I recently had a conversation with several people who are very close to me that was quite shocking. Well, perhaps eye-opening is a better word. Apparently many people are under the mistaken assumption (my close friends and loved ones included!) that dairy cows naturally give milk, all the time. I was told, during this conversation, that "if we (humans) didn't milk them, and use it (the milk) as we do, all of their milk would go to waste." WHAT?????!!
I felt so flustered and flabbergasted hearing this ill-informed - and absolutely incorrect - information, I actually stuttered and stammered for a minute or two before I was able to articulate the TRUTH about dairy cows and milk production. What was most distrubring about this conversation was, as a vegan, I felt the vegan community (myself included!) must not be doing a good job of explaining this particular issue, as the folks involved in this conversation were all vegetarian or pescatarian (still eating fish), but have certainly been exposed to vegan literature. Not surprisingly, the main reason they are unwilling to go vegan is the idea of giving up cheese (partly because of their mistaken belief that cheese is made from milk that flows naturally in excess which, if not used, would just go to waste). That said, I thought I'd take this opporutnity to explain THE TRUTH ABOUT MILK!
In the simplest of terms...
1. Just like humans, in order for a cow to produce milk, she must have a baby. In the dairy industry, in order to maximize production, each calf is taken from its mother within 24-48 hours after it is born. Calves, just like human babies, would normally suckle for about a year. This separation is a distressing process for both the calf and mother, as they are never allowed to form a bond.
2. Essentially, the female calfs are taken away and reared to become part of the milk producing herd. The males are confined to tiny crates where they are tethered and barely able to move or turn around. Within a few months of birth (usually about 6 months), the males are slaughtered and turned in to "veal." Thus, the veal industry would not exist without the dairy industry.
3. A female cow's milk production is caused by the birth of her calf, as I stated earlier. To maximize production, the modern dairy cow is made pregnant again whilst lactating. She will bear a calf each year until her body is completely worn out. At that point, she is sent off to slaughter, where she will be killed and made into some variety of food product. Most dairy cows are inseminated artificially. She will have her first calf when 2 years old. She will continue to be milked for 10 months - but will be made pregnant again in the third month. Only during the final few weeks of this pregnancy will she be dried out and her overworked udder given a rest. Due to manipulation, hormones, and other modern dairy practices, the amount of milk produced by a dairy cow in peak lactation is more than 10 times the amount that the calf would naturally drink.
4. What about "organic" or so-called "humane" diary farms? Some of the basic principles of modern dairying are also found in organic milk production: continual pregnancies, unwanted offspring and slaughter.
And there you have it, in a nut shell. For more information about the dairy industry, click here.