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FAQs dairy cows

Cows only produce milk when they give birth to a calf and, in nature, they would only produce as much as the calf needs and when the calf is weaned, the milk production stops. Even when they are milked at a farm every day, the amount of milk they produce gradually decreases so they are impregnated every year to keep the milk flowing.


For more information, click here.



Read more in our report The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.


 

Cows only produce milk when they give birth to a calf and in nature they would only produce as much as the calf needs and when the calf is weaned, the milk production stops. Even when they are milked at a farm every day, the amount of milk they produce gradually decreases so they are impregnated every year to keep the milk flowing.


In order for us to have the cow’s milk, her calf has to be removed shortly after birth so he/she doesn’t drink the milk a farmer can sell. Calves are fed an artificial milk replacer instead.


For more information, click here.



Read more in our report, The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.  

A cow would naturally suckle her calf for nine months to a year but calves born on dairy farms are taken away from their mothers within a few days of birth – usually between 12 and 72 hours. A strong mother-infant bond is formed between cow and calf immediately after birth and the separation is extremely traumatic.


The calves are then fed on commercial milk replacer, either from an artificial teat or from a bucket. Young calves are very susceptible to disease. Diarrhoea (known as scours in the farming sector), often caused by low-quality or incorrectly prepared milk replacer is the main cause of death. To reduce the risks, dairy calves are weaned on to solid food by five weeks of age - much sooner than in the wild.


Under the welfare regulations, calves may be housed in individual stalls or hutches (indoors or outdoors) until they are eight weeks old but after reaching this age, they have to be group housed. Individual housing denies calves vital exercise and social contact. Group housing allows more natural social behaviour but also increases the risk of airborne diseases such as pneumonia – the most common disease of weaned calves. Essentially, it is impossible to artificially rear calves in a way which fulfils their natural needs and behaviours without compromising their health.


Female calves will eventually enter the dairy herd, replacing worn out cows.


Male calves are of no use to a dairy farmer. All bull calves are removed from their mothers after several hours or maximum two days and housed in stalls or hutches and fed milk replacer just like female calves. If not shot shortly after birth, they will be sold on to beef farms through livestock markets or raised for veal. They spend most of their short lives - usually between six months and one year - confined in buildings and yards. High mortality rates in these systems are common as it is not financially worthwhile for farmers to treat illnesses.


The current estimates are that 100,000 to 150,000 bull calves are shot within hours of birth in the UK. Viva! filmed the shocking fate of the male calves at farms supplying milk for the confectionery giant Cadbury. For more information and footage, click here or go to  or our YouTube page


For more information, click here



Read more in our report, The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.  

Although the UK has welfare standards prohibiting some cruel practises - eg veal crates or calf mutilations beyond certain age - it doesn’t mean dairy cows live a happy life.


Cows would normally form herds with complex social structure where daughters stay in the herd and bulls migrate. None of this is possible on a dairy farm and cows are permanently stressed by the unnatural conditions.


All dairy cows have their newborn babies taken away from them within two days and they spend seven months of each year both pregnant and producing so much milk it could feed eight calves. That’s the reason so many of them suffer from serious deficiencies, exhaustion and lameness. And because the udder works so hard, sooner or later dairy cows develop mastitis – a painful udder infection.


The very basis of animal farming is about minimising costs and maximising profit. Minimising costs comes with minimising cow movement which means limited or zero grazing where cows spend most of or their entire lives indoors. It also means minimising costs when it comes to treatment so as long as cows produce enough milk, they won’t necessarily get the vet treatment they need.


Cows can’t endure such high demands on their bodies for too long and most of them are slaughtered at around five years of age because they stop being profitable (due to infertility, low milk yield or an illness).


For more information click here.



Read more in our report, The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.  


 

The vast majority of calves raised for veal worldwide are male calves that are by-products of the dairy industry. In many countries such as the USA – from which the UK imports a ramge of dairy products – veal crates are still the predominant rearing system. These tiny wooden crates are so narrow that the calves cannot turn around for most of their lives, depriving them of exercise and preventing normal muscle development – to keep their flesh supple. They are also fed an iron-deficient diet to produce the anaemic ‘white’ veal prized by gourmets.


Veal crates were banned in the EU in 2007 but veal production (in any rearing system) still requires calves to be separated from their mothers within a day of birth. These calves are then placed in pens or hutches, alone or with several other calves, before they are sold to be reared mostly as ‘rose veal’.


Rose veal production differs from white veal in that calves may only be kept in individual stalls until eight weeks old after which they must be group housed. From birth, calves must be fed a diet which contains sufficient iron to avoid anaemia and from two weeks of age they must be provided with a daily ration of fibrous food to allow normal rumen development (rumen is one of cow’s stomachs).


Rose veal calves are slaughtered at around six to eight months of age. In 2011, 360,355 bull calves were kept in the UK for veal or low quality beef.


The UK also exports calves to the EU to be raised for veal. The live export of veal calves to the EU restarted in 2006 after (due to BSE) a 10 year ban. In 2011 exports were estimated to be around 11,000 calves (per year).


“The best conditions for rearing young calves involve leaving the calf with the mother in a circumstance where the calf can suckle and can subsequently graze and interact with other calves.”


Scientific Veterinary Committee, Animal Welfare Section’s Report on the Welfare of Calves


No dairy calves are allowed to enjoy these conditions.


For more information, click here.



Read more in our report The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.

Over the last 40 years, milk yield has more than doubled due to selective breeding (genetics) and the intensification of herd management. Dairy cows' milk yield has increased from an average of 3,750 litres per cow per year (12 litres/21 pints per day) in the 1970s to 7,445 litres (24.5 litres/42 pints per day) in 2012.

And just between 2007 and 2012, there has been an almost eight per cent (530 litres per cow) increase in the average yield per cow per year.

The figures above reflect only the average per cow, some cows may produce significantly more (over 50 litres a day). Either way it equates to six to ten times more than a cow would naturally produce to feed her calf and this takes a toll on her body. It's the reason why dairy cows always look so skeletal - most of their energy goes into milk production - and are exhausted by the age of five or six.

For more information on the dairy industry click here and for more on milk production here.


Read more in our report, The Dark Side of Dairy.

Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.  

 

When a cow is suffering from mastitis (a painful bacterial infection of the udder), her body produces large numbers of white blood cells which fight the infection in the udder. Many of these cells together with dead cells from the inner lining of the udder then pass out in her milk and the greater the infection the higher the number of these 'somatic' cells (which is a sophisticated name for pus) in the milk.


Latest figures show the average number of ‘somatic cells’ in one millilitre of milk (1/5 of a teaspoon) is 100,000 - 250,000. These numbers have risen by 30 per cent since 1998. Under EU regulations, milk with a somatic cell count as high as 400 million per litre may still be sold for human consumption. Some farmers feed milk which exceeds this threshold to the calves.


Around 50 per cent of dairy cows suffer from clinical mastitis every year and 17 per cent of cows are culled as a result. Clinical mastitis produces symptoms such as swollen, hard udders causing a lot of pain to the cow and discoloured or clotted milk.


Antibiotics are routinely used to treat mastitis and may be injected up the teat canal or administered orally. To help decrease the occurrence of mastitis in dairy herds, most farmers practice 100 per cent dry cow therapy. This involves injecting a long-acting antibiotic into all four teats of all cows, whether infected or not, as soon as they enter their dry period.


For more information, click here.



Read more in our report, The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.  


 

Some people claim that most pastureland is not suitable for growing crops and therefore it’s better to use it for animals to graze on. In fact, a lot of the land currently used to graze cattle is perfectly suitable for growing trees which could provide fruit and nuts and this would also bring many benefits to the environment (eg trees prevent soil erosion, increase the water-retention capacity of land, improve air quality).


Grazing animals compact the soil which makes it harder to grow crops on it. However, it doesn't mean that it's impossible to cultivate land that's been compacted by hundreds of animals - it's a reversible process and it's entirely possible to cultivate such land.


To read more about animal farming and the environment, click here.

Cows on organic farms are still impregnated every year to provide a continuous supply of milk and endure the trauma of having their calves taken away within two days of birth. They also carry the dual load of pregnancy and lactation just like cows on conventional farms and male calves can be shot shortly after birth or raised for veal.


For more information on Farm Assurance Schemes, click here.



Read more in our report, The Dark Side of Dairy.


Or watch our short video The Dark Side of Dairy.  

There are around 70,000 dairy goats in Britain and vast majority kept indoors in massive zero-grazing units - apart from one, all large scale operations in the UK are now indoor, intensive farms. The system is the same as for cows - kids are taken away almost immediately, the females replenish the herd and the males are killed at birth or sold for meat.



 


For more information go to our page on goats' milk and for an overview of the issue see our Not just cows... page.


 


 


 


 


 

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