As with egg farming, many people choose to go vegan after learning about the cruelties of the dairy industry. Calls of “I couldn’t live without cheese” are suddenly muted when the facts are explained.
Dairy farming across the world has been exposed by many environmental campaign groups for its cruel and inhumane treatment of animals, including restrictive confinement, forced breeding, separation of mothers and calves, and physical alterations without pain management.
These practices have resulted in physical and mental suffering for the animals involved and have raised ethical questions about the treatment of animals in modern agriculture.
Restrictive confinement of dairy cows
Dairy cows are often confined to small stalls or pens where they cannot move around freely.
This can lead to a variety of physical problems, such as muscle and joint deterioration, and can cause severe psychological distress, as cows are naturally social animals that need space to move and interact with other cows.
Confinement also makes it difficult for cows to engage in natural behaviours, such as grazing, which is essential to their physical and mental well-being.
Forced breeding of cows
This is done so that the cows will produce more milk and therefore increase the profits of the dairy farmer. However, the process of artificial insemination is often performed without the use of pain management, causing the cows to experience significant discomfort and distress.
Additionally, the repeated cycle of pregnancy and lactation takes a significant toll on the cows’ bodies, leading to a reduced lifespan and increased susceptibility to health problems.
Separation of mothers and calves
In many dairy farms, calves are taken from their mothers within just a few hours of birth. This separation causes both the mother and the calf to experience severe distress and can lead to long-term behavioural and health problems for the calf.
The mother cow, who has bonded with her calf, will often bellow for days or even weeks after the separation, searching for her missing offspring.
This traumatic experience is repeated every time the cow gives birth, causing chronic stress and emotional distress.
Cruelty to calves
Once separated, the calf is often placed in a small individual pen to be raised. The type of housing and management practices used can vary greatly between dairy farms.
The calf’s diet is usually made up of a milk replacer, which is formulated to mimic the nutritional composition of the mother’s milk. Of course, humans are getting the real thing instead of the baby.
Male calves cannot give milk, of course, so many of them are sold for slaughter, for veal or as replacements for beef cattle operations. They are often kept in restrictive pens that limit their movement to prevent muscle development, to result in a tender meat product.
Dehorning and tail docking are also common practices in dairy farming in parts of the world.
These procedures are often performed without the use of pain management, causing significant discomfort and pain for the animals.
Dehorning involves the removal of the horns from the cows’ heads, which can be a painful process as the horns are attached to the skull and contain sensitive nerve endings.
Tail docking involves the removal of part of the cow’s tail, which is used for communication and expression of emotions. This procedure can result in chronic pain and can limit the cow’s ability to communicate and express herself.
In addition to these specific practices, dairy cows are often subjected to other forms of mistreatment, including improper nutrition, inadequate veterinary care, and physical abuse by workers.
The stressful and inhumane conditions of dairy farming can lead to a variety of health problems, including lameness, mastitis and reproductive problems, which can further contribute to the suffering of these animals.
The dairy industry contributes significantly to environmental degradation, primarily through the emission of greenhouse gases, deforestation and water pollution.
Dairy production is a major source of methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.
The industry also requires large amounts of land and water, which often leads to deforestation and depletion of water resources.
Furthermore, the waste generated by dairy farms, including manure and urine, can pollute waterways and harm aquatic life.
The ethical question
It is important to consider the ethical implications of dairy farming and to question whether the treatment of dairy cows is in line with our values as a society.
Many people believe that it is wrong to subject animals to such cruel and inhumane conditions, especially for the sole purpose of producing milk for human consumption.
As consumers, we have the power to make a difference by choosing dairy-free alternatives and supporting more humane and sustainable farming practices.
The consumption of dairy products has also been linked to a range of human health problems, including lactose intolerance, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
The use of hormones and antibiotics in dairy production is also a concern, as these chemicals can enter the food supply and potentially harm human health.
Additionally, many dairy products contain high levels of saturated fat, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.