While small family-owned operations still dot the countryside, dairy production now is dominated by industrial mega-farms, some with as many as 2,500 cows. Like veal calves — themselves a byproduct of the dairy industry — dairy cows on factory farms usually are taken from their mothers within hours of birth so that milk intended for the newborn calf can be collected and sold. The unnatural separation is believed to cause great emotional distress to mother and offspring.
From there, it only gets worse.
Whereas the traditional family dairy farm practiced animal husbandry — a synergistic relationship of mutual benefit, at least until the animal's execution at an unnaturally young age — industrial agriculture is based on a one-sided, exploitative arrangement intended to maximize efficiency at the animal's expense.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), per-cow output of milk has increased 10-fold over the last few decades as a result of unnatural diets and the use of bovine growth hormones. The estimated nine million dairy cows in the United States now produce an average of about 100 pounds of milk per day, compared to roughly 10 pounds when raised in a natural environment.
The overproduction frequently leads to mastitis, a bacterial infection that causes painful and chronic inflammation of the udder. Unnaturally rich diets also can lead to ketosis, a potentially fatal metabolic disorder, and laminitis, a cause of lameness.
In the industrial farm setting, dairy cows can spend much of their lives connected to milking machines that could exacerbate the pain of mastitis, are "dehorned" and have their tails "docked" (making it impossible to swish away biting flies), generally without painkillers, and are kept on a 12-month cycle of impregnation that allows for only three months of recovery.
When they are no longer "productive" — usually between the age of two and five years, or roughly 15 years less than their natural lifespan — dairy cows are taken away to be slaughtered, usually ending up as hamburger on a dinner plate.
But not before still more suffering.
Because of the unnatural stress placed on their bodies, many dairy cows are too weak or sick to walk (thus the term, "downed"), and have to be pushed by bulldozer or dragged by tractor (see photo at top of page) to their execution.
Though slaughterhouses are required to "stun" dairy cows into unconsciousness with a blow to the head before bleeding them to death, the process is far from precise. "As a result, conscious cows are often hung upside down, kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker makes another attempt to render them unconscious," noted a report by MSPCA-Angell, a nonprofit that works to prevent animal cruelty. "Eventually, the animals' throats will be sliced, whether or not they are unconscious."
Watch the following video, and ask yourself if a few minutes of culinary pleasure justifies such cruel treatment of a sentient being.
Though cattle raised for beef on factory farms are allowed to graze, their overall treatment should not be considered entirely natural or humane.
Beef calves are taken from their mothers almost immediately after birth. Their anguished cries reveal excruciating emotional torment. After about two months, the calves are branded, castrated, and dehorned, usually without painkillers. Branding requires applying a 900 degree iron directly onto the animal’s skin for several seconds; castration involves removing the testicles with a scalpel and crushing the spermatic cords with a clamp.
The intense, unmediated pain can last for at least several days.
Between six months and one year after birth, beef cattle are transported to a feedlot. The journey can be a long one — only a few states have such facilities — and often is undertaken without temperature controls in an overcrowded transport vehicle lacking adequate food or water for the animals.
Those cattle surviving the arduous journey are confined to a feedlot, where they might stand or lie in their own waste alongside hundreds or thousands of other animals. They often are fed an unnatural grain diet intended to fatten them quickly, but which can cause severe intestinal distress, and in some cases death. Within just six months, many of the non-downer cattle have reached their “market weight” of 1,200 pounds, are loaded into a truck, and driven to their execution.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 30 million beef cattle were slaughtered in 2014. Beef slaughterhouses kill an average of about 250 cattle every hour.
What gestation crates are to female pigs, veal crates are to the male offspring of dairy cows.
Measuring just six-feet long by two-feet wide, veal crates (below photo) impede the natural movement of calves that are the wrong breed for beef and the wrong gender for dairy.
Unable to turn around, the calves are forced to stand or lie on wooden slats soaked in their own excrement. No bedding is provided due to concerns that the calves will eat the straw, and thus gain iron and fiber that would change the color of their meat.
There is a perverse method to the unrelenting cruelty: Remaining stationary keeps the calves' muscles from developing, thus making their meat more tender for consumers.
Calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth, fed an artificial, all-liquid diet lacking in necessary nutrients (to produce the pale flesh that consumers prefer), then slaughtered for veal after just 16 to 20 weeks of life — without ever having socialized, experienced sunshine, or grazed in the outdoors.
Often the young animals are too sick or weak to walk to their own execution.
The European Union has banned the use of veal crates. Though many American producers have moved away from such cruelty, veal crates nonetheless remain legal in most states.