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Dairy industry facts

There's a wealth of information on various aspects of dairy production and consumption on this website but if you're in a hurry and need basic facts on dairy farming, here they are.

  • A cow has to be made pregnant in order to produce milk, her newborn calf is removed within hours so the farmer can sell her milk.
  • Milk production naturally drops over time so dairy cows are forcibly impregnated every year to keep the milk flowing.
  • They are pregnant and lactating at the same time for seven months every year.
  • By the time they’re five or six years old, their bodies are exhausted by this cycle and they stop being profitable (due to low milk yield, fertility or other health issues).
  • Cows whose productivity dropped, are infertile or too ill are slaughtered for cheap beef products.
  • Tens to hundreds thousands of cows are pregnant when slaughtered, some even give birth during transport or at a slaughterhouse.
  • Male dairy calves are useless to the dairy industry and many are shot after birth, the rest sold for cheap veal or beef.
  • Female calves are fed milk replacement or milk that may be rejected for hygiene reasons, kept in confinement and raised to replenish the herd.
  • Most calves are disbudded to prevent the growth of horns, either by burning out the horn bud with a hot iron or a chemical paste.
  • Cows would naturally produce only 4-6 litres of milk a day to feed their calves. At dairy farms, their productivity is driven to extremes so cows produce 20-50 litres a day.
  • Between 40 and 65 cows out of 100 suffer from clinical mastitis - a painful bacterial infection – every year in the UK. When a cow is suffering from mastitis, her body produces large numbers of white blood cells which migrate to the udder to fight the infection - many of these together with dead cells from the inner lining of the udder then pass out in her milk. These cells are officially called 'somatic' cells but we’re more familiar with the term pus.
  • Under EU regulations, milk with a somatic cell count as high as 400 million per litre may still be sold for human consumption - so when getting your white coffee, you’re also ingesting millions of pus cells, yum!


For more information and references see The Dark Side of Dairy report.

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