All beings tremble before violence. All fear death, all love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do? ~ The Buddha
As with all industries relying on animal exploitation, marketing is important for the dairy industry. Their continued wealth and success is dependent on the support from an increasingly ethically inclined public. Revealing the truth about the suffering and killing inherent in the process of obtaining the milk is likely to be detrimental to this multi billion dollar industry. To address this dairy has marketed an image of the “happy cow” gladly giving up her milk in a natural pleasant environment. The reality of the modern dairy industry is quite different1. Read more about the reality of dairy here.
The problem with dairy is that the standard practices and biological fundamentals mean that the cows endure considerable long term suffering, as well as providing a production line of very young calves to slaughterhouses. Farmers would like to think the animals don’t suffer but the evidence does not support their claims. The dispute between animal rights people and farmers is usually not about what happens but whether the standard practices are cruel. The facts are summarized below.
From basic biology we know that production of milk in mammals is dependent on the female giving birth. Female mammals will not start to produce milk until they have given birth to a calf, kid (goats), lamb (sheep) or a baby (humans). The problem in modern dairies is that in order to maintain the high level of milk production required for profitability, cows are impregnated and give birth to a new calf on average every 13 months1. To learn more click here. This operational reality means that in Australia, hundreds of thousands of calves are born in dairies every year. The ethical issue relates to what becomes of all these calves. The answer is that with the exception of a few of the female calves kept as replacements for the milk producing herd, the males (approximately 50% of births) and unwanted females are considered ‘wastage’ and are usually slaughtered shortly after births1. Each year in Australia, around 800,000 calves are killed within a few days of their birth. Read more about bobby calves here.
The vast majority of these dairy calves (known as bobby calves) are either killed on-farm or sent for commercial slaughter within five days of being born. They are used in pet food, leather goods and veal. Standard common practice is the calves are taken from the mother within 12 hours of the birth. This is clearly stressful for both mother and calf (mother cows are known to bellow day and night in search of their calf)1. To learn more about the stress dairy cows endure click here.
Feeding and raising these bobby calves on the farm is not financially viable for the dairy farmer or other primary producers . Dairy cattle are bred for their high milk production, not for their meat, so the calves are not economical to feed and grow when compared to raising purpose bred beef cattle. This makes these hundreds of thousands calves of little or no financial value to anyone.
The milking cow’s life on the modern dairy consists of being pushed to her physical milk producing limits for 7 or 8 years, then she is sent to slaughter. This life includes the annual trauma of birth followed by separation from her calf. This life makes her susceptible to painful diseases like lameness and mastitis. While their natural lifespan is much longer, after seven or eight years, milking cows milk production inevitably drops as she becomes worn out, or due to repeated bouts of mastitis. At this time she is put in a truck and sent to slaughter. Read the full voiceless report on dairy here.
Other types of milk such as goats and sheep have the exact same biological fundamentals and same financial pressures as all modern dairy businesses. It is clear that these standard practices for large scale production are unavoidable.
For those who believe that forcing animals to give up their milk for our consumption can be done humanely in small organic farms should be aware that these farms are extremely rare and expect to pay many times the price. They should also realize that even these farms are still exploiting animals for profit and there will always be pressure to make profit at the expense of the animals. Further, this type of farming is probably not practical or sustainable other than for an elite few. To learn more about the Australian dairy facts click here.
Additional Links & Resources
 Voiceless. 2015. Dairy Cows. [ONLINE]Available at: https://www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/dairy-cows