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The Dairy Connection

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The Dairy Connection

From The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
November 2012

“You have only to look into an animal’s eyes to know that it has a soul or listen to its cries to realize that it has feelings, too.”
-Anna C. Briggs

When most of us think of dairy farms, we think of peaceful green pastures and happy cows outside in the sun. This image is easy to picture: just look at labels, commercials, and other advertisements and you will find this idea portrayed widely. Unfortunately, this is not a common reality for cows within the dairy industry. By considering the basic system of the modern dairy industry, a picture appears that many of us will not be comfortable with.

A dairy cow is a mother. Like all mammals, a cow will produce milk only after she has given birth. To obtain the quantity of milk that demand requires, a cow in intensive dairy operations is made to give birth at least once a year to force continual lactation. The calf she gives birth to will be taken from her shortly after joining the world. If her calf is female, she will be raised to the same life as her mother, confined indoors as a milk producer. If her calf is male, he too will live a life of confinement, although a much shorter and extreme one within a veal factory.

Mother cows have a strong maternal instinct and are known to cry and search for their babies for days. Her calf, too, will cry for her. In breaking a cow’s bond with her calf, the dairy farmer denies her natural instincts as a mother. This causes severe stress and emotional trauma for both mother and child.

Cows on dairy farms are made to repeat this cycle until their milk production begins to slow, at which time they are considered “spent.” The natural lifespan of a cow is up to 25 years; but in the stressful system of dairy facilities, they typically become exhausted after only 4 to 5 years. They are then sent to the slaughterhouse. Because of the rough life dairy cows undergo, their meat is considered low grade and is mostly used in pet food, canned soups, or fast food hamburgers.

Most of us grew up consuming dairy products and regard them as a staple of our diets. Thankfully, today there are many tasteful dairy alternatives practically anywhere you look. Soy, almond, rice, oat, and hazelnut milks are just a few of the products we can substitute for cow’s milk. There is also a wide variety of commercially-available cheese substitutes that come in all types: cheese shreds, American-style singles, cream-cheese, grated parmesan, and much more. Even the most diehard cheese lovers can enjoy non-dairy hard cheeses like sharp, Swiss, and gouda. It may surprise you that you can even make your own!

All mammals drink milk from their mother after birth until they wean. Humans are the only mammals that take milk from other animals so they can drink it throughout their lives. With such an ugly system of dairy production and so many simple alternatives available, making a compassionate choice can be easy.