You don’t even have to be an advanced alien to be shocked by the farming methods you’ve read about so far. Most people who discover them are! Both would probably draw the conclusion that on this planet, all creatures take second place to money. And they would be right. But the biggest shock is yet to come.
After a nine month pregnancy, a cow's teetering calf is separated from her after only a day or two.
Unlike many humans, an alien would know that a female animal doesn’t simply produce milk automatically but must first give birth – just like a human female. For a continuous supply of cow’s milk it follows that the two million plus dairy cows in the UK would have to be made pregnant every year. And, of course, that’s what happens. If that is disturbing then wait unit you read the detail.
After a nine month pregnancy, a cow's teetering calf is separated from her after only a day or two. That's how long it takes for the calf to suckle the disease-preventing colostrum from his mother but not long enough to snatch the milk, which is all kept for humans.
Up to a staggering 10,000 litres of milk a year can be produced by a single cow, 10 times more than her little calf could ever drink. If the calf is a male, he may be killed for beef, or if deemed worthless shot in the head shortly after birth, or transported to the Continent for veal – as he is an unwanted by-product of the dairy industry (he can’t give milk and produces less meat than a ‘pure-beef’ breed).
He may be crammed into a lorry with hundreds of other calves and despatched on a journey to France, Holland, Spain or Italy - petrified, bewildered and often deprived of water, food or rest. After years of campaigning and public pressure, the traditional veal crate was made illegal in the EU from January 2007. However, the baby can still be placed in a slightly larger crate for eight weeks and then kept in a group with sadly, still very little space. From 2007 calves could not be deliberately made anaemic, however on the Continent they are often given no roughage or bedding. At six months old he is killed for veal.
But what of his mother cow? Again, selective breeding and an unnatural diet have distorted the beauty of procreation into a non-stop production line that quite literally destroys her health. Just weeks after her calf is taken away she is made forcibly pregnant again and then has to carry the double burden of nurturing a growing calf inside her and producing large quantities of milk at the same time.
The strain is huge and at any given time, she has a one-in-three chance of her udders secreting pus and painfully swelling with mastitis, and the antibiotics forced up her teats are not that successful in controlling the disease. The EU allows up to 400 million pus cells in each litre of milk sold in the UK!
Because of the strain of carrying her hugely- oversized udders, she is likely to be amongst the 50 per cent of cows who are lame from crippling foot and leg disorders every year. And her body consumes so much energy for milk production that her muscles simply waste away. The truth is that high-yield dairy cows are permanently hungry and cannot eat enough to meet the demands of their bodies.
From a distance, these skin-covered coat racks, munching grass, seem to lead an idyllic life. But the ugly truth is that a quarter of all dairy cows are so exhausted by the process that they are slaughtered every year. Most manage only three lactations and are killed at just four to five years old despite having a life expectancy of 21 years or more.
Professor John Webster, Department of Animal Husbandry, Bristol University, says:
"The dairy cow is a supreme example of an overworked mother. She is the hardest working of all our farm animals and it can be scientifically calculated. It is equivalent to a jogger who goes out for six to eight hours a day which is a lunatic pursuit.”
He states that almost 100 per cent
of cows suffer from laminitis at some point in their life – a disease which causes 'great pain to the cow' (Defra). The tissue lining of the foot becomes inflamed and may lead to ulcers. Professor Webster continues:
"To understand the pain of laminitis it helps to imagine crushing your finger nails in the door then standing on your fingertips" (17).
Dairy cows spend approximately six winter months in sheds, usually in concrete cubicles which are frequently too small for them because of the increasing size of dairy cows.
However, many cows are also increasingly being kept in intensive
‘zero-grazing’ systems which means they are kept almost permanently in sheds, where they are denied their natural and very strong instinct to graze. Feed is brought to them and includes high-protein supplements to increase their milk yield.
During the BSE restrictions,
no cows over 30 months old were (supposedly) allowed to enter the human food chain for fear that they were infected with this incurable ‘mad cow disease’. Their bodies were incinerated and the dried remains stored in warehouses across Britain,
the fear being that they might still be infected after burning, so persistent is the ‘prion’ thought to be responsible for BSE. In November 2005, the restrictions were lifted and these poor, worn-out dairy cattle are once again being used for burgers, stocks, soups and processed foods such as meat pies. See Viva!s Dark Side of Dairy report and film at www.milkmyths.org.uk