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
Dairy is a multi-billion dollar industry providing employment for farmers as well as others in processing and distribution plants. Its continued success is contingent on billions of consumers who buy their products so marketing is a crucial multi million dollar endeavour . An increasingly informed and ethically minded public is a major challenge to its ongoing success.
Some of the less well known facts about the dairy industry are presented below. The main source of these facts is a report on the Australian dairy industry completed by the organization Voiceless (last updated in April 2015). Read the full Voiceless report here
- A female mammal (cow, goat, sheep etc) will not produce milk until she has given birth. After the birth she naturally produces milk to help rapidly grow her offspring (calf, kid, lamb).
- On dairy farms in Australia, the cows give birth to a new calf every 13 months (on average). This regularity ensures the cow maintains maximum milk production during her productive life.
- It is not profitable or practical for the farms to allow the calves to stay with their mother so they are taken away shortly after the birth. Standard practice in Australia is that the calves are taken within 12 hours of the birth.
- The male calves (approximately 50% of births), and many of the females known as bobby calves, are either killed on the farm or are sent to slaughter, mostly within 5 days of their birth.
- At the time of the report, the number of these calves killed each year in Australia was approximately 800,000. This will increase as demand for dairy products increase.
- The bobby calves are not usually raised for meat. As they are from dairy cows their characteristics make them uneconomical to grow them for meat.
- There is strong evidence that separating the mother and calf is very stressful for them. Mother cows are known to bellow day and night in search of their calf. For evidence of that animals experience joy, fear, love, despair, and grief see the American Institute of Biological Sciences report. See report findings here
- On average a dairy cow is no longer viable after 7 or 8 years so is sent to slaughter. Her lifespan would normally be around 20 years.
- According to the Voiceless investigation; “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.
Alternatives to Mainstream Dairy
Niche small organic dairy farms do exist but are rare and account for a tiny portion of milk production. Even in these farms there will always be financial pressure with a real risk the animals will be neglected if profit is under pressure.
There are other mammals used for their milk such as goats and sheep. These animals have the exact same biological fundamentals and the businesses will be under the same financial pressures so there is no reason to think that practices would be different.
There are many plant based alternatives to dairy which provide all the nutritional requirements. To read about health, nutritional and food related issues including dairy alternatives, refer to the “Vegan” tab on this website.
Additional Links & Resources
 Voiceless. 2015. Dairy Cows. [ONLINE]Available at: https://www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/dairy-cows