Dairy Investigation 2010
What follows is an account of the things we learnt during this investigation; we have also published many photos and a short film as well as supplementary stories about cows we met, an account of cow cubicle farming and additional videos and audio. Please share this with everyone.
When you talk to people on stalls you really get a sense that they think milk is a natural product and people do not realize that cows produce milk for the sole purpose of nourishing their young calf and helping them grow into a strong healthy adult cow or bull. The fact that, like humans, cows need to give birth to produce milk seems to escape many people and no one really seems to ask what happened to the calves?
Before there can be a calve, a cow must first become pregnant; on modern farms all dairy cows are artificially inseminated (AI) to ensure that they are made pregnant at the ‘correct’ time and by the ‘correct’ bull. Earlier in the year one of our investigators witnessed AI on a dairy cow. “The cow was lead into to a small crate where her head was held in place and her movements restricted. A farm technician placed her hand inside the cows anus and removed handfuls of manure. She then explained that this was to enable her to hold on to the cows cervix. A straw filled with bull semen was then inserted in her vagina. Throughout the whole process the cow seemed every uncomfortable and kept mooing. Every year she will be put through this and if she fails to become pregnant then she will be sent to the slaughterhouse as she will be able to produce milk the following season and thus is not worth feeding”.
In the context of an industrial dairy farm a dairy cow is merely a machine to convert grass into milk and of course the farmer then turns this milk into profit. The calves themselves are a means of stimulating milk production but otherwise are a waste product with little value. As a means of initiating early milk production about 40 percent of farmers’ contract vets to induce calves that are not quite full term. The purpose of this is to collect milk for the cows for a long period and thus make more money. The vets administer a hormone via injection which essentially causes the cows to have an abortion. Calves that are not born stillborn are premature and in a very weak state. The calves are then killed by being shot or hit on the head by a hammer or similar object. Some less fortunate calves are even simply left in the paddocks to die slowly.
In 2009 a farm worker took footage of this practice where he worked and uploaded it to youtube. The footage quite clearly shows calves left laying the paddock bleeding from their nose. Despite calls to ban this practice by vets and from people within the dairy industry there appears to have been no change in behaviour. Earlier this year not long after the issue was brought to light in the media Fonterra’s Chairman, Sir Henry van der Heyden, was caught using this controversial practice. When questioned by the media he admitted using induction stating “it’s like many other farms; it’s about driving productivity. It’s to get the cows to produce milk over a longer period in the season, which is productivity.”
Calves who do make it to full term do not have it much better. Our investigation team saw many instances where calves had been separated from their mothers not long after birth and placed with other calves in pens, sheds or paddocks. Calves very rarely get to try their own mother’s milk because they are taken away from their mothers not long after birth. For if the calves consume milk then the farmer loses profit.
The bond between cows and their calves is very strong and the act of taking away a calf results in great distress for both mother and baby. A farmer we spoke to in South Auckland agreed and commented that his cows had been known to break through fences in order to search for their young. Researchers have found that without human intervention calves will suckle their mothers for nearly a year. During natural weaning there is never a complete and abrupt abandonment of the calf by the cow. In fact the cow and calf will maintain a lifelong relationship of social contact and companionship.
During the course of our investigation one of our supporters, Christine, offered us the opportunity to meet her three Belted Galloways called Spice, Sugar and Cinnamon and a miniature cow name Cassidy. Aside from being ridiculously cute and endlessly hungry the relationship between Sugar and Cinnamon was very interesting. Cinnamon is nearly a year old and is still feeding from her mum Sugar despite efforts by Christine to wean her and the fact that she eats loads of grass and feed. When Christine tried to wean her she separated Sugar and Cinnamon putting them in separate but nearby paddocks. Neither of the girls liked this much and they kept managing to find their way back to the same paddock. Eventually Christine gave up and left them to it. When we visited them the two were always side by side and seemed inseparable.
On more than one occasion we came across dead calves who were only a couple of days old. When we left an Auckland farm after interviewing the farmer we drove past him loading more dead calves on to a ute with an already overflowing pile of dead calves. According to his neighbor this was not uncommon as he was not very diligent about feeding the calves before they went to slaughter because they did not really matter too much. We also found a pile of dead calves on a farm near Nelson just next to a shed of week old calves.
Calves who make it through their first week or so are generally sent to the slaughterhouse. In 2007 1.4 million bobby calves were slaughtered. While near Nelson we found a stock truck on the side of the road full of bobby calves on route to the slaughterhouse. There was one calf in the truck who stood out because he had a broken leg and in order to make him ‘stand’ someone had weaved his broken leg through the bars of the pen. This seemed distressing for him as he struggled to get out. We have subsequently read the Code of Welfare the Dairy Cows which stipulates that all calves must be able to stand on all four limbs when presented at the slaughterhouse. Presumably this was an attempt to meet this regulation.
Many people believe that there is no death involved in the dairy industry but this is sadly not the case; all calves have one of three fates but all eventually lead to the slaughterhouse. Some are sent at a couple of weeks old like those on the truck mentioned above. A small number of males are sold to the beef industry but after about 2 years they too will be sent to slaughter. And finally some female calves will be retained to replace their mothers and they, like their mothers will also end up at the slaughterhouse.
When left to their own devices a cow can live up to 20 years old but on today’s industrial dairy farms many cows are killed at about five years old because at around this time the toll of endless pregnancy and producing many hundred liters of milk results in a loss of productivity. Earlier in the year one of our investigators was at a slaughterhouse in Christchurch when the dairy cows were being slaughtered.
“The stockyard worker commented about how ‘knackered’ dairy cows were when they arrived after a life of working so hard. He was not wrong. Many of the cows in the pens were skin and bone and I was not at all surprised when he told me that some mornings he comes into work and several of the cows have died because they become too cold over night after being constantly sprayed with water.
There was a small group of younger looking cows who were ‘empties’ I was told. These are dairy cows who fail to become pregnant and therefore will not produce milk the following season. There is no room for these cows in the dairy industry as they do not generate any profit and in fact cost money to feed.
I was taken up to the kill floor and watched several dairy cows be stunned and have their throats slit. The stunning machine at this particular slaughterhouse involved a constant stream of water drenching the cows face and then an electrical current passing through her. They would then roll out on to the kill floor their limbs curled in and shaking. Then cow after cow had her throat slit in front of me.
Back in his office the yard manager shared stories of cows who have not been stunned properly, cows who have run through the kill floor and the times he has gotten to go and use his gun on them.”
This is the miserable end to the life of a dairy cow who has spent her life under constant physiological strain and who has had to endure the annual distress of losing a baby.
What we have discussed above is what we learnt about the milk production system but there are a couple of other aspects to the industry that are also worth noting.
Cow Cubicle Farming
It seems that many people do not realize that cubicle cow farms do already exist and operate within New Zealand. When the three large cubicle farms were proposed in the McKenzie Basin many people were horrified about the idea of such farms but sadly there are already several in our midst. Some of our supporters visited a cow cubicle farm for this investigation; for an account of their visit and images please click here.
The dairy industry is always looking to improve the rate at which cows convert grass into milk and other means of maximizing profit. As such much of the animal testing carried out in New Zealand is for the agricultural sector and more specifically dairy farming. A common experiment involves the use of a fistula. This is a hole into the cow’s stomach that allows researchers to observe and ‘fiddle’ with the cow’s digestion of grass. In 2008 we took some footage of fistula at Lincoln University to view this click here.
On top of all of these animal rights and animal welfare concerns there are several environmental and health issues associated with the production and consumption of dairy. If you do not want to be a part of this abusive, destructive and unhealthy industry please go dairy free! It will be better for the animals, better the environment and better for your health. We would also encourage you to share this investigation with your friends, family and workmates to spread the word about what is really happening in this industry.
For more about Dairy Farming click here.