“The dairy cow is exposed to more abnormal physiological demands than any other class of farm animal making her a supreme example of an overworked mother.” John Webster, Emeritus Professor of Animal Husbandry at Bristol University’s Clinical Veterinary Science Department.
We see cows in the field and they might seem to have a pretty good life. Actually modern cows lives bear little resemblance to their wild relatives. Every part of a cow’s life is managed to get maximum milk yield usually at the expense of her health and welfare.
The truth is that cows only produce milk after giving birth as milk is designed to feed baby calves. In order for people to have milk, the baby calf is taken away from its mother at just a day or two old and fed on a milk substitute. Baby and mother call for each other when separated and emotional stress is clearly caused.
To keep producing milk…
The vast majority of dairy cows in the UK are now artificially inseminated (AI) as this is much cheaper than keeping a bull and allows farmers. The use of more invasive practices such as multiple ovulation therapy and embryo transfer is increasing steadily in the UK and the rest of Europe.
The milk production would naturally decrease and stop after about a year, therefore to keep the dairy cows lactating, they are inseminated about two to three months after giving birth. This ensures the maximum profitability of the cow. However, as the cow’s body is producing abnormally large quantities of milk and growing a calf for most of the year, most cows are completely exhausted by the age of five as their bodies simply cannot keep up with these extreme demands on the metabolism. When the milk yield (and therefore income) decreases, the cows are sent to a slaughterhouse.
Male calves are of no use to a dairy farmer. If they are not sold to be raised for veal, they are shot shortly after birth. Current estimates are that 100 000 – 150 000 bull calves are shot in the UK a few hours of birth.