Animal Rights and Abuse
Dairy Management and Production

Why is dairy farming cruel to cows?


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Dairy farming itself is not cruel, it's the few people who are caught treating dairy cows inhumanely that are cruel. It's also the people who abhorrently oppose everything to do with animal agriculture that like to make people think that it is cruel by twisting and misconstruing facts so that the business of dairy farming is much worse than it really is. It is indeed a business, an income-generating venture that needs the cows to make it work. The problem is, minority animal rights groups tend to make the general public think that dairy farming is only done for the money, therefore there is no regard for the animals at all. If this was indeed true, then dairy farming wouldn't last very long. In order to make a farm work, the animals must be cared for and treated as humanely as possible in order for them to be able to do what they do best, and only in a relaxed, calm state. A milk cow cannot give milk when she is under stress and in a negative state of mind. This has been proven by animal scientists beyond a doubt.

The following discussion gives sight to both sides of the argument about dairy farming associated with cruelty to cows, as well as supporting reasons for either side. Also see the related links below for further information to make your own decision.

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #1:

"The majority of milk & cheese that is available in the store comes from 'factory farms' where the cows often are not exposed to sunlight, & live in cages that are so small they can't turn around."

Omnivore's Response to Above:

Cows do not nor cannot live in cages. This is only applicable to birds like chickens. Most dairy cows can go outside to a corral where they are most definitely exposed to sunlight. They are able to move around under a shed or in a barn where they can socialize with other cows, eat and lay down on a bed of sawdust, straw or even a water bed if some farms have them. Some farms do confine their cows, but it's to a stall, not a "cage."

Factory farms also do not exist. They are more properly called Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. Yes, most dairy products do come from such farms because there are not many small dairy farms left, and those smaller dairy farms do not have enough cattle to fill the demand for dairy products by many more consumers who demand for it every day.

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #2:

"They're hooked up to a milking machine (which some industry insiders who've done interviews with animal welfare watchdog groups call "the rape rack" because of the cows reaction) that forcefully sucks the milk out of their udders. Many many cows get an extremely painful infection from the constant milking called mastitis, which swells up their udders & can block their milk. Its been well-documented by the FDA that the pus from this infection often ends up in milk that is then sold in the store."

Omnivore's Response to Above:

If the "Animal Welfare" groups call such a machine a "rape rack" they are truly not "welfare" groups at all, but rather animal rights groups who vehemently oppose animal agriculture. Animal welfare and animal rights should never be confused with the other. Animal rights is defined as the belief that animals should have the right to live their lives as they see fit without the influence of humans. Animal welfare, on the other hand, is the concern for the physical and psychological well-being of non-human animals often under human care. Therefore, no "animal welfare watchdog" group would have as much gall to say something so callus and slanderous about a machine used to milk cows--(as in remove the white liquid from the mammary glands) not "rape" them.

(As a side note: It's pretty obvious that these machines were never built to forcefully breed cows--in other words (to make it more plain for those who still do not understand), a cow cannot be impregnated through her udder: she can only be impregnated if semen were to enter her vagina. That, my friends, is located way up under her tail, not between her legs.)

These milk machines "forcefully" suck milk out of the udders by use of a vacuum effect. It's no different from the machines put on women's breasts to milk them out when their breasts are full of milk. Nor is it any different from the forceful vacuum effect exerted by the calf's mouth when it suckles out milk to drink. It is very painful to have breasts or an udder full of milk that they get very tender and sore, and it is simply a relief to have this liquid removed by these "forceful" and so-called "inhumane" machines that cows, ironically, go to very willingly on a routine milking-once-every-12-hour schedule. Therefore, it is simply impossible for mastitis to be caused by cows being "constantly milked".

Mastitis is caused by several things, such as: failing to clean milk machines prior to use because this spreads bacteria from one cow to another; poor hygienic practices by the person milking the cows (such as not washing/disinfecting hands or wearing gloves before handling cows' udders); poor sanitation in barns and sheds by not cleaning floors, failing to remove soiled bedding, or not washing the milking area after use; and finally, the person performing poor milking practices--usually by someone who is incompetent and therefore knows what what they are doing--performing such acts as the following:

  • Failing to wash cows' udders prior to milking
  • Failing to practice dipping teats in an antiseptic solution
  • Incomplete milking of cows
  • Improper hand milking, such as using the thumb and pressing or pulling the teat too hard.

In a nutshell, the clinical causes of mastitis starts when bacteria move from the teat canal directly into the udder. The inside of the udder provides the right environment and temperature for these bacteria to multiply--being warm, moist, and anaerobic. Infection occurs when the cow's immune cells begin to wage war on these literal foreign invaders, causing, in acute cases, inflammation and swelling of the udder and teat, pain of the infected area, curdling of milk, fever, listlessness, and reduced milk production. Curdling of milk itself is not enough to block the teat canal. However in subclinical or chronic cases, the teat canal can become thickened or engorged so that the stream of milk that comes out comes out in a tiny, thread-like stream. With cows that have subclinical mastitis, cows can have milk that appears normal, but somatic cell count increases and milk yield decreases. Subclinical mastitis is more difficult to control and even detect than acute cases.

Serious acute mastitis is extremely painful, much more so than subclinical or mild infections tend to be, and this often results in the loss of function of one or more quarters that have been affected. Such cows cannot be kept on a farm that relies on all of its cows having all four quarters working. Cows that get what is called "black mastitis" have serious infections that spread quickly from the udder to the rest of the body, quickly killing the animal.

To the last sentence in argument #2:

Pus means dead white blood cells or leukocytes (or somatic cells). Milk is sterile until it reaches the teat canal, where some leukocytes may end up in the milk. It is normal to have a concentration of less than 200,000 cells per ml of milk from uninfected glands, and by no means is this considered a human health risk. The FDA would also clearly mention this, which ARA groups conveniently ignore. These cells are key to a defense mechanism in the udder to fight off foreign bacteria that may cause infection. Somatic cell count increases significantly when an infection occurs, and it is not uncommon for milkers to check milk from cows for signs of infection, as well as other signs, such as swollen or abnormally warm teats/udders before cows are milked. Milk that is found to have a foul smell, looks chunky, or an off-colour is discarded into the waste system, and never enters the human food chain. (Please see the related links below for scientific articles regarding mastitis in cows and leukocytes in the udder.)

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #3:

"A dairy cow's baby is taken from her just a few hours after its born, and dairy cows have been filmed kicking walls and moaning with rage when this happens. The male calves almost always end up in veal farms, where their lives end after 3 months of being chained to the floor in the dark."

Omnivore's Response to Above:

I would very much like to see the source of these claims where these sort of things have been filmed. The issue with this "observation" is that dairy cows have poorer mothering abilities than beef cows do. The bellering for their calves do not last very long, nor do these cows suffer as much as these ARAs want you to think. These cows soon forget about their calves and settle into the routine of twice-a-day-milking. These actions of "kicking walls and moaning with rage" parallel human women who would lose their minds when they lose their child, thus have a deeper psychological issue than an animal that is not able to live in the past, unlike humans do. Exploiting human weaknesses and putting them in the place of animal psychology--completely ignoring true animal psychology all together--certainly is a way to get the message across, but should never be taken as the truth.

I also see a drastic parallel between slaves being chained to the floor in the dark and this claim which likely is not true either. Dairy bull calves are confined to stalls or small corrals which they have enough room to move around, eat, and socialize. They are not kept in a dark cellar or a room in complete blackness, they are kept in a barn where they are sheltered from the elements, and are well cared for until they are weaned off their milk replacer and sent off to slaughter.

What most don't realize is that dairy bull calves hold no value to a dairy farm, nor do they hold any value to the beef industry. Genetics of dairy cattle are focused on predominantly milk production, not beef production. When you select for higher milk production only, you are selecting away from cattle that build more muscle. Also, when you breed cattle, you have a 50% chance that the calf will come out a heifer. Females (being cows and heifers) are preferred over males because they can give milk. Males, obviously, cannot. So what can be done with the males that cannot give milk? What can be done with males that, if left intact, will grow up to be absolute monsters of sheer terrorizing, testosterone-hyped killing machines? No one has yet come up with a genius solution to put these cattle into any good use other than for meat production, so the best thing to do with them is to slaughter them for meat/veal.

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #4:

"Once dairy cows are past their prime time for milking, they're slaughtered for beef."

Omnivore Response to Above:

Not so fast, there pardner. Many cows are kept past their prime well into their 'teens for milking. The oldest known dairy cow lived to be 35 years old. Many other cows are culled not because of age alone--though this can be a deciding factor, but not for all producers--but also due to lameness issues, loss of a quarter or two from mastitis infection, infertility issues (unable to breed back), teeth worn down to nubs, irreversible diseases like Johnes Disease (paratuberculosis), and other reasons. Some cows get sold to small farm families to be continued to be used as a family milk cow, which these cows happily oblige to until they die a peaceful, natural death. And yes indeed, the rest get turned into beef. But again, just like I posed above about the dairy bull calves, what else can be done with them? What other uses besides being slaughtered for hamburger can these cows have before they end up at the end of a cap-bolt gun? So far none have come up with a solution, and as far as I can see no-one will.

Besides, if any dairy cow, calf, bull or heifer comes into the hands of PeTA, they're just going to get killed anyway. So why argue against these animals going to the slaughter plants when, if animal rights have it their way, they're going to end up rotting in the dump? At least these cows don't go to waste after they're dead. I know it sounds mean and callus but that's the truth.

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #5:

"Remember that we are the only species on earth that drinks another species' breast milk. We're also the only species who drinks breast milk as an adult."

Omnivore's Response to Above:

Everything about those two sentences are wrong. There have been video, anecdotal and written evidence of animals feeding another animal species' so-called "breast milk" (there's that human-weakness exploitation again). For example, it was not too long again that there was a video in the news about a dog nursing a couple of tiger cubs. There have been eyewitness reports of Inuit mothers who lost their babies breast-feeding husky pups. Cats will be eager to lap up fresh raw milk from a cow on farms, even if it's bad for them. Dogs will too! A mare will adopt suckle an orphaned calf. Mare's milk has been used in the old west to feed newborn babies who's mothers cannot produce enough breast milk to feed them. I could go on!

What the ARA's don't want you to know is that milk is considered a luxury or a privileged beverage to have, simply because it is one food that has one of three ingredients that attracts animals and humans to eat. These three ingredients are salt, sugar, and fat. Milk has fat in it, which makes it a desirable thing, just like cookies, potato chips, chocolate bars, soda drinks, bagels, anything else that has sugar, salt and/or fat in it. The fact that we are the only species to drink another species milk and drinks this beverage as adults is an outright lie. Adult barn cats have been well known to be eager to lap up milk if it's made available to them. Dogs will compete for that same dish if they have the chance too--without getting a swat to the face! Adult cows will purposely steal milk from other cows for whatever reason that being beyond me.

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #6:

"Studies from Harvard & Yale have found that drinking dairy does NOT prevent osteoporosis!!! In fact, the excess protein in dairy & meat may actually LEECH calcium from the bones! Yikes!"

Omnivore Response to Above:

To outright blame the dairy industry for the main cause of osteoporosis is not taking into account other issues at hand--thereby resulting in ignorance. Additionally, lack of knowledge of what really goes on with people's diets these days in North America will make you believe this, but for someone more informed, the fact that dairy products do not prevent osteoporosis is because we simply consume way too much meat and dairy in the first place. I have no doubt that these very studies from Yale and Harvard have taken into account this issue.

Excess protein makes the body more acidic, and calcium is gleaned from the bones to neutralize this excessive acidity. Reducing dairy and meat in the diet and increasing higher consumption of fruits and vegetables--note I said reduce, not eliminate--will hopefully help alleviate this problem. Genetics also plays a part in incidence of osteoporosis.

Ironically, though, in Europe where dairy is consumed on a daily basis people do not have such problems as osteoporosis. The simple reason I see is that people don't consume nearly as much meat--and in much smaller portion sizes--in Europe as we tend to do in North America.

Animal Rights/Vegan Argument #7:

"A human baby goes from about 7 lbs to 4 x that weight in their first 2 yrs of life.

"A cow goes from a 90 lb calf to a fully grown cow (about 1000 lbs) in that amount of time. (that's about 100 x birth-weight in 2 yrs!)

"No wonder we're all getting so fat!"

Omnivore's Response to Above:

This is comparing apples to oranges, without a doubt, and is never the reason that "we're all getting so fat." A human is naught but a toddler at 2 years of age. A bovine at this human age is equivalent to a late-staged teenager. Thus the comparisons have absolutely no merit and are so out of sync it's not even funny.

It's no different from ARA's posting a picture on Facebook comparing a 3-month old baby to a 3-month old calf in their plight against rodeo and calf-roping. They blatantly and conveniently ignore that they are comparing apples to oranges and state that calf-roping is just like throwing a human baby to the ground. I'm sorry but it's not. A three-month old calf is a lot more mobile, independent, spry and defensive than a 3-month old baby. In bovine years, a 3-month old calf is equivalent to a bouncing-off-the-walls ten-year old kid. Seriously!

Back to the dairy wars on (and to the response above), clearly the person who wrote that had no idea what they were saying. Cattle have a shorter life-span, therefore grow at a faster rate than a human being. To compare two different species and try to show that they are the same is being ignorant of the clear genetic and physiologic difference between these two species. Thus, as mentioned before, this comparison holds no water. Literally.

Another Pro-Dairy Answer from another Contributor:

... my dad owns a dairy farm and the love being milked if the don't they can get milk disease. Cow live in pastures or free stall barn were the can walk freely. The free stall barns are barns with bed for them to lie down in and they get feed 2 times a day and are open to sunlight all year round, under the roof there are light bulbs which get turned on at night because dairy cows like it better in the light. Water is also available at all times fresh and clean. Mastitis is a disease caused by bacteria which is rare because before entering the milk barn they get cleaned and the milk does not get forced out it is like a baby suckling their mother. Cow have a very happy life. The babies must be taken from the mothers or they might not get enough milk and will starve! so please understand the dairy's take very good care of the animals.