Animal Justice: Milk and Other Dairy Products

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men” – Alice Walker

2016-01-14 09.14.13

I don’t remember how I learnt about bobby calves, artificial insemination and the emotional lives of animals, particularly dairy cows, which are renowned from their maternal instincts. These concepts had never occurred to me before, but the more I read into it, the more obvious the existence of these unspoken practices became.

In nature, cows carry their unborn calves for nine months and calves stay with their mothers for two years, suckling five to eight times a day for the first few weeks, forming lasting maternal bonds. Much like, us. This natural process is forgone so that humans can consume cows milk.

Throughout history, when considering animal suffering, it’s often based on the premise of whether or not they feel pain, but does that include emotional pain?

Artificial insemination

The development of reproductive technology has evolved rapidly and techniques such as artificial insemination, multiple ovulation embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization (IVF) have become widespread. These various techniques may be painful and cause distress in cows. A young female cow, known as a heifer, will often be artificially inseminated for her first pregnancy around the age of two. This involves a farmer inserting his hand up her rectum and stimulating her cervix, then inserting an insemination rod into her vagina.


When the calf is taken away the mother is milked to capacity and then ready to conceive again about three weeks later and every three weeks after that (much the same as the reproductive cycle of human women). Once impregnated, again often via artificial insemination, milking continues for some 10 months after she has given birth. The cycle continues for as long as she can continue to produce enough milk to be a “profitable unit”.

Of course, the semen in which to inseminate dairy cows is collected from bulls – I’ll let you use your imagination as to the process by which this is done. 


To make the birth occur in a convenient time period, some dairy farmers induce labour in pregnant cows. This is done despite the fact it puts the mother at greater risk of uterine infection or death as well as health-related issues of the calf. Many calves who are born too prematurely are unable to survive and are immediately killed. They may be shot in the head, using a captive bolt to the brain or killed using blunt trauma to their skull.

First week of Life and Death

Around 400,000 unwanted dairy calves or “bobby calves” (not required for herd replacement or veal) are slaughtered each year in Australia as waste-products of the dairy industry, often within 5-6 days of life. Dairy calves are not valued as they don’t grow at the same rate as beef calves and their meat quality is considered sub-standard by the beef industry. Still very physically immature, the calves are sent up ramps onto cramped trucks. Calves can legally be deprived of feed for the last 30 hours of life before being slaughtered.

The female calves who are kept to replenish the dairy herd will endure the same fate as their mothers before them. Initially this often includes undergoing painful on-farm procedures, such as disbudding. Calves may have a hot iron pressed into their head, to damage the immature horn tissue, or buds, and prevent them from growing horns. In some dairy regions, such as Gippsland in Victoria, the docking of tails by surgical amputation or using elastic rings is a common practice. The amputation causes immediate pain and the nerve damage to the stump may result in chronic pain. Moreover, cows are not able to be relieved from the irritation of fly’s – this is the function of their tail. The reasons for tail docking are very trivial, of which much of the evidence for doing so has been discredited. Both of these practices are commonly done without any pain relief.

The male calves chosen to be raised for veal are kept in paddocks or sheds and fed from mechanical feeders and killed after a few months of life.

Actually Being #milkeddry

The natural lifespan of a cow is up to 20 years, yet commercial dairy cows could be considered lucky to live beyond seven years of age. Due to selective breeding and genetic manipulation, cows now produce enormous amounts of milk.  The modern dairy cow can produce about 35-50 litres of milk per day, which is about ten times more milk than her calf would need. Producing this excessively large quantity of milk puts a significant metabolic strain on the cow such as painful stretching or tearing of ligaments due to large udders, infections such as mastitis and foot problems such as laminitis. The front teats may be subjected to vacuum pulsing for up to two minutes after being emptied, while the hind teats are still yielding, which damages tissue and is believed to be painful for the cow.

“Repeated re-impregnation, short calving intervals, overproduction of milk, restrictive housing systems, poor nutrition, and physical disorders impair the welfare of the animals in industrial dairy operations. Once their productivity wanes, the cows are often weak as a result of high metabolic output. Typically, these “spent” dairy cows are culled and processed as ground beef. In their fragile end-of-production state, handling, transport, and slaughter raise additional welfare concerns” – The Humane Society of the United States

A few months ago I read an article a friend shared on Facebook that made me realise why I feel so strongly about these issues, titled Veganism is a Feminist Issue. The article highlighted all the above outlined issues and more, I highly recommend reading it.

“The production of meat, milk and eggs is absolutely predicated on the exploitation of female animals’ reproductive systems” – Kate Fowler

My empathy means I can imagine the pain and indignity of artificial insemination. I can imagine the grief and emotional trauma associated with having my baby taken away moments after birth. I can imagine the ache and the horror of knowing with each and every strained pregnancy that the baby I am about to birth will never be nurtured by my breast milk or my love. Instead, this will be taken from me, bottled, sold for a few dollars at the supermarket and poured thoughtlessly into someones hot drink. When people tell me that they don’t know how I could live without cheese, I spare a thought for the loving creatures we call cows, that unwilling live without reproductive freedoms and their beloved babies.

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

References and Resources

The emotional lives of animal’s podcast:

What’s wrong with dairy?

What you never knew about dairy:

Dairy Cows Fact Sheet:

Bobby calves:

Dairy Cows And Their Calves: When Mother Is Separated From Baby:

An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Cows in the Dairy Industry:

Animal Welfare Guidelines – Trade and Transport of Calves, Including Bobby Calves:—Bobby-Calves.pdf

HIGHLY RECOMMEND: Veganism is a Feminist Issue – Kate Fowler: (Page 92)

5 Reasons Why Animal Rights Are A Feminist Issue:


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