreciate the scale of this suffering, let us take a look at the emotional lives of cows. Studies carried out by Weary showed that calves housed in isolation performed worse on cognitive tests than calves raised  in groups. On most dairy farms, calves are normally raised individually – this inevitably leads to anxiety and depression . A 2004 Cambridge University study also revealed much about the emotional lives of cows. It turns out cows have  “eureka” moments where they take pleasure in their own achievements. When the cows made improvements in learning, they showed excitement.

These are the animal beings that we are systematically abusing and tormenting on unimaginable scales. There are over 1.4 billion cattle farmed in the world. Attempting to measure the suffering of 1.4 billion conscious, intelligent, emotional mammalian beings is unfathomable.

Note that their individual lives, their own personal worlds, are not worthy of a blip of our attention, not one minuscule amount of our consideration. To put it bluntly, we simply do not care that the entire life of an intelligent, thoughtful, vulnerable individual be utter misery. We fail to recognise our part is causing the demand for this practice – the ultimate reason for this grotesque abuse is simply because we must have milk.

How sad it is that we encourage and perpetuate this disgusting, morally disgraceful act? It is a practice that condones baby-stealing, child abuse and even baby-eating. We turn a blind eye; most of us fail to ever dwell on the issue. But this is the reality. All this suffering is created to satisfy our wish for animal milk and cheese. These beautiful individuals are reduced to milk machines, merely to satisfy our own dietary preferences and culinary desires.

Cows do not exist for us to use. They exist for their own sake – just like us, they have their own right to life. This moral self-worth ought to be a given.

Further reading:

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