Few people realize that cows have to be subjected to yearly pregnancies so that the milk, cheese and cream that form a substantial part of the diet of the lacto-vegetarians and meat eaters may be produced. Many imagine that the cow is only relieved of her surplus milk after her calf has been satisfied, but hardly any cows in the dairy herds are allowed to suckle their calves for more than three days if at all. “Dairy calves are now nearly always reared by hand so that the milk which the cow provides can be sold.” “Separating the calf from the mother shortly after birth undoubtedly inflicts anguish on both. Cattle are highly intelligent, and attachment between the calf and the mother is particularly strong.”
The calves, the inevitable byproduct of these continuous pregnancies, have five possible fates:—
- They may go to the slaughter almost immediately—probably to provide the veal for veal and ham pies. The rennet used to make most commercial cheeses has to be taken from the stomach of a newly born calf.
- They may be much more unfortunate for they may go to a white veal unit to spend the whole of their lives shut up in narrow Wooden crates. After the first few weeks they have no room even to turn around. They are fed on a special liquid diet designed to promote maximum growth in the minimum time and to keep their flesh “fashionably white.”
They are denied the roughage that their special digestive systems as ruminants require so they are often reduced to eating their own hair and nibbling their crates. They are given no bedding because their craving for solid food would make them eat it. The old practice of “bleeding” to whiten the flesh is now illegal but their iron take is kept to the minimum necessary for survival lest the meat should be tinged with red.
Many emerge from their crates at the end of their fourteen weeks of existence suffering from stomach ulcers and abscesses, and with legs too shaky to support them as they are driven into the slaughter-house lorry. The Brambell Report says, “Calves at large are normally active and playful animals.”
- The home production of beef has gone up 50% since the war and “a recent survey has shown that 80% of the beef produced is a byproduct of the dairy industry.” Calves from beef herds often have a comparatively tolerable fate, being allowed to suckle, run with their dams and graze in the fields until the time comes for the fattening pens and the slaughter-house, but the surplus calves from the dairy herbs are often sent to market when a week old (or less) and bought for rearing in intensive beef units.
“Friesian calves are ideal for extremely intensive systems.” Fed for twelve weeks on a largely cereal diet, they are encouraged to overeat and are kept closely confined so that the minimum proportion of the food is used up for their bodily functions. “There is a danger of poisoning due to overeating.”
- In these days of artificial insemination few calves are reared as bulls. A calf selected for such a fate may be allowed to suckle for a period. He will be carefully reared to produce the physique of a good sire with maximum fertility. Not that his physical powers, superb though they may be, will have much significance in the life designed for him.
From ten to twelve months of age he may serve cows weekly, spending the rest of his time in solitary confinement. More likely these days he will be required to serve canvas “cows” and rubber tubes. The Ministry of Agriculture pamphlet on the care of bulls advocates an exercising yard attached to his shed with walls of a type he can see through for “boredom can produce viciousness” an admission this that animals have a mental and emotion life! Aged bulls are often castrated before they are shut up to fatten for the butcher.
- If female the calves may be deemed suitable to rear as dairy cows. Dairy calves are removed as soon after birth as possible so that “the cow may settle down again in the herd,” i.e. she is granted the minimum time to get over the strain of her frustrated pregnancy so that her milk as soon as possible can go to produce the all important profit.
Fed on milk substitutes the calves development is encouraged so that at eighteen to twenty-four months they can begin the cycle of continuous pregnancies. To quote from the “New Scientist,” January 13th, 1972, “The modern dairy cow leads a hell of life. Each year she hopefully produces a calf which means that for nine months of the year she is pregnant. And for
nine months of each year she is milked twice a day. For six months she is both pregnant and lactating.”
Details of the ailments she can succumb to while meeting these demands make horrifying reading and so do the descriptions of the remedies used (see the various farming journals). Giving birth is often a prolonged and painful business for the cow to be rewarded only by separation from her baby.
Cows often cry out and search for their calves for days after they are taken away. When after years of exploitation her milk yield drops then she is sent to the slaughter-house immediately. Worn out cow’s meat is not popular in this country so they are commonly sent abroad for slaughter.
Comparatively lucky are the cows and calves that can live out their lives and suffer their butchering near to the place of their birth. For most there are long wearisome journeys, rough handling and standing in market places before being taken to slaughter-houses or new farms.
The modern slaughter-houses are often miles from the farms on which the animals are reared, and it is not deemed “economic” to feed animals that are going to be slaughtered. The “humane” killers lessen the pain of the death blows but not the terror of the waiting and the violence of the handling that must precede their use.
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And all this to produce food for humans that is not necessary! Human babies should have their mother’s milk, and children and adults the solid food appropriate to their dentition and digestive systems. These can easily be selected from richly varied plant sources.
For babies and children where necessary or desired, for invalids and those who still like to take milk, the Plantmilk Society, formed and served by men who were deeply moved by compassion for exploited animals, has promoted “Plamil” the milk of human kindness. Other nutritious plantmilks are also available. But the dairy industry is inseparable from the cruel exploitation and degradation of helpless, highly intelligent animals.