Milk forms an important part of a diet for many people. But do we know what the real process is to get the glass of milk? When we consume something with the intent that it should nourish us, is it not important to understand what it is and where it has come from before putting it into our bodies?
As with any product, the method by which it is produced should be a significant factor, if not more so, than its supposed benefits. The welfare and condition of the animal, whose body parts and secretions we consume, cannot be ignored. All animals deserve to be treated with respect and protected under animal welfare laws.
The reality of what happens on dairy farms is a far cry from the images of content cows roaming on lush grass, that we see printed on milk cartons in supermarkets.
Cows are mammals. Similar to humans, they need to be pregnant and give birth in order to produce milk. Cows on Australian dairy farms are repeatedly impregnated and then separated from their newborn calves so that their milk can be sold to humans rather than fed to their own babies. A cow is forced to give birth every thirteen months (through artificial insemination) in order to keep her milk production high (PETA 2021). The unnatural practice of artificial insemination of cows is common on dairy farms. This practice disrupts the natural order of an animal’s behaviour and social needs which in turn contribute to their overall wellbeing.
As a result of mindless milk consumption, very little research or thought has been put into what would be the long-term effects on the health and behaviour of cattle who have been bred artificially for generations, in an unnatural way.
Calving is one of the most challenging and painful processes for dairy cattle and involves coping with physical and physiological changes. The process of giving birth, as in other mammals, is a painful and stressful event for the cow. Prolonged calving, delayed parturition, or severe assisted extraction of the calf at birth can result in a difficult birth, also known as dystocia (Matamala et al 2021).
Separation of Calves
Cows develop strong maternal bonds with their calves. As sentient creatures, they too have emotions towards their babies, just as we have towards ours.
Terrified mothers hide their calves from farmers as they know they will be taken away. The cows have memories of seeing this before. Distraught mothers can be heard crying out for days after their calves have been separated from them. They even chase the trucks when their young are being taken. We too have seen this with calves we collect, who for days mourn the loss of their mothers showing signs of depression. Most female calves are forced into the same cruel cycle of pregnancy and milk production as their mothers, while male “bobby calves” are treated as unwanted “waste” and either killed on the farms or sent for slaughter within days of birth. For these calves who are on their way to the abattoir, current legislation allows up to thirty hours of travel time with no food or water (PETA, 2021).
Commercialisation that is blatantly exploitative and flouts all humane values and ethics is difficult to justify. Kindness is not just a word, it’s a way of living.
A cow is considered “retired” when she is no longer able to produce enormous quantities of milk to fatten profits. She is then forced onto a truck and transported to an abattoir. Some cows die on the way to the slaughterhouse. Those that reach the abattoir are killed brutally. As a developed society, it is important to adopt a holistic approach to our food rather than merely a scientific one that only counts calories, vitamins and minerals but disregards the sentiment that goes into producing the food. The glass of milk that we see on our table (and unthinkingly drink up), hides the story of suffering and abuse that went into creating it.
Food is the basic source of life. If we care about how we live, then the least we can do is to understand the story behind the food that we put into our bodies to make more informed decisions. No matter how many technological advances we make, we cannot truly separate ourselves from nature. We can hardly bring well-being into our lives by putting out cruelty.
If we can truly see that the way we treat our animals is exactly what goes into our bodies and into the bodies of our future generations, we would be much more conscious and selective about what we consume. We would be living in a far better world.