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Dairy operations

How do we know that cows miss their babies like human moms would miss theirs?
Countless observers have witnessed the mournful bellows and cries of a mother cow who has lost her baby.

To quote author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, in The Face on Your Plate, “John Webster, Emeritus professor of animal husbandry at Bristol Universit’s Clinical Veterinary Science Department, who is widely considered the world’s leading authority on dairy cows, acknowleges that the removal of her calf is the single worst incident in the life of a dairy cow.” And this trauma happens repeatedly to cows on dairy farms.

Even cattle industry enthusiast and advisor Temple Grandin acknowledges the emotional pain of cows when their babies are taken from them. Upon visiting a dairy farm with author Oliver Sacks shortly after the baby calves were taken from their mothers, and seeing a mother cow anxiously looking for her calf, Grandin remarked, “That’s one sad, unhappy, upset cow. She wants her baby…It’s like grieving, mourning—not much written about it. People don’t like to allow them thoughts or feelings.”

Cows are very emotional. At Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, the cows, one by one, said tender goodbyes to a member of the herd who was dying. At Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, Norman, a rescued veal calf, went into a two-month long depression after his bovine friend died. At Farm Sanctuary, the cows give welcoming moos to new arrivals. Then there is Justice, a rescued cow who was helped by a fellow cow when he was new at the sanctuary and now—paying it forward—spends time with every new sanctuary animal, regardless of species, and has an amazing calming effect. Cows have emotional machinery that is similar to that of humans, and scientists have confirmed cows’ emotional responses.

But we don’t need scientific studies to observe the obvious. The twelfth century physician and rabbi Maimonides recognized the similarities in motherly love between humans and animals: “There is no difference between the worry of a human mother and an animal mother for their offspring. A mother’s love does not derive from the intellect but from the emotions, in animals just as in humans.”

Respect motherhood—ditch dairy.

Don’t cows sometimes reject their babies?

Infrequently, this will happen. This is no excuse to remove all babies from their mothers. Furthermore, dairies remove babies from cows who are clearly mothering their calves tenderly and diligently, showering the baby with loving attention. Dairies routinely break one of the strongest, most beautiful, most important bonds in nature. They do this to increase profit.

Note also that the entire pregancy and mothering cycle is thrown out of whack at dairies; compared to their wild cousins, cows in dairy operations have calves earlier and more often, they don’t have a reasonable break where they’re not lactating, and they are uncomfortable from being bred to produce unnaturally huge amounts of milk. They also have their babies repeatedly stolen from them, and see that other cows experience this traumatic injustice as well. Perhaps they know that their newborns will be taken from them. There have even been reports of cows hiding their babies on dairies. In any event, any extraopolation from dairies to normal cow behavior may be fraught with error, due to the conditions imposed on dairy cows. To witness more natural behaviors, visit a farm sanctuary, where calves are allowed to grow up with their mothers and their herds. The love and companionship is palpable and long-lasting, and wonderful to see.

Don’t cows like to be milked? Don’t they voluntarily walk to the milking parlor?

If you were forced to carry an unusually huge amount of milk most of the time, you’d want relief also.

What cows would like much more than periodic relief from their human-imposed burden is not being swelled with such ridiculously large amounts of milk in the first place.

And they’d prefer that the milk they do produce be used to nurse their babies, who are stolen from them on dairy farms.

Also note that having to be being milked so much throughout their (abbreviated) adult lives increases the cows’ risk of painful udder infections.

Aren’t non-factory farms humane?

Thank you for implicitly acknowledging that factory farms—the source of most dairy products in the U.S. and some other countries—are inhumane. But so are smaller commercial dairy operations. Please see the next question…

What about the dairy farm I run/just toured, in which all the cows are happy?

Cows are not happy about having to carry unnnaturally huge volumes of milk most of their adult lives. They’re not happy about having their babies taken from them, or being deprived of the warmth and nurturing of mothers and families. The male calves are not happy about being killed as babies, or being sentenced to horrid veal pens, or—best case—being killed at a little over a year old for their flesh. Cows are not happpy about being killed when they can’t produce enough milk to be profitable, which usually occurs in young adulthood. They’re not happy about the well-known violence and suffering in slaughterhouses.

“Humane” should mean based on compassion and striving to avoid unncessary harm. The dairy industry is built on inflicting mass harm and premature death for profit. At its very core, it is the opposite of “humane.” Factory farms merely add on additional cruelties.

To see happy dairy cows, visit a farm sanctuary, where the cows are respected and loved simply for who they are, where they are never exploited or killed for profit, where they are not burdened with being constantly pregnant and lactating, where calves grow up with their mothers and herds, where cows are able to make long-term friendships and live to old ages. Note also that most of the cows on farm sanctuaries are rescued from abuse, abandonment, or neglect on non-factory family farms.

Don’t we protect dairy cows from predators when they’re on farms?

The breeds of cows used in dairy operations are human-made—they do not exist in the wild—and their predators are humans. Humans kill virtually all dairy cows when young, and often when babies.

Wild cattle living in their natural environments do quite well on their own.

Don’t laws protect dairy cows’ welfare?

The standard cruelties in dairy—forcing cows to grossly overproduce milk, stealing their babies, killing cows at any age—are all legal. In the U.S. and many other countries, most standard procedures on farms are specifally exempted from all humane legislation, even if they cause pain and suffering.

Cows can legally be transported for 16 hours in the UK and over 24 hours in the U.S. in sweltering heat with no food, water, or rest.

When undercover investigators go into slaughterhouses, they nearly always find horrid violence and excruciating animal suffering. It has been this way for years. This is disturbing but not surprising. Killing innocent beings hour after hour, day after day, not only invites sloppiness and mistakes but may wreak havoc with one’s emotions; many slaughterhouse workers have admitted that sometimes they take out their frustrations on the animals.

When animals are used as disposable assets in money-making ventures, it’s inevitable that their welfare will be compromised—through what’s done to their bodies, painful procedures inflicted on them, denial of mothers and families, when and how they’re killed, and/or other means. By far, the best hedge against farmed animal cruelty is not to eat animal products.

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