Immense Suffering?
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

By James McWilliams
November 2013

Form the gloved hand into a wedge and insert it with a thrust into the anus as far as possible. As the hand enters the anus, it should be folded for more a loose fist… The cow will exert a fair amount of pressure against the hand and arms – she will try to expel them…Some bleeding may occur during the palpation process........

immense suffering dairy cow insemination

My piece on dairy at Forbes last week has generated considerable discussion. That’s good. The bulk of it has centered on my decision to refer to artificial insemination as a procedure that causes—here come the controversial words– ‘immense suffering.” That’s frustrating. When I wrote those words, I had two things in mind. First, that the physical process caused suffering and, second, that the consequences of that physical process caused suffering. Together, I reasoned, the suffering was not normal. It was abnormal. Immense came to mind.

Putting aside the point that this emphasis on such a small aspect of the article only affirms the legitimacy of piece’s underlying message, it is worth wondering if, in fact, artificial insemination is a procedure that would cause suffering. Did I overstate? “Aaron” thought I was off the mark, writing:

I have artificially inseminated many cows, and it would be the equivalent of a prostate exam for humans—intrusive, but not painful (haven’t had one, but my M.D. wife tells me that). Vets employ the same technique to assess any number of things going on inside cows and horses. Sure, the animals are restrained, but no more than when they would to be given a vaccine, milked, whatever. Depending on a cow’s personality and intensity of her heat, some even stand still in the middle of a wide open pen or pasture to be artificially inseminated.

First, notice that he calls a prostate exam “not painful” (um, Aaron, when that special day comes, you will retract these words faster than you can say “ever do time, doc?”). Notice also that he makes this assessment on the grounds that his wife tells him so (Aaron really is in for a shocker!). Also notice how he makes it sound as if a cow will often act as if she wanted to have a pipette of semen placed in her vagina– “some even stand still” for the penetration. If this all sounds crazy, Aaron has Brian to keep him company. Brian writes:

Cows do not mind being inseminated. I inseminate about 125 cows per year. I am right behind a cow when I inseninate [sic] her, if she did mind being inseminated, I would get kicked very hard.

Hmm. Now might be a good time to consider exactly what must happen in order for a cow to be artificially inseminated. By way of foreshadowing, let’s speculate that the cow might not be able to kick Brian to the curb because she likely has an arm up her rectum. Anyway, here’s this, from a medical manual:

Form the gloved hand into a wedge and insert it with a thrust into the anus as far as possible. As the hand enters the anus, it should be folded for more a loose fist… The cow will exert a fair amount of pressure against the hand and arms – she will try to expel them…Some bleeding may occur during the palpation process. This results from scraping the mucosa and rupturing small blood vessels at the surface of the rectum wall. This is not serious but extreme care should be taken that the inseminator does not rupture the rectum wall…. If a rupture does occur it usually leads to peritonitis and the death of the animal. When a rupture is identified, it is usually best to send the cow to slaughter as soon as possible…

Once the cervix is located, it must be grasped and controlled so that the inseminating instrument can be inserted. Encircle the cervix with the thumb and fingers in such a way that the thumb is on top of the cervix and the fingers re under the cervix. The thumb should stay on top without rotating the wrist. This can be difficult and tiring – it takes effort to stretch the rectal wall. As the inseminating instrument is slid forward the cervix must be pushed forward to straighten out the vaginal folds. Remember, the cow is trying to force the cervix toward the vulva and thus creates more folds. If the cervix is not pushed forward, the tip of the instrument can get caught in a fold and stretch or puncture the vagina.

So now how do you feel about “immense suffering”? For the record, I also heard from vegans that I went too far, saying what I had no authority to say, when I noted that the procedure above causes “immense suffering.” All of which leads me to wonder: has anyone noticed that those who take issue with my descriptions seem to have a vested financial interest in, well, inseminating cows? Shouldn’t immense suffering be joined with immense shamelessness, immense hypocrisy, and immense exploitation?

Or am I just being melodramatic? A crass sensationalist?


Return to Animal Rights Articles
Read more at The Meat and Dairy Industries